To be Seen or Not to be Seen. That is the Question

The last few days of September are picture-perfect on the Olympic Peninsula. I want to sleep in my new van, test it out for an upcoming road trip before winter arrives. There’s one more night of warm temperatures and I’m going to make the most of it.

Hurricane Ridge is located in the majestic Olympic National Park. Last year I slept at the five thousand foot peak with my friend in his van. It was a silent, starry night. We woke up to an expansive red sunrise over snowcapped mountains. The kind of morning that makes you want to live forever. We slept out there on a whim, but this time I decide to check in at the visitor center.

Disappointedly, I learn the rule is that you can park your car up there, but you can’t sleep in it. You can backpack out a few miles but not with a dog. My dog’s in the car, she’d have to stay in the van in the parking lot. I understand about not taking dogs into the back country, but confused why I can’t sleep in my van too. I yearned for the simple, beautiful night I had before. It was easy. I was unseen, oblivious to the rules and no damage was done.

Now that I showed up, my dream isn’t going to happen. I get back in my van, muttering spiteful comments to that park ranger, feeling like a defeated teenager.

Heading home, I remember it’s the same night the Jamestown Tribal Library is hosting the documentary of Elouise Cobell’s thirty year fight for the mismanaged Indian Trust accounts. Before I know it, I’m sitting with a group of people who also feel downtrodden. There’s a resonance in the air. I feel relaxed and inspired chatting with some old friends before the show starts.

In the film, there’s a scene describing the sacred Native American custom of tree and scaffold burials. After the film I ask if this custom is still happening. The First Nation representative comments that there’s one tribe on Long Island that’s still unrecognized by the Federal Government. Because they’re not recognized, they don’t fall under Western funeral rules and can bury their dead however they want.

In that moment I realize why I opted to be invisible much of my life. If no one sees me, I don’t have to follow their rules. No ones tells me what’s right and what’s wrong. I follow my own guidance.

My challenge is to keep following my guidance even when I feel vulnerable to powerful outside forces.

Elouise Cobell

Elouise Cobell did that. A soft-spoken treasurer for her Montana tribe, she discovered a trail of fraud. When she brought it to the government officials’ attention they ridiculed her, telling her she didn’t know what she was talking about. She almost gave up, but her intuition nudged her to keep going. She showed up at each hearing, refusing to be invisible. Knowing her tribe members were getting five cents on the dollar compared to what the white people were making gave her the impetus to make some noise. Five cents wasn’t enough.

Brings to mind the phrase I’ve heard over the years… give them just enough to keep them happy.

President Lyndon B. Johnson said “These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us… We’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down.”

Marginalized groups have been and still are denied normal privileges of a society because of perceived lower social status. Privileges can also be denied because people don’t know their worth and they don’t stand up for themselves. In many cases, larger group dynamics set the standards of worth. A group can even be your own family.

I had a wonderful family, my Mom and Dad were gems. But growing up on a farm where hard work was the most valued, my contribution of sensitivity didn’t feel like it added any value at all. It was even a hindrance like when we were supposed to cut chicken’s heads off and other farm chores.

My self-confidence was non-existant. I had no idea my sensitivity could actually be a gift in the right environment.

While my family enjoyed the midwestern sun, I needed to shade myself from the heat. When they played loud games of softball, I needed the solace of my quiet bedroom. I felt like I was living on the periphery of my family unit.

Many of us have specific marginalized groups we want to help like Save the Whales, LGBT, Prisoners, Native Americans, Black Lives Matter and so many others. I’ve always had a propensity to help the underdog but later discovered the best thing for me to do is to become my own alpha dog. When I’m there for myself, honoring and expressing my unique talents, then I can truly be there for others.

To show up can feel risky, but what’s the alternative? Hide? Play small? Playing small can feel safe at times, but it also makes us a pawn in someone else’s game.

It’s time we create our own games. My one-woman show is my 50 year journey as I search for and find my voice. I choose to be seen and want to see you there too.

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