Thank You, Chief

Sometimes, kindness comes from the most unexpected places. This week, Ellen A. shares her thank you that got away.

The hostess ushered us through the lodge-styled restaurant, walking beneath thick old-growth ceiling beams toward a small log table by the window. As we settled into our seats, I noticed the people occupying the table next to ours: two older Native Americans, their faces cracked with lines like dry river beds, and two little girls with shiny black braids cascading down their backs. They ate without speaking a word. Yet within this closed silence echoed a sense of community, of family, of quiet love and respect.

Once, maybe twice, my husband and I smiled at the family. I tried not to stare at the beautiful little girls, but every now and then I’d catch my eyes wandering in their direction. I wondered what their relationship was to the older adults—grandparents, perhaps? And occasionally I drifted into a sense of sadness for what my ancestors had done to these noble people. We Americans owe them more than we could ever give.

After finishing their meal, the “grandfather” finally spoke—to us. He said he was the chief of his tribe, and his granddaughters were princesses. They were headed to an important ceremony to celebrate these little girls. His people would perform ancestral rituals, then have a feast and a tribal dance. And he invited us to join them.

I was honored and humbled, and, as I told him, there was nothing I would rather do; but it was Mother’s Day, and my mother was waiting for us. He smiled gently, said he understood, and bid us farewell.

We sat in awe, processing what we had just experienced, moved by the Chief’s generosity and thoughtfulness, his open spirit. Why would he want to include us?

Later, when we asked our waitress for the check, she told us the Chief had paid for our breakfast. I’ve sometimes wondered if the Chief was practicing forgiveness.

That’s a thank you I will never get to deliver, but a thank you and a lesson that I will carry forever in my heart.

- Ellen Antonelli

Ellen is a feminist, activist, and author of Dancing on Our Fathers’ Feet. Learn more about her work here. We’re always interested in hearing your stories. Send them to