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Aug 03

Life Changing Childhood Moment

childhood memoryA human interest story I heard recently on public radio prompted me to reflect on my childhood. This isn’t a memory exercise I engage in often; not because my childhood wasn’t pleasant but simply because I am not one to dwell much on the past.

But the radio program immediately caused me to identify what I believe was a pivotal childhood moment, one that had an irrevocable and permanent impact on the person I am today.

Remembering childhood moments

A research study recently reported on in The Atlantic noted that young children can remember events from when they were as young as 20 months old, but those memories usually go away by the time they are between the ages of 4 to 7 years. It’s not that kids can’t remember things, according to the study’s author, Carole Peterson, a professor of psychology at Memorial University Newfoundland. Instead, two factors seem to be the determining ones: whether the memory “has emotion infused in it,” and if the memory is coherent.

Let me preface the description of my pivotal childhood moment by explaining that I do not have many vivid images in my mind from my early childhood. Based on Peterson’s research, this is not such an unusual occurrence. Now I don’t feel so bad!

But there is one situation that occurred when I was 5 years old, and the memory is nearly as clear as if it were playing it out all over again. And no, I do not have any photographs of the incident nor any of the elements involved.

Pivotal childhood moment

I was playing alone at the end of the driveway to our house in a small development of homes in Ewing Township, New Jersey. My father slowly navigated the corner in his red pickup truck and pulled up to the curb. Strapped to the grill of the vehicle was a dead deer.

The doe’s eyes were open, and when mine met hers, her spirit immediately burned into my soul. My response was swift, loud, and chilling. The wail that rose from my throat should have been born of a person three times my size. The look in her eyes have never left me.

childhood momentWas this the event that laid the groundwork for my eventual decision to become a vegan and help campaign for animal rights? All I know is that that moment triggered a change in my very core. As for my father, he never went deer hunting again (although he did continue to hunt duck for several years, much to my horror).

About three decades later, well after I had adopted a vegetarian and then vegan lifestyle, I moved to Tucson, Arizona, where I became acquainted with a few Native Americans from the Tohono O’odham tribe while I was writing articles for an alternative newspaper. Soon I became enamored with their spiritual practices and was befriended by one of the tribe’s elders. He invited me to visit their sacred grounds in the south part of the city.

Childhood moment redux

One day an Oglala Sioux medicine man named Ed McGaa was visiting Tucson and giving a series of talks. The Tohono O’odham elders invited McGaa, also known as Eagle Man, to construct a sweat lodge on their sacred site. My husband and I were asked to participate in the construction and the ceremony, and we were delighted to do so.

Construction of the lodge and the fire pit took the entire afternoon, after which we were to have the ceremony. It was my first time in a sweat lodge, which is used for purification and healing the mind, body, and spirit. I didn’t know what to expect, but soon the chanting, prayer songs, and drumming took over my entire being and I felt at one with the universe.

childhood momentAfter the songs were sung and the talking stick was passed around, Eagle Man asked me if I was prepared to receive my spirit name. I was caught off guard while also feeling honored. I gave my consent, and after a few moments, he announced that henceforth, my spirit name was to be Deer Spirit Woman.

Suddenly I was 5 years old again. I was one with the doe. I felt whole and as if this medicine man had seen into my soul and witnessed the deer’s spirit I had embraced all those years. To this day, whenever I am in the presence of a deer and our eyes lock, I feel an energy, an understanding, pass between us. I am centered, I’m at peace, I am Deer Spirit Woman.

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