A Truth Beyond, Chapter X: Medicine Pouch

A medicine pouch is for carrying the things that keep us strong, Mylo’s family told me. It is no mistake that it hangs directly over the heart.

Filling the pouch is important and personal, Joe Henry explained. In it go the things that tell us who we are.

I would never pretend to be Indian, but when Donna slipped the pouch around my neck, she got me thinking.

What would the sources of my own strength be?

I’m certain the truth resides somehow in memory.

I can still feel the weight of my daughter on my arm when I held her moments after her birth 16 years ago. In an instant I learned two things: that love at first sight is real, and that there is nothing I would not sacrifice gladly to see my girl grow up happy. Nothing.

The memory of my daughter’s birth guides me. So does the love in my wife’s face 26 years ago when we promised to share each other’s lives.

I carry these memories along with the sights and sounds and smells from thousands of stories I’ve covered. As a reporter I’ve written about people struggling with fire and flood; homecomings, departures, trials and triumphs. Each memory is distinct, but they play off each other, in the way moving water, rocks and trees come together to form a river.

Some memories become clear only when viewed from a distance.

A decade has passed since I last saw my mother.

She died from a cancer that crept up on her and cut her down in a matter of months. Although the end was swift, we had the time to say the things that mattered. She knew how much I loved and respected her. She knew how grateful I was for the time and love she had showered on me.

She lived long enough to see me become a husband and a father and to settle into a reporting career. But as we shared a final embrace I saw worry cross her face. It wasn’t for herself; it was worry for a son.

Only now, as my daughter approaches adulthood, do I understand.

Loving somebody means living with risk.

As a parent, there is nothing scarier than knowing you can’t be there to protect your child.

My girl is growing up in the same community I write about. She’s being taught in the same school system as Mylo. She’s smart and beautiful and confident about making her way in the world. And I worry.

I worry because I’ve learned something by writing about the tragedies in my home town. No amount of caring can keep the people we love safe from a bad choice.

Experts on trauma say that, as humans, we cope with great uncertainty by telling ourselves convenient lies. The girl murdered by a stranger and dumped down a wooded slope isn’t like anyone we know because she lived a high-risk lifestyle. A man whose life spirals into addiction and early death must have been raised differently from us.

I worry because so much is missed when we don’t take the time to really look; when we don’t stop long enough to listen.

When Mylo died, some people mocked him on the Internet. They made jokes about “the naked guy.” Some came close to dismissing his death, and discounting his family’s suffering, because he was Indian.

That’s not the place I live in. And it is not the truth.

Snohomish County lost Mylo, who grew up here and somehow made a bad choice. His death, at only 19, is a burden carried by his family as well as by the men and women in uniform who encountered him that night in 2002.

Out of that tragedy arose a legitimate legal controversy over who was primarily responsible for how the encounter ended. The answers aren’t clear, but maybe nobody would have even asked questions if Mylo’s mother, his aunt, his grandmother and the rest of his tribe had not pressed the case.

This community lost Mylo as a future leader. The Tulalip Tribes will continue to grow in size and economic stature without Mylo.

Who knows what role the young man with the great smile may have played in shaping the future?

The community also lost Mylo as an elder, a keeper of memories. Years from now, he may have spoken of this time of great changes and the lessons learned. Perhaps he would have helped others to see clearly in the midst of controversy.

Mylo was a son of Tulalip, and because of how he was raised, I suspect he would have been a good teacher. Would he have known how to link the past to the present? Would he have understood the importance of listening, the power in silence?

<< Chapter IX Chapter XI >>

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