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“You are my relative — Let me tell you a story.”

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I find it inspiring witnessing those moments our health care workers are showered with love and appreciation for their dedication working countless hours leading the charge fighting COVID-19. These moments speak volumes about the virtues, values and strength of our nation when we come together for the betterment of all.  

What comes to mind is the power phrase “Character is never built in a crisis, it is only displayed there!” 

Here we have examples of character being displayed at its finest. We also have character displayed in a variety of other ways as America learns how to live during this pandemic. 

I see COVID-19 as an enemy of humanity. It can end your life or take the life of a loved one in a matter of days. It can destroy our economy, thrusting us into poverty. We don’t know who is a carrier or who is not, until it’s too late for both. Few are those who will be untouched by it.  

So how do we respond collectively or individually?  

Collectively, I am blessed as co-founder of Running Strong for American Indian Youth. We have an incredible staff of dedicated employees and compassionate, loving contributors who are finding ways to help us meet the many needs of Native American communities during these challenging times! I am forever grateful for our humanitarian warriors and our Running Strong staff. You are all my heroes. For those of you not familiar with us, go to www.indianyouth.org to learn more. 

How do we do this individually? I can only tell you what I am doing individually. Perhaps it may be of value to you or at the least, have meaning.  

I have reviewed again and again the core virtues and values of the Lakota, which I have learned are very similar to the virtues and values of the citizens representing the 100+ countries, and many more indigenous nations through the world, that Patricia and I have been honored to visit. 

This experience has magnified the spirituality of the Lakota prayer “We are all related” and you are my relative. It has allowed me to promote unity through our diversity among the various societies of the world and here at home. It has allowed me to relate to relatives of various religions. 

Promoting unity through our diversity has become a way to live… So let me tell you a story! 

Looking back, my mind draws me to the many experiences shared with my father. We spent hours together fishing and talking. I enjoyed our walks to and from the creek as much as the fishing. My responsibility was carrying the tackle box. It was especially enjoyable because the box also contained the hunting knife. I felt more mature! Dad carried the bait (a can of worms), our fishing poles, our lunch and sometimes me on his back with the tackle box. 

During the long walks he would often tell me stories. Only later did I realized the wisdom his stories contained. 

On the way home from one of our more successful fishing trips, he said, “Son, tonight after dinner I want to read you a poem.” What little did I know the poem, and how he read it, would empower me for a lifetime. 

His stories always had a theme of being a better person. However, it was still difficult for me to hide my disappointment because earlier we talked about watching his collection of old movies featuring boxing matches of the greatest boxers in the world on the new 8mm home movie projector he just purchased. 

My favorite fights to watch (no sound and black and white) were of Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. Their most famous bout was called the Longest Count. Google it. It is one of the greatest moments in sports.  

Years later, in 1965 when I met both Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, my thoughts were of my father and I watching them on the old news reels. Later that evening in New York City, I shook their hands and made my departure saying “It’s dream time.” I went back to my hotel room and fell asleep dreaming of my father and I watching their old fights. I woke with joyful tears of memory.  

But back to the poem — that’s on tonight’s agenda.  

After dinner as I prepared for bed, my father turned off the radio he was listening to and called me. Speaking softly, he said, “Listen closely, son,” as he showed me the poem.  

“I call the poem the Ben Adams poem,” he said. “You can learn from it.” 

I thought it was about my grandparents. Ben Mills and Susie Adams Mills and how awkward Ben Adams sounded.  He should just call it the Ben and Susie Poem!  My father began to read… “Ben Adams” (May His Tribe Increase).   

I did not know until years later that the poem was entitled Abou Ben Adhem, because every time my father read to me, he used “Ben Adams”. 

Abou Ben Adhem 

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!) 

Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, 

And saw, within the moonlight in his room, 

Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom, 

An angel writing in a book of gold:— 

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, 

And to the Presence in the room he said 

“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head, 

And with a look made of all sweet accord, 

Answered “The names of those who love the Lord.” 

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,” 

Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low, 

But cheerly still, and said “I pray thee, then, 

Write me as one that loves his fellow men.” 

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night 

It came again with a wakening light, 

And showed the names whom love of God had blessed, 

And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest. 

Anonymous Submission 

Ben Adhem has been pronounced Ben Adam by some scholars.  

Recently, Patricia and I were with several colleagues and we were sharing moments in our lives that turned us for the better. I shared the moment my father read his Ben Adams poem.  

With excitement, one of my colleagues shared, “It is one of ours — Abou Ben Adhem.”  He said Abou gave up his kingdom (throne) to serve others.  He felt loving his fellow being was appreciated by God and spent his life helping others.  I shared how it made me a better Christian and also empowered my Lakota spirituality. It also empowered my friend who is of Islamic faith to be a better person. It strengthened our friendship. 

Perhaps we can all focus on more respect, love, understanding and support of our fellow beings. We are all related. 

Thank you my relatives, 

Billy Mills 

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