I’m still living in the afterglow of reading the books by Muscogee Creek caretaker of sacred ways, Native American Bear Heart and his wife Reginah WaterSpirit. 

Two months after reading the two-volume biography, “The Wind is My Mother,” and “The Bear is My Father,” I’m still amazed at how Bear Heart incorporated his love of Jesus with his Native American love of nature throughout his 90 years on earth. In fact, he made a very strong comparison to the lives, languages and thought processes of the Native Americans with the early Hebrews. He believes the Native Americans and First Nation tribes are part of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

As an aside, Bear Heart wrote that the word Indian is not a derogatory description that Columbus called Native Americans, because he thought he landed in India. He called the people whom he first encountered on this continent In Dios, children of God. It was shortened to Indio and later Indian.

One of the most powerful lessons he was taught and carried on to others was to respect elders. Whenever an elder came to visit they were immediately given the seat of honor in the house, and whether requested or not, they would be given food, if any was available, or at the very least a cold drink of water.

A younger person, whether a child or not, was not to speak unless beckoned by the elder to do so. To do otherwise would serve as a great dishonor to the elder. 

That’s something I was brought up to do always. My parents would be mortified if I were to disrespect an elder — not that I ever recall doing so (otherwise I would recall the punishment). I live that to this very day. I do believe my children live by the same tenet, though with them all out of the nest, I can only hope.

But what I see and hear today makes my skin crawl. Many in the younger generation today seem to care first about themselves and then maybe about someone they love or like, but it seems to end there. Some cannot even find it within themselves to honor their own parents or grandparents. Heartbreaking.

The Japanese culture still upholds this wonderful tradition, although tradition makes it sound too trite. It’s a duty, an obligation — one of respect and love.

Elders have so much to offer their younger brethren.

But the question to me looms: when does respect begin. How far apart in age does one have to be from another to gain that respect?

In my mind, anyone who is older than I am is an “elder,” in the sense that they are more experienced at life than I, no matter how little the age difference.

I find today that it isn’t only the younger generations that have lost, or never had, that respect for elders. I find that money, power and ego have often superseded respect for elders.

Whether it’s a work relationship, a business transaction, or a sense of pride in having or doing more than others, the respect for someone older is not even an option.

I find it amazing that the natives of North America were considered “savages” by their often white counterparts — the ones who came and took everything they had, for themselves. Who were and are the real savages?

I try to live by the rule to respect anyone who has more life experience than I, no matter how much or little. It saddens me when others don’t feel the same way towards me.

You’re never too old or too young to respect or deserve respect.