July 1, 2020

When I was on my morning walk, I saw a Native American man walking to the hospital that is near my house.  

He was wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt. He had a long gray braid in his hair with three feathers coming out of it.  

He walked tall, proud, and confidently, which made me happy.

There was so much poise in his stride. He saw me looking at him. I waved because with a mask on I knew he could not see my smile. We ended up standing at the light together. “Your feathers are beautiful,” I told him. 

He bowed his head. “Thank you,” he said and then asked me about the Advot Project Listen-Act-Change tee shirt I was wearing, which I explained.

We walked six feet apart, but we were together.

He told me a little of his story, that he was born on an Indian reservation before he became a doctor.  He always wears his feathers so people know who he is and so that he doesn’t forget where he is from. His eyes were gentle, and his heart was kind.
I can’t imagine that life is easy going to work wearing feathers on your head. 

He turned into the hospital, waved to me, and said,

“Thank you for liking my feathers. That brings me happiness,” and then he disappeared through the doors of the building.

Later that day one of my students called me and told me,
“Happiness has left my life. Everything is hard and I am sad. I spent so many years locked up. I got out and I felt happiness filling me up. Now living is so hard, I’m bummed, Ms. It’s like she left for good.”

I love that happiness has become a person in her story. 

For people who have been incarcerated for years and/or decades, when they get out everything is new, and everything, and I mean everything, is a challenge.

You need to catch up, re-learn and adapt, which is not easy, to say the least.

I can totally understand why happiness left and went for a walk.

This student of mine has so much to face, so much, and she is doing it with so much grace.

“It’s a funny thing about happiness,” I tell her. “When she leaves, it feels like she is never coming back, but she is a sneaky one, that happiness. When you least expect it, she will come back. 

I can also tell you,” I add. “Happiness will sometimes drop in for a moment only to go away again. You simply need to leave the door open for her and have faith that she will come back.”

“I don’t know,” my student tells me. “I’m feeling beat down.” And then she tells me how hard all these things are that she is trying to learn and to do. “I don’t want to go back to jail,” she adds. 

“I know,” I tell her. “Of course not.”

Listening to her made me think of the man I saw in the morning.

“What are your feathers?”  I ask her. 

“What?” she asks. “I don’t understand.” 

I am not sure I understand what I am asking, but there was something about this doctor with the feathers in his braid that made me think about the keys to happiness. 

I think of what he said to me. “Thank you for liking my feathers. That brings me happiness.”

I share with my student my morning encounter. 

“The doctor’s feathers are his heritage, his spirit, and what he stands for. His happiness hangs out there. What are your feathers? What do you stand for and feel good about in all the hard things that you have to face? Maybe there is where you can find some happiness.” I am sounding a little airy-fairy to myself. 

I think this is a serious stretch. But it is all I have at the moment. 

I am not really sure even I understand what I am saying.

I think for a moment about my own happiness. She, too, has been giving me some heartache lately.  I think of many of my village who like me are looking for ways to keep happiness from slipping away in these challenging times.  I get a little lost in my thoughts and the quiet, and then, of course, my brilliant student gets it better than me.


“That is dope, Ms.” she said. “How do you think up this shit?” and she laughs a big laugh.

“My feathers, huh???” She says  “Well, my feathers, let me tell you something about my feathers. My feathers are the 23 years I sat locked up. My feathers are my good heart that I kept clean of hate. No matter what happened, I try to be kind and nice. My feathers are my will. I am going to get my license and my car. And I am not going back to jail. Wow, Ms. You are right! Bam! There is my happiness.”

Now I am quiet. I feel my eyes tear up. I am happy we are on the phone and not on Zoom on the computer.

I think to myself; my happiness is not too fond of all these Zoom meetings I am doing.  You see, my happiness is a people person.

“Ms., you there?”
“Yup,” I tell her.

“Thank you. Happiness is back.”

“That is great,” I say. “You know, she is tricky,” I warn. 

“Oh, Ms., happiness is a bitch. I know that. But now I got me my feathers, so I’m good.”

I laugh out loud and say, “Terrific!” and we talk a little more.

I hang up the phone. I sit a few minutes. I try to think of my feathers. What are they?

And then I think of the doctor with the feathers in his hair and I know that this would make him oh so incredibly happy.

I smile to myself, and whoops there she is.

Happiness drops in for a little visit.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Courting the Antisemitic Vote

We’re accustomed to politicians courting the Black Vote, or the Jewish Vote, or the Youth Vote. But what about the Antisemitic Vote?

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.