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FIRSTS by Waubgeshig Rice

Feb 6 2013

A Story About Love

Ningwakwe Learning Press continues to share stories about love from this collection, Zaagidiwin Is A Many Splendoured Thing. We asked the writers to be creative, humorous, passionate and most of all real and this one has it all.

Suddenly, silence seized the warm summer air. It even seemed to hush the crickets and the soft buzz of the patio lights. They had been talking for hours when abruptly their voices trailed off into silence. Then, there was that unforgettable gaze. Her big, brown eyes were all he could see, or at least all he cared to see. Their youthful faces were drawn slowly together – guided by an intangible force that seemed to have taken hold of them. Their lips met and that first kiss kindled something deep within their souls – setting off a lifetime of unrivalled emotions and experiences.

It is in these first moments of new encounters that emotion strikes you to the core of your being. That’s love. Triggered by happiness, pride, and even sorrow, love is what makes your heart flutter, race, or sink. It can make the hair on your arms stand on end. Sometimes it makes you feel sick to your stomach. Love can also make you feel ten feet tall or make you shed tears for days on end. It can make you smile as if you have never smiled before. Some would call it the incarnation of love – appearing in different scenarios throughout your life. Teaching you. Every step of the way it teaches you who you are and who you should be.

Growing up as an Anishinaabe on ‘the Rez’ I understood that love came from those close to me, but I did not understand what it meant to be Anishinaabe. It was a time when people in my community were just starting to get back to the old ways after decades of forced detachment. Generations before mine, people were taught to hate themselves, which carved some deep wounds that people still struggle to heal. But as I grew older I was able to witness love coming back to my community. It was love that rekindled our strong sense of identity and passion for the land around us.

I remember one encounter in particular that showed me what love could do. Some time ago, a Canadian National crew, now more commonly known as CN, entered our community to remove sand for the railway. Our people took a stand and the CN crew eventually left. Protecting the earth under our feet is what united us – our love for the soil that sustains all life that surrounds us. From there, many of my fellow community members rediscovered love and how it is the heart of our culture as Anishinaabe and our heart is beginning to beat louder as time passes.

At every powwow, the first beat of the drum is the loudest. It can make your insides rattle, like a ripple growing into a tidal wave, sweeping up everything in its path. That singular strike of the drum shimmers outwards so that you physically feel its power through every cell in your body. ‘The heartbeat of Mother Earth’ as it is known – it keeps you connected to her. I first heard that steady cadence at a powwow in Kettle Point, Ontario when I was a kid. Years later I sat at the drum for the first time and had the honour of beating along. One by one, other kids in my community joined in. We all drummed in one rhythm- bound by a newfound love of our old ways. Love, understanding, and pride led each of us back to our heritage.

Sometimes it takes losing something to realize how significant love is. The void that’s left can never be filled. The heart devotes so much of itself to one thing and to have that entity or being suddenly gone leaves what seems like an insurmountable loss. Only then do most of us realize just how much we loved that person, that place, or that special bond we might have had. My great-grandmother passed away when I was young. It was the first time I lost a close family member. As a teenager I lost one of my best friends to a car accident. There have been many more family members and friends who have gone on to the Spirit World since that time. Now all I have left are memories of them. The memories were built on happiness and the emotionally fulfilling times we shared. Love made me cry constant tears when they died, but it is also the love I have for them that keeps their spirit eternal in my heart. The spirit of our loved ones lives forever because of our emotional devotion to them.

When it comes to relationships, love can be difficult to understand. What starts as an intense crescendo between two people often fades out after the last chorus, or coarsely halts altogether, like a needle scratching across a record. The first heartbreak is always the hardest. In the beginning, it seems like you’re the only two people on earth and what you have together is all that matters. You only think of each other and being together for days on end sometimes isn’t enough. It takes hold of you like the most addictive drug the body has ever known. You hope, from the bottom of your heart, that it will always be there – a pillar that will never crumble, or a light that will always burn. But to really endure love is to have it leave you – to comprehend life without it and more importantly, without that person you thought it would always go hand in hand with. It is probably one of life’s toughest lessons, but I’m glad I have it under my belt. Love can come so easily, but it can go just as quickly.

Love. It can leave you broken and battered or knocked down and dragged out. It almost seems unfair that something so fulfilling can leave you so empty and dejected. But while stuck in these throes of emotional despair, love is also a saviour. It floats in from those around you – friends and family who remain loyal to you out of pure and simple love. They pick you up and carry you back to your corner, then guide you through the mending process. They help to make sure you and your heart heal, to prevent you from tearing out the sutures. These are the people who have always been there for you – the ones who love you unconditionally. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, best friends, the list goes on. They’re the ones who loved you first and always will as long as you return it with respect. That’s a pretty monumental crutch to lean on. When love strikes you for the first time, in all these different circumstances, they’ll be with you every step of the way.

That support makes experiences yet to come even more exciting – wondering what degrees of love will accompany them. How will my heart beat the day I hold my firstborn child? My grandchild? What sort of emotion will wash right over me? It will be love, but with what intensity? How will I feel it? That also goes for everything else we want to accomplish. Most of us are passionate about the things we do. They are labours of love – whether it be putting words on a page or practicing free throws out on the court. Putting so much of your heart into something and having it pay off can take you to heights you’ve never been. When I think back to the first time I scored a goal in hockey or the first time I had an article published in a national newspaper, I can’t help but smile. Knowing that all my hard work was driven by love and those accomplishments, intangible or not, were a direct by-product.

As our paths continue to wind through life, love seems to be an exponential force. It keeps getting bigger the broader our life experiences become. When I think back about that unforgettable summer night, the first time I kissed a girl, I’m amazed at how much more this wild emotion has impacted everything I’ve done since, both for better and for worse. It helped teach me to respect all life that surrounds me. It led me to discover my Anishinaabe roots. It guided me through pain of loss and it has me ecstatic and anxious about whatever I encounter next, kind of like that vibrant rush after that first kiss.

Love catalyzes itself in many different ways. When I finally experienced the ultimate physical manifestation of love, well, that’s a whole other story in itself.


Waubgeshig Rice is a broadcast journalist and freelance writer based in Ottawa, Ontario. He began his career as a freelance writer at the age of 17, when he sent monthly reports to a local newspaper about his year-long adventures as an Ojibway kid on exchange in northern Germany. After travelling Europe, he returned to Canada and earned his journalism degree at Ryerson University, Toronto, in 2002. Since then, his articles, essays and stories have appeared in many publications across North America. He began his broadcasting career at the Weather Network in 2003, moved to Winnipeg CBC News at Six in the spring of 2006. He’s now a reporter in Ottawa for CBC News. Waubgeshig grew up on Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario. He’s deeply proud of his Anishinaabe background and cites growing up on the rez as his greatest learning experience.