Human beings possess incredible strength. I have witnessed my mother endure some of the toughest life hardships with resilience and heard about my father rescuing a colleague who had fallen in the deep recesses of a gasoline tanker. People thought he was crazy but his shipmate was foaming at the mouth paralyzed by the fumes and my father did what he had to do to preserve life. He climbed in the tank. Human beings have the incredible capacity to do good things and to save lives.
Some call it hysterical strength, others refer to it as superhuman strength, “it is a display of extreme strength by humans, beyond what is believed to be normal, usually occurring when people are in life and death situations.” You have seen it time and time again on the nightly news. Parents lifting vehicles to rescue their children or a group of complete stranger lifting a bus to save a trapped elder. The extra strength is believed to come from adrenaline, though incidents are rare–there are a multitude of examples throughout human history of superhuman strength. Some conjecture that this rare strength may occur during excited delirium, others contend it is the unrelenting love of a mother or the compassion of human nature to save a life. The truth is probably a little bit of all of these things that contribute to our capability to do heavy lifting.
The other day a leader I deeply admire and respect told me “you are doing a great job, you are probably the best Human Resources Director we have ever had.” While I was humbled by his compliment—I knew in my heart of hearts there is no way I could have done any heavy lifting on my own. When I was first called to the Confederated Tribes, I was told that the HR Department needed some serious help. There were corners of the office that looked straight out of scene of hoarders with way too much paper and few processes in place to ensure paperwork was handled in an efficient and timely matter. My staff of ten not only helped me to physically reorganize HR, but they put in a lot of energy to learn new systems and a new rationale as to why Human Resources was a critical artery for the entire organization. In eighteen brief months my staff and I transformed HR together and we are still transforming the department to best serve individual employees and ultimately the entire community of Warm Spring. We have done some very heavy lifting together.
Recently—my middle son Samuel sent me a humbling text. For perspective, all three of my sons work hard at taking care of their health as they simultaneously balance their university studies and will soon launch careers. They are working fulltime and attending school fulltime. I remember  similar days while studying at the University of Oregon and holding down fulltime jobs—tough times but I know now and have taught my sons life’s challenges teach us to do heavy lifting on our own. My sons’ text reads as follows:
“Hey Mom, just wanted to send this to you real quick with a background story. What you are looking at is a barbell loaded with 315 pounds which is more than I have ever been able to dead lift my entire life. I’ve been working on strengthening my back and legs enough to hit this weight but I was a little nervous because the last time I tried I hurt my back and I wasn’t able to try again for about another six weeks. I was lifting here after warming up and I was thinking about how awesome it would be to be able to get this goal today. (315 for the lifter means you are in a pretty good position of strength.) I was thinking about everything you were saying yesterday and I realized I am the son of a woman like Elizabeth Asahi Sato so this will be a piece of cake for me. I’ve seen you muscle through more hardship than ten times this weight on your shoulder and by sheer will alone you pulled through and if you can do it as my mom I can do this as your son. This morning you texted me– reminding me to stay focused, about my noble ancestry and how we always pushed through, persevered and conquered. I just wanted you to know I destroyed the lift and actually punched out two solid reps with perfect strict form and I’m dedicating that lift to you Mom. Cause without your love and support I could never be strong enough to do something like that on my own. I love you. Get SWOLE.” Samuel
My son’s words have been inspiring me as of late–I am doing some heavy lifting on my own trying to change the trajectory of my lifestyle weighted down by an overly focused preoccupation with work. One’s body, mind and heart suffer if you do not balance out the “work” load. I am presently balancing out the load and reexamining just what I can bench individually and what I need others to help me lift. There is still a great deal of heavy lifting to do. The truth is it takes a great deal of focus to lift off of us individually and collectively the suffocating burdens, unnecessary refuse and manmade barriers that prevent us from excelling as individuals and communities.
In some way, Native/Indigenous communities are no different than other communities except that– the greater burden of economic disparity and significant generational trauma have resulted in very capable human beings doubting their own strength. When we doubt that we can lift the weight—we will not lift it– let alone— push it off of our backs. There is a great deal of heavy lifting to accomplish all across Indian country—but we can do it, not only individually but collectively with our super human strength and amazing spirit. The human spirit gives us that extra fuel and when utilized appropriately will empower organizations, communities and even a nation to lift the burden together.
Our United States nation (what many call America) has some heavy lifting to do. Right now we “citizens” are distracted by the nonsensical diatribe being spewed out of the mouths of political pundits who could care less about the challenges ahead of us. The ultimate reality for us is that– the average Joe, the average citizen, the overburdened taxpayer will shoulder the burden and responsibility of the outcome of the upcoming election. We will also endure any policies implemented through these elected leaders or the proverbial dysfunction of leadership as witnessed these past eight years with a defiant congress focused on their own political will not the collective will/need of the people. The heavy burden remains on our backs and could intensify. We “citizens” of these United States need to get focused. We need to think about what is ahead of us during this next election and seriously consider who can help us lift this car, this bus or very conceivably this nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by the diatribe of social media sound bites or television antics. We have some very heavy lifting to do and we need to prepare sooner than later.
Let me encourage you whoever you are today to get “swole” as my son Samuel recommends. Let’s prepare our individual lives and our collective lives to get busy and lift this country to the level of greatness it is so capable. Let’s rise to excellence beloved. We can do it. We have done it. Whether it is a work challenge, a community need or changing this nation for the greater good—we can effect positive and proactive change. We can do the heavy lifting together.
(c) Elizabeth Asahi Rising Sun Sato
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