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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Spirituality: Do students need it?

John Eggers

Does spirituality play a role in how well students do in school? Have I just opened up a can of worms by asking that question? Probably, but it's a good question. Parents should know the answer.

I am treading on dangerous ground when I talk about spirituality and Native culture. I hope my Native friends will give me the benefit of the doubt and realize I am trying to make a point that spirituality transcends culture.

There is a belief among many Native people that when a person passes away that person enters the spirit world. (Spirituality interpretations vary greatly among Native American culture just as they do among the white culture.) A part of that person's loved ones travel with the person.

It's a comforting thought to know that when we pass away, we will not be alone in our journey into the spirit world and it's a comforting thought to know that a loved one who passed away still may be communicating to us in different ways like, for example, dreams.

There probably isn't a spouse alive who lost a wife or husband who doesn't still feel his or her presence. He or she may even talk to that person who is in the spirit world. I am sure when my wife, Kathy, passes away—assuming she passes before I do,God forbid—I will be talking to her all of the time (probably more than I do now) and asking her questions and seeking her advice.

She may even answer me in my dreams.

"What do you know about spirituality?" is a question that a Native colleague of mine asks young people who seek his counseling. As a public school educator I have often wanted to ask that question to my students or parents. It's a good question because when you help others come to grips with their pains and sufferings you help them understand that the solution may be in a variety of places and one of them is in spirituality. (There is a reason, of course, why spirituality plays such an important role among the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous.)

This past Labor Day week has been an up and down week for me personally. Kathy has to have surgery on her shoulder at Mayo in a few weeks, which will leave her incapacitated for a couple of months. My life long friend, Joe, passed away. The United States lost a true hero in John McCain and Bemidji lost one of its finest citizens, Norton Berg, who I knew as a fellow church member and Lions Club member. We also lost our pet cat, Rascal, when he was hit by a car.

All three of these honorable men traveled into the spirit world and all three traveled with a part of their loved ones. I am sure the loved ones they left behind are talking to them at this very minute.

Although John, Norton and Joe came from varied backgrounds, all three shared similar qualities. All were hard working. All were good, heart of the earth people. All were kind and gentle. All had family who loved them. All were righteous.

Attending the Ponemah Powwow this past weekend, I couldn't help but notice once again the connection it has with the spirit world. Arnold Kingbird said an opening prayer asking the Creator to bless this event and the people in it. The many drummers sing their songs to honor the earth and elders and the dancers paid tribute to the land, their loved ones and the joy of living. This has much to do with spirituality.

I have often talked about what parents need to do to help their kids succeed in school. Things like reading together, eating together, getting involved in school, having limits at home and spending less time on the iPhone and computer will help students. Parents should add spirituality to this list. Those who believe in the power of spirituality will have yet another rung on the ladder of success.

So, what is spirituality? Spirituality has many interpretations. In general, I believe it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than us. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and traditional Native religion differ in what this "bigger connection" is. Some believe spirituality is a mere search for the meaning in life. I would take this one step further and say people who have a strong sense of spirituality have found the meaning of life.

John McCain needed strength in the many years of his imprisonment and he prayed to be delivered. Norton Berg was a God fearing man who taught his family the power of prayer and was blessed for it. My friend, Joe, knew about prayer from an early age and it got him through some very tough times in his life.

Today all three have entered the spirit world and are together as equals even though they came from diverse backgrounds and here we have the power of spirituality. Knowing the spirit world makes us equal, it gives us strength, it gives us power, and we are, at last, one.

Spirituality, more than anything else, gives us hope. Our students need hope and I hope spirituality is part of their life just as it was for John, Norton and Joe.

Humor: I think Senator McCain would appreciate the fact that I am telling his favorite joke. Two men are at the chow line in a prison. One guy says, "This food stinks." The other guy says, "It was a lot better when I was governor." Kids will do a lot better in school when they have a sense of spirituality in their lives. 

100 percent graduation rate

A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Here's some tips on how you can help us achieve that goal:

1. Parents, now is the time to begin telling your kids to stay in school and graduate. Don't give up on this and don't assume they have heard it enough. When they begin telling other students, that's a good sign.

2. Parents, remind your children that they have the same potential to succeed as anyone else.

3. When your kids return home from school, have them tell you one thing they did in school that was interesting. You might want to keep a list of what they say.

The 100 percent movement welcomes the support of Keith's Pizza, Red Lake Transit, Red Lake Jail and Red Lake's Children's Healing Center.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.