The Meaning of a Father’s Goodbye

In Chapter 30, entitled The Parting, Sunlei’s family is gathered in the Shawnee encampment just outside Tuchareegee to say goodbye to her as they turn her over to Seven Arrows.  Those of you who have read the book will recall that the price demanded by Chief Yellow Robe of the South Fork Shawnee for the loss of the tribe’s six young braves is the marriage of Seven Arrows, his only remaining son, to Sunlei-Awi, Tyoga Weathersby’s true love.  It is through their union, Yellow Robe supposes, that the six lives lost will be replaced.

Here is how I describe Sunlei’s parting with her father, Nine Moons:

Nine Moons took his daughter into his arms as he had done a thousand times before. Her head fit under his chin. He gazed off into the distance. “When you were but my baby girl, we would sit together beside our lodge fire long into the night. We would speak of many things,” he softly whispered into his daughter’s ear.

“Yes, Adoda. I remember,” Sunlei replied.

“One of your favorite stories was that of the firefly,” he continued. “Do you remember?”

Sunlei smiled.

“Aukawak, the firefly glows in the night hoping to attract the perfect mate. Flying over the calm, cool waters of Silver Shore pond, she flashes and flashes her beautiful light, hoping to find a mate with the biggest and brightest light of all. After many hours of searching for the one firefly whose light equals the brilliance of her own, she sees on the opposite shore the most glorious flashing firefly she has ever seen. The brightness of the light is illuminating the darkness of the night, and she is certain that he is calling her name. She flies toward him, and his light is getting closer to her. It seems as though they have found one another.”

“But he never makes it across the pond to her,” Sunlei interrupted him.

“That’s right, Little One. The light that he cast was also seen by the pond’s biggest fish. He became a meal before he could become a husband. They would have had many beautiful babies.”

Nine Moons stopped as he felt his daughter begin to shake with the effort to stay strong. He kissed her on the top of her head and continued.

“Do you remember the lesson of the story’s ending, my Little One?” he asked.

“Yes, Father,” she said. “Aukawak’s light does not go out at the loss of her chosen one. She continues to glow until she finds another. Her light never goes out.”

For readers of the Legend of Tyoga Weathersby, this passage isn’t too cryptic. But my intent here was to have the reader think beyond the readily apparent meaning of the tale of Aukawak and consider the lessons to be learned in terms of their own lives.  Aukawak is searching to find what she supposes will be her one true love – the brightest light shining in the darkness.  Her potential mate, located across the pond, is flashing his most brilliant display hoping beyond hope that amidst the millions of other flashing male fire flys – his light will be noticed.  It is noticed, but not only by Aukawak but also by “the biggest fish in the pond.”  Before he can make it across the pond to Aukawak, he is consumed by the fish.  His demise leaves Aukawak available for another male “flasher” that is perhaps beaming his light a tiny bit less bright.

Aside from the obvious parallels to the circumstances in which the main characters find themselves, there are hidden messages told from the characters’ perspectives – Aukawak (Sunlei), the potential flashy mate (Tyoga), and the ponds big fish (Seven Arrows) – that have relevance for us today:

  1. Searching for the “flashiest” fire fly may not be the wisest move.  Ostentatious displays rarely augur the qualities associated with the kind of quality relationship after which most are seeking. So while we may be attracted to the most handsome, hunky guy, or the most beautiful, sexy woman in the room, perhaps that is not where our true happiness lies.  Those that flash less brightly are usually the better catch.
  2. While being the brightest, flashiest fire fly in the night attracts a great deal of attention, the attention thus garnered may come from an unwelcome source.  There is always someone bigger, stronger, smarter, more aggressive and ultimately “better” than even the flashiest man, woman or fire fly.  My mother used to say, “It is the empty wagon that rattles the most.”  So listen rather than speak.  Reflect rather than react.  Better to flash less and let the big fish make a meal out of another.
  3. Sometimes it seems as though circumstances conspire to ensure an outcome that is unanticipated – and unwelcome.  Aukawak sees him.  He sees her.  He begins to cross the pond to be by her side.  WHAM!! He’s sliding down the gullet of an eight-pound bass.  Doesn’t seem fair, does it?  But here the reader has to keep in mind the central tenant of the Promise:  All things happen exactly as they were meant to be.  While it is difficult for us to see why events unfold as they do – the end result is always – always – in keeping with the grand design.  Questioning why is an exercise in futility.  It is – because it was meant to be.  The right or wrong of it is a purely human construct that – in the end – is of no importance at all.
  4. Lost love should never cause us to give up.  There are literally millions of people in the world with which we could forge a loving, committed relationship.  That we are with the person we are with is simply a coincidence of time and space.  A new love will always come along.  It will be different – for we only have the capacity to love a single person in a singular way – but it will be love just the same.  Broken hearts mend.  But they are never the same.  They shouldn’t be.  The scars we carry make us who – and what – we are as living, caring, feeling beings.  We think that a broken heart is unique to the human species.  I think this is a terribly misguided notion.  My dog, Dexter, still lies down next to where he used to sit beside my mother as she brushed his coat and snuck him little doggy treats.  His eyes tell us how much he misses her.

Astute readers will remember that the Awkawak story comes into play later in the book. Sunlei’s life is saved by Nine Moon’s recounting of this tale as he kisses his daughter goodbye for the final time. He knows that he will never see her again, and his final words ultimately give her the strength and courage to carry on.  When Sunlei is sitting on the log by the fire the first night in camp with the Shawnee – just before she is to taken by Seven Arrows – she sees a knife embedded in the log just out of reach.  She plays out in her mind the consequences of taking her own life.  She is shocked back to reality by the cry of a solitary crow.  The sound is AUKAAWWW.  At first, she thinks that it is her father whispering the word “Awkawak” in her ear.  So I used a little sound imagery to remind the reader that if you listen carefully to nature, she will always guide you in the right direction.  She speaks to us just as a parent whispering in our ear.  There is a reason we call her MOTHER Nature.