My Great-Grandmother Tannuea (who is full-blooded Shawnee) is the legendary storyteller of my mother’s family, and has always told me stories and lore that were a macabre mix of her own personal and epically divine inclination towards the “Mysteries”, and the blood and guts and gore of the American Yankee Spirit. She always spoke of Great Spirits that took on the form of animals and men and women, fish and birds and trees and rivers…she is the eldest member of our family, who has told every child in her far-extended family the most cherished and sought out tales to be told. I have blood relatives through this woman whose faces adorn Totems in places I’ve never even heard of, much less visited. Grandma T has bore and bred true greatness in her lifetime, though she would NEVER stake claim to this TRUTH. She has also bore and bred sheer Hell during her years alive, but would not be caught dead in allowing such a thought in her mind. She has the whitest hair I’ve ever seen; she always has, since I can remember. She smiles, and I swear to the Gods it seems as if everything else just evaporated around her – she holds strong energy, even at age whatever she is – she is ANCIENT. She is my GREAT Grandmother!!! She has outlived several generations of her offspring, another heartbreaking truth that she neither leans on or against in times upset. She is just present. Always, ever present, in the moment – alive.
I can tell you that not a single one of her stories was lost on me; I was typically either terrified to the point of tremors, or was intrigued by a thought she had tickled deep down in my cerebral cortex during one of the wild sagas she had us entertaining . I always had the feeling that my brothers weren’t listening; they were hearing the words…just not listening to the messages.
She demands alone time often, always has; she can meditate for hours on end, quite happily.
Sometimes, I would happen upon her during her quiet times when she “rests her mind”; she would be silently sitting: the picture of posture, humming her tunes into the air – with ever-replenished tears streaming down the deep lines in her taught, leathery cheeks.
“Who would make Grandma Tannuea cry like that? And why?”
Humankind makes her cry; because it is a damn shame.
Tannuea hails from the Ohio Shawnee clan that Tecumseh lived amongst and led in the late 1800s; she can recall a childhood full of discomfort and prejudice thrown at her after her tribe’s forced assimilation with the Cherokee Nation in the 1870s; she grew up in its wake. She is a stickler about kindness; I have a funny feeling it is because she was never shown much of it throughout her lifetime. For the young Tannuea who endured her own ‘trail of tears’ as a result of being a native-born tribeswoman during the formation of the present day United States of America, a life of hardship was embedded deeply and without awareness. Still, this woman SURVIVED, still survives to date – to be a solidly founded boulder for others: many, many others.
Because of my Great-Grandmother’s support and guidance, I was able to deliver a very healthy baby girl (Boo, 7 lbs. 13 oz. /19.5 inches tall) in 1997, under extreme duress. Because of the same soft-spoken woman’s wisdom, I was able to find the inner-gladiator that it took to testify in court against the father of that beautiful baby girl for his attempt on my life in 2002. She showed me how to be strong when I didn’t feel strong; even still after all these years, her very presence in a room with me naturally humbles me beyond words.
A human being, who has never seen kindness in the first person, yet knows the intricacies of it as if she created its very essence.
THAT is empathy.