Maya Angelou once wrote that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Stories can be a source of entertainment as well as enlightenment. They have the power to hurt and to heal.
Our stories, our families’ stories, our people’s stories. These are the stones that form the foundation of our lives. Sometimes, though, a story is a window into the heart of the teller. A magic thread that pulls the soul of the speaker into the compassion of the listener.
In Medicine Walk, by Richard Wagamese, the author follows a boy and his father along with a trail of previously untold stories. Littering the path of their journey are years of neglect and abandonment. Their destination is redemption.
Sixteen-year-old Franklin is summoned by his dying, alcoholic father to carry out his last wish to be buried in the backcountry of Canada, in the traditional warrior way of the Ojibwe tribe. Franklin questions why he agrees to carry out this last rite after years of neglect. In spite of prior failed attempts to connect in a father/son relationship, Franklin reluctantly agrees to assist.
The journey offers an opportunity of self-reflection for both the protagonist and his father and an opportunity to heal old wounds. As the father tries to make amends for the neglected and failed relationship, the medicinal healing of a told story winds through this novel.
“I can’t reckon someone dying,” the kid said. “Scares me some to think of it. Don’t exactly know how to face it. Don’t know what I’m s’posed ta do when it happens. So I don’t know how come I brung ya here. Mighta just been for me.”
His father slipped the whiskey out of his coat pocket and dribbled a little of it into his mouth and sat there looking out across the wide expanse of space that hung over the valley. “Mighta,” he said.”
As the journey began so did the stories -- gut-wrenching and desolate stories that share the life of the father. never before told stories the father shouldered in silent suffering, suffocating his spirit. Stories which needed to be shared. Stories of origin, war, love, shame and reflection. Stories of the brokenhearted and lost loves. Stories explaining the beginning and then the end. Stories, the father hopes, of redemption.
“Stories get told one word at a time,” he said quietly. “Somethin’ your grandmother said. Stories get told one word at a time. Maybe she was talkin’ about life.”
As Franklin struggles to understand his father and the implications of his father’s choices, he begins his journey of healing as well. As Hippocrates noted, “Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”
“He don’t seem much of a warrior to me.”
“Who’s to say how much of anythin’ we are? Seems to me the truth of us is where it can’t be seen. Comes to dyin’, I guess we all got a right to what we believe.”
“I can’t know what he believes. He talks a lot, but I still got no sense of him. So far it’s all been stories.”
“It’s all we are in the end. Our stories.”
Regardless of our wealth, our stories are the inheritance we leave to our children. In Medicine Walk, the stories told by the father are the stones paving the road to his redemption. I found Medicine Walk a compelling read engaging the reader in self-reflection and untold stories that ought to be shared. Is redemption found? I’ll let you answer that by reading this story yourself!