Out of the Shadows into the Fire
What good was being empowered to raise my voice if what I had to say didn’t matter?
I often asked myself this question as I tossed and turned through another sleepless night, wondering if it could ever be possible to break through the centuries of conflict coloring my friendship with Maria. As an indigenous Aleut woman living in Alaska, she had a very different perspective on how things should be, than I as a British woman living far from her could.
Before I met Maria, I was oblivious to the atrocities wrought upon her community. Long before British Petroleum (BP) spilled its guts over the Gulf Coast, it was quietly hauling its equipment on trucks through the night, ripping up her land for greed. She was justifiably angry, though I was unprepared for the rage that came directed at me, for not taking responsibility.
I strongly protested. I did not see how I could take responsibility for the forced evacuations from her land, for the subsequent imprisonment of Aleut women, for the continuing need for oil that kept her family away from their ancestral land today. I had no part in what happened to her. I became overly defensive. Then after weeks of failing to forget I had learned anything new, I asked if I could help.
My platitudes were no match for Maria’s fierce visions for a more just world. As her voice rose up out of the shadows into the fire, mine became quickly extinguished. It didn’t seem to matter what I said, to Maria’s mind, if I showed interest in her life I was studying her, if I offered help I was being superior, if I said nothing I did not care. I hoped to hold her hand in friendship and had no idea how.
It was months before I understood. I no longer see myself as having more or less than anyone else. Instead I prefer to see all our selves as being differently privileged. I no longer reach out to help, I extend my hand to support and partner, as true friends should do.
As more women’s voices rise to the surface, shining light on every dark corner of the world, I realize now how we in the west cannot let ourselves stay in the shadows. To hold hands, we must enter the fire and learn how to listen.