I’ve always found comfort in creating. It is truly amazing what the human mind is capable of.
When I was younger, my Mom always told me “life is about the experiences, not the possessions.” I’ve spent countless hours creating scenarios in my head. I’ve thought about the big picture scenarios-how would my life look after I graduate from John Carroll, would I be happy? But I’ve also thought down to the smallest of unpredictable details.
But that’s just the thing about scenarios, you can’t predict the future.
When I was a junior in high school, I went on an immersion trip to the beautiful Badlands of a Native American reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. As with all high school travels, there came a set of rules. However, our rules were a little different from your conventional guidelines. We were told that we had to immerse ourself in the presence of the Oglala Lakota culture, but with a catch: no cell phones allowed.
I spent a whole week disconnected from the outside world; no Twitter notifications, no endlessly scrolling through Instagram and no constantly getting notifications asking if you want the new iOs update. Instead, I fully immersed myself into the devastatingly unique culture of the Oglala Lakota people.
To give you some background information, Pine Ridge is the poorest county in the United States, surpassing many third world countries in regards to the resources and amenities the population is provided with. More often than not, you will find single family homes without power, running water or a sewer, overcrowded with 10 or more people to a single bedroom. Alcoholism runs rampant throughout the population, impacting at least 80 percent of Pine Ridge’s people. As a result of the devastating downward spiral, the suicide rate is more than twice the national rate.
Pine Ridge is a tragically special place, ridden with history and heartbreak.
The culture is deeply rooted in nature and the belief that we are all interconnected in a spiritual way stemming from the Lakota phrase Mitakuye Oyasin: all are related. Healing rituals, pow-wows and rain dances consumed our evenings at the reservation, teaching us a little bit more about the rich culture of the people.
I felt more alive as the week progressed. One day my immersion group was assigned to travel to the community garden, located in the gorgeous hills of the distant Badlands. When we arrived, I was utterly shocked to say the least. We were dropped off at a semi-truck trailer that was anchored to a large boulder, it was the home of the six person family who ran the community garden. They had no running water and no electricity, just the four walls that surrounded them and a leaky roof over their heads.
Despite their terrible living conditions, the beautiful little family of six were the most kindhearted individuals I had ever met. The littlest member of the family was a three-year-old girl named Raven, whom instantly captured my heart. Her eyes sparkled of pure joy, imagination running wild and a smile that could light up an entire room.
Raven took to making her own happiness, freeing herself from the dismay around her. Creating imaginary slides from piles of rolled up hay bales, a magnificent castle from the rotted through tarps lazily hung over the rusted garden poles, and a crown from a few stems of wilted daisies she found laying on the ground. Raven found comfort in creating.
I was shocked to realize that this adorable child had taught me one of my most cherished life lessons: a free mind is a happy mind.