“You knew what I was when you picked me up,” said the snake.
One of my closest friends once told me a wonderful story. Robbie and I travelled many paths together and eventually became like brothers. We met while we were in our teens. It was at a youth centre in Edmonton. The place was run by what we called Christian Soldiers.
They were good-hearted people who drove around in an old school bus. They would park the bus in the inner city and pass out hot chocolate, fruit and sandwiches. They would come out after midnight. It didn’t matter what the weather was like. Most of the young people I hung out with would meet there and sing songs with the Christians.
Eventually, they would get to know us and invite us to their youth centre. It wasn’t a place to go and crash out, but rather a place where young people could hang out in safety. There was a pool table and other table games. Sometimes the centre would take everyone to the movies. Robbie and I started hanging out mostly because our backgrounds were basically the same.
Life went on and we grew into adulthood. We always kept in touch no matter what. We both struggled before we were in our mid-teens and we both battled addictions. Sometimes we would meet when were free from substance abuse at a traditional First Nations ceremony.
It was always nice to see him and his family. We both believed in a higher power and finding the strength that would guide a way to a better and healthier life. For Robbie, it was more of a struggle because he had been at the extreme drug abuse for so long and so often that, at times, I thought he was going to die from trying to sober up. Eventually, he managed to defeat his demons and lived a life of being free.
In one of his journeys to a ceremony, he heard a story. He shared this story with me and it’s my privilege to pass it on to you.
Long before the arrival of the European settlers, First Nations people had ceremonies that would take them to different stages in life. There were four stages, with the first being the baby. The second is youth, then adulthood and eventually being an elder. Before each stage, there were ceremonies that would take them to another stage.
White Eagle was going into what we would call today 14. He had been prepared by his elders for the ceremony that would take him into the youth stage.
“You will go high on the hills and fast,” said one of the elders. “You will be by yourself for four nights and four days without food and water.”
White Eagle was warned not to pick up a snake, although it would be tempting.
“The snake will sing and dance for you. It will turn itself into beautiful colours,” the elder said. “Do not be fooled by him, as he will bite and kill you instantly.”
White Eagle started for the hills. About half way up the hill, he ran into a snake.
“Excuse me,” said the snake. “I am very cold. If you were to place me under your coat we can both keep warm.”
But the young man was not about to be fooled.
“No,” said White Eagle. “I have been warned what would happen if I pick you up.”
The snake started to sing and dance, and then he started to turn himself into beautiful colours. “You see,” said the snake. “How can something this beautiful be dangerous for you?”
White Eagle thought about it and picked up the snake. Within seconds the snake bit White Eagle. As he fell to his knees and felt the life being drawn from him, he heard the snake say, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”
Robbie then shared the analogy of the snake being hard drugs or alcohol.
“I know what it’s going to do when I pick it up,” he said.
Because of his past lifestyle and abuse of hard drugs and alcohol, his organs slowly started to give up and he eventually passed away. He died sober, with his family. He left a story that will stay with me forever.