Honoring an Elder, Michael Meade
Fatherhood is, ideally, a form of mentor hood. Our Elders are our mentors and, by extension, also our Fathers. G. Kamana Hunter, Mohawk healer, finds that mentoring from an elder is a two way process.
by G. Kamana Hunter
It would be my first time meeting Michael Meade, a pioneer who’s work has sought to bring viable mentorship back to modern society. By studying the rites of passage and rich myths from many ancient cultures, he created a network of multicultural learning through his organization Mosaic Voices. My friend had worked with him many times before, so he arranged for me to speak with his assistant.
I was told the best way to meet him is to attend the workshop and grab some time with Meade afterward. So I booked a flight from New Mexico to San Francisco, and did the pretty drive to Santa Cruz. My friend and I had a mean craving for Cioppino, that San Francisco immigrant creation that combined the joyous red sauce from Italian cuisine with the fresh catches of the Portuguese and Italian fishermen. Everyone “chipped in” their seafood, a mosaic of seafood depending on whatever showed up in their nets. We stopped on the way for a hearty meal in sour doe bread bowls. A good meal with good company.
The weekend workshop was held at a spiritual center with lofted ceilings not far from the ocean. The big meeting room was fit for yoga or even a game of basketball if there had been nets. Michael would teach a piece, often making the crowd laugh in their fold-up chairs. Then he rummaged through his notes like a messy scholar pouring over scrolls. His head popped up again, grabbing his jimbe, and he began playing rhythms while storytelling. Stories of floods, stories of loss, stories that revealed unexpected wisdom. There was a mythic nourishment happening, something he has been known to create. I could see why this shepherd had a flock.
I waited patiently at the end of the workshop to speak with him. In my mind, I had thought about what it would be like to be mentored by him. As a Healer and emerging teacher, I hoped to have someone to go to for guidance about how to share my craft on a bigger scale. This man had done it. I stood 3 feet away from him as hungry participants positioned to receive from him a moment of witness. 20 minutes had gone by. Several people cut the line, straddling their deep thirst as best as they could. I felt a mix of agitation and compassion. I too was thirsty. I too craved his approval. My mind wanted to make him my mentor already, painting my need on a man that I have never met.
30 minutes had gone by. I was feeling drained by the desperate huddle. A man plowed passed me with a very urgent poem. “Michael, I have this great poem. Can I share it with you?” Meade paused for a moment, responding with an Irish smirk that could only be learned in New York City. “Sure kid. Go ‘head,” he said after some suspense. I don’t remember the poem, I just remember the man oozing with nervous excitement, as if Michael was the only one who would truly understand his poem.
I had no stomach for the scramble. Any considerate exchange that I had wanted in my daydreams was pure fantasy. I began to walk away, but a tingling came over me. It’s that shaky feeling I get right before an honor song comes to me. All of this time, I had been one of the fish swimming around him, looking for extra nourishment, not wanting the workshop to be over. But I wasn’t a fish, and Michael was not my personal mentor. However, he was an elder, a person of an older generation who had managed to bring fourth fresh guidance and validation, even though his elders did not necessarily provide the same for him. He was giving what he never got. Meade was leaving the place in better shape that when he had arrived.
The song drew me to him. I didn’t need to push or position. His eyes came towards me as I stepped forward to shake his hand.
“Mr. Meade, I just wanted to thank you for what you have done. It’s my tradition to honor someone with a song when I have seen what they have done in the world. Thank you for meeting the call to be an elder. I’ll sing for you now.”
Chairs folding, tables clanking, and last minute chatter filled the room. The first note of the song pierced through the noise, a mix of siren’s call and baby’s cry. Then, the trills, distinctively Native, gutteral, poured through like a full heart rush. My thirsty chest made water from seemingly nowhere. The top of my head tingled like hidden rain pouring through my body, like Kokopeli playing a flute. Honorable static moved forth, into Michael, a complete surprise. Then, the song was over, and the flood of recognition waned. Somehow, my thirst was quenched.
“Are you Native?” he asked.
“Thank you for that song,” he said, basking. I walked away, feeling complete, feeling whole. “He’s Native American,” I heard Meade say as I walked away. Some of the participants echoed what he said, pointing at me.
On the lawn, I called my friend on my cell to arrange a pick-up. I couldn’t even finish the conversation with him as a few of the participants began peppering me with questions about my heritage and the meaning of the song. He laughed on the other end of the phone. “I’m on my way.”
I thought I was going to Santa Cruz in order to request that Michael Meade be my mentor. Instead, I was there to gift to him. In my head, JFK’s voice was paraphrasing his famous speech. ‘Ask not what more your Elders can do for you. Ask yourself, what is in your heart to give.’
– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.