The Passage

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In Jerusalem, I visited the Wailing Wall. Here, in the southern US, is a weeping wall. It is a beautiful, strengthening place.

The Trail of Tears passed along the Tennessee River, almost 200 years ago. Now, Cherokee artists have transformed this space into a living memorial, where water, stone, words, and images combine to form The Passage.

At intervals in the stone face, ceramic shields blaze out – portals into the past and protectors of the future. These symbols represent the seven Cherokee tribes who endured exile and death. They have so much to teach us about human life: what it means to be these earth-bound, mud-footed angels.

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I pause before a circle called “Strength of Life.” I read the description, but more than that, I feel its motion in my bones:

We perform the stomp dance around the sacred fire.

Smoke rises toward Creator, carrying songs and prayers for strength.

Our dance mirrors the Milky Way, the winds and tides here on earth…

Water flows over stone steps, carrying our tears, sweat and prayers back into the Tennessee River. A child and his father walk barefoot through the water. On a bronze plaque, the words of the artists shine out. They instruct us:

We must “complete the circle begun by our ancestors so many years ago by bringing back to this area the vitality and visual strengths” of our people.

How can I complete a circle begun by my ancestors? How can I love better? How can I care for the relationships entrusted to me?

By the river, and in my apartment at night, I hear whispers of an answer…

Walk deep into the weeping waters.

Find the vitality and strength that is your power to give – your power to create.

Grab someone’s hand and tell them you know the Passage is hard and treacherous, but we’re in this together.

And remember, somewhere there is a sacred fire that never goes out.

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