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The Flying Ice Bear
by Dr. Allen D. Brandon

One cold morning, the eldest children of the Arctic village were asked to gather in a circle around the wise Medicine Woman. In the center of the circle was built a large bonfire. She informed them that on this special day, each child would be given a name, which matched their spirit, soul, and personality. To achieve this, each child would have to take an adventure outside of the village. They would have to hike through the countryside and chose an animal or other object, which truly would match their own spirit. The name of this animal or object would become their name, and they would take on the spiritual characteristics of that which they touched. For the rest of their lives, this object would give them wisdom, strength, and guidance.

The children were all very excited! As they began to venture out of the village, they spoke amongst themselves about the things they hoped to encounter. As they were parting, the Medicine Woman gave each child a short piece of whalebone. It was about two feet long. This was a magical bone that they would use to touch the animal, thus drawing the name and special identity into themselves.

As the children began on their separate ways, one spoke of how he hoped to touch a caribou, and take on its name and spirit. Another spoke of touching an eagle, because it could fly high and see things all around it. A third hoped to touch a squirrel, because they were swift and sleek. Another decided she would seek out the spirit of the intelligent and beautiful wolf. One wished to capture the spirit of a seal, with its ability to swim, and stay warm, even on the coldest of days.

As she left the village, Mako wasn't yet sure what spirit she wanted to capture. As she walked, she watched and listened carefully to her surroundings. She saw many creatures and objects, but nothing seemed to embody her spirit. She encountered a beautiful, furry arctic fox. It seemed very graceful and playful, yet this did not seem to be the right totem for her. A bit further on, she came across a seal, diving at the edge of the ice flow. While it seemed to be very adept at swimming, plunging beneath the waves with powerful thrusts of its flippers, Mako didn't think that this spirit called to her, either. Later on, Mako spotted a wolf, and then an arctic grouse, but they just wouldn't work either.

She grew more discouraged and disenchanted as the day wore on. The journey was very tough going! The ice was thin, and she would fall through to her knees with each step. Mako would step and crash through the ice, then step and crash through the ice again. She became more and more weary, both physically and emotionally. Late afternoon turned into early evening, and she was giving up hope. She kept looking and searching, but still nothing seemed to call out to her. She saw eagles, hawks, even a caribou, but didn't feel drawn toward any of them. None of them seemed to embody the totem for which she was searching.

Suddenly, in the distance, she saw the spirit that called to her! Mako knew immediately that capturing this totem was more important to her than anything in the world. Standing in the distance was a beautiful polar bear. All white, with long, flowing fur, and a coal black nose. In fact, it seemed that the nose was the bear's only place of vulnerability, since the blackness clearly stood out against the animal's white fur and ice background. The bear seemed to realize this, for as Mako cautiously approached, it lay down on the ice, and covered its nose with its paw! Immediately, as if by magic, the bear seemed to disappear! However, Mako knew that it was only well camoflaged against the white background. She was delighted with the bear's wisdom; that it knew to cover its nose in order to hide! Giggling, Mako realized even more that this wise bear was indeed the name and totem that she wanted to draw upon as her own! Not only was it beautiful, strong, and powerful, but it also had gifts of wisdom and grace.

As Mako walked closer and closer to the white bear, crashing through the ice with each step, the little girl became more and more excited. Her hands were trembling, and heart was racing. It was all she could do to just hold onto the whalebone while she walked. As she struggled along, the girl was frustrated that she could not walk faster across the ice. It was very annoying to keep falling through the ice, with each step. Her steps were so slow. First one leg would break through the ice, and then the other.

Finally, she was almost up to the beautiful bear, who was lying on the ice, watching her approach. The bear seemed to smile as she walked closer, as if awaiting her arrival. Finally, just as Mako was reaching out her whalebone to touch the bear, it seemed to wink, shake its beautiful long fur, turn, and FLY away! Mako was in shock! She was devastated! She had not been able to touch the bear, and now it was gone! She realized that the bear was not only wise, but it was magical and could fly! Oh, how she despaired! She wanted the totem of that bear so badly, but her whalebone had not touched the fur. She was crushed. Would life ever be the same again? Certainly, she would be humiliated when she returned to the camp empty-handed. Mako believed that no other animal would fill her spirit as the bear would have done.

The girl wandered the ice flows for the rest of the evening, crashing through to her knees and hips with each step. Her heart was broken. She had wanted to capture the bear's spirit so badly. Nothing else that she saw could come close to exciting her. She saw more seals, eagles, and caribou, but nothing seemed to call out to her spirit. She just trudged onward.

Late that night, as Mako dragged herself into the village, she was exhausted from the physical and mental labors of the day. Her legs were weary, and her feet were frozen and sore. Moreover, she was heartbroken that she had not been able to gather the name and totem of the beautiful polar bear. As she arrived at the campfire, all the children were gathered around the Medicine Woman. Mako sat on the edge of the group, hoping that she would not be noticed. As she looked around, sure enough, there sat Eagle, and little Wolf, and Caribou. Each had captured the name and spirit of the animal by touching it with their Whalebone. Fox seemed so proud and self-assured. Caribou seemed so graceful and strong.

One by one, each child around the fire took turns telling stories of how they earned their new names. As she listened, Mako became more and more saddened, depressed, and humiliated. She grieved that she had no new name. She felt lonely, embarrassed, and self-conscious. She tried to slip out of the group, and make her way back to her lodge, but as luck would have it, it was her turn to tell her story. She was so sad. As she told the group about her encounter with the great, magical bear, she felt even more dejected. She described how hard it was walking on the ice, crashing through with each step. And how devastated she was when the bear flew away from her. She asked the Medicine Woman to forgive her for being such a failure, on such an important day. In fact, Mako believed that the life would never again be good for her. She felt that she had failed terribly.

The wise Medicine Woman, who had been very quiet during the little girl's story, spoke. And she did not appear angry. In fact, she was smiling! The girl was confused. She insisted to the Medicine Woman that she had not touched the bear with her whalebone, and could not have obtained the totem and spirit of the bear. However the wise woman continued to smile, and simply replied that indeed the mystical bear had given her it's spirit, by showing Mako the Secret of Life!

Mako was even more confused--she hadn't touched the bear. It had flown away just before she could place the whalebone against its magnificent fur. However, the Medicine Woman was not swayed. She explained to Mako that the magical bear had not really flown at all, but had glided over the ice as if it was flying. The bear had intentionally shown to Mako the ultimate meaning of moving, as if flying, on four equally balanced legs of life. While she had not touched the bear with her whalebone; it had instead touched her.

The Medicine Woman told Mako that the bear saw that she only walked on two legs at a time crashing through the ice with each step. However, the bear was able to glide on the four legs; not falling through the thin ice at all

The Medicine Woman emphasized that what the bear showed the girl was that humans only walk with two legs at a time--stumbling through life with awkwardness, pain, resentment, and failure. However, a life that is balanced between the four special legs of love, play, work, and spirit allows one to glide through life's troubles and disappointments. That was the secret of life, to balance on those four legs on a daily basis.

The Medicine Woman informed Mako that many villagers over the years had sought this magical bear, but it had allowed only Mako to get close enough to learn the secrets it possessed. She said that was the true meaning of a totem--the magical bear had allowed itself to be found, searching for Mako, as earnestly as she had searched for the bear!

Mako was thrilled. Her dejection was replaced by elation. She could see what the Medicine Woman was explaining to her. The bear had sought her out, in order that it could teach her the secret of life. She shocked Mako, by telling her that indeed she had captured the spirit of the beautiful bear, and would be forever called FLYING ICE BEAR! She was very excited as she slept that night--eager to begin her new life with a special totem--the Flying Ice Bear!

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