I’m sitting on a plane to Denver, Colorado. It’s one of those big 777’s, with four seats in the middle, and as much as I would love a window seat, I’m stuck on the aisle. It’s only the first leg of my journey. We were supposed to land in the Mile High City with enough time during our layover to grab some dinner, but we were delayed out of LAX, and now it’s clear there will be no time to eat before boarding the next plane. Bismarck, is where I’m headed, but even that isn’t really my final destination. Camp Oceti Sakowin, on the Standing Rock Reservation, on the cold, winter plains of North Dakota is calling me, and I’m listening for reasons I don’t yet fully understand. I suppose it started a couple of months ago, but it only became an acute awareness in the week before Thanksgiving. It was a pull. Maybe you’d label it a calling, a vision, or the soulful tug of Spirit. However you see it, one thing was certain: I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to go to Standing Rock. I didn’t ask anyone to go with me. It was my journey. It was my quest. Nothing else mattered. Only the vision that I was supposed to go be a witness at Standing Rock. I’m not always so good at honoring myself — my thoughts, my feelings, my intuitions. Something this time was different. I couldn’t ignore it, even though I tried desperately to do so for over a week. I woke up the morning after Thanksgiving, after several sleepless nights in a row, and I knew. I was not going to shake this responsibility. It was time to make good on my promise to stand up for others, to stand up to the people in power; mostly men who look like me.
I swore I would do this a few short months ago, and I was at a crossroads. One road named “Put Up,” the other, “Shut Up.” Who would I be now? Who would I be in this moment? Would I be the man I promised to be or something else — something uglier, something spineless, something lacking in conviction? The latter would eventually kill me, and I do mean that literally. I think we die when we ignore our purpose. It’s that living of one’s purpose that turns people into immortals. It’s the lack of purpose, or the denying of purpose that brings about mortality in the grossest of ways. Which path would I choose? I knew what had to be done, even if I didn’t fully believe in it yet. What happened next is, at least to me, nothing short of amazing. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. I started a fundraiser that would allow me to take supplies to the people of Standing Rock, and be a witness to their struggle. Miles for my flight were donated by one of the most lovely human beings I’ve ever known. And suddenly, people I didn’t even know were donating money because others, those who know me and believe in me, said I could be trusted. One man, one of those I don’t know, donated $500! All told, I asked for $1000, and in less than 24 hours, I’d received over $2000. As of today, the day I head to Bismarck, I have received almost $3500 to bear witness and to bring supplies to the Water Protectors. Even a friend’s parents who also wanted to go and couldn’t, brought me a small duffel bag filled with warm socks, gloves, knit hats, and sweaters to take. As I took the bag, this friend’s mother handed me $40 in cash and said, “I know there’s baggage fees, so this should cover that, oh, and a meal on us.” They both hugged me and were on their way. When I decided to go, another wonderful thing began happening. Others decided to go. I was inspired by a college friend I haven’t seen in over a decade. When she posted on Facebook that she was going, it was obviously just another poke from Spirit, another sign that I was supposed to go too. She was my catalyst. Then I became a catalyst. A documentary team decided that they wanted to “follow in my footsteps” and tell their own stories, as they described it. Then a dear friend decided he wanted to go. Then another close friend decided she also needed to go. Where there had been one, suddenly now a whole team. All of it spelled confirmation that I had indeed done the right thing by listening and honoring what my heart was telling me. What I couldn’t have know then was that this thread of confirmation was just getting warmed up.
Even now, as I sit on this plane, I’m sitting directly across the aisle from a strange, yet kind, woman named Daisy. I know her name because she dropped something on the floor, and I offered her light from my phone to aid in her search. She asked me where I was headed. I told her Bismarck. She gave an approving, knowing wink. She asked if I had protection. Thinking she meant from the harsh elements of a North Dakota winter, as I was only wearing a t-shirt at the time, I replied yes. She then pulled out some mala beads—amethyst ones, my birthstone – broke the string that holds them together, and she told me to take one for my protection. Then she handed me a book of essays and opened it to a specific page. “Read this one.” I would later watch as she gifted this same book to Shailene Woodley, who happened to also be returning to Standing Rock on this same flight. The essay she had opened to was one on ego-less unity as it pertains to the power of the whole of humanity. An interesting message, and a harbinger of the experience to come.
Photos courtesy of Erica Hill Studio / Used with permission.
Wondering what to do next? We have started an Environmental Social Interest Group—and a lot of our discussion is about Environmental Social Justice and history-defining events like Standing Rock and #NoDaPL.
Gold and Platinum Premium Members only. Not a member? Become a member here.