Traveling Another's Path

Favorite literary characters are our theme this month. Hmm, that’s a tough one. I've had so many over the years. They've changed as I've aged, so how do I pick? I've been wrestling with this all month and still don’t have an answer.

There is one that stands out for me. I’m not sure I can say why. Not without hurting my pea-brain anyway. The character’s name is Tom Black. The book, When the Legends Die, by Hal Borland.

Tom is a young Indian betrayed by a tribal member for money and forcefully integrated into the white man’s world when his parents die. His only friend, a black bear cub, is kept chained nearby so Tom won’t run away. He is treated, for the most part, without compassion, respect or understanding. Hatred takes deep root in his heart.

We follow him as he grows up. He continues being used and betrayed by others. Disgust, disappointment and despair grow. In spite of that, he becomes an expert bronco rider. His use of this skill brings some money and fame. The acclamation helps him to feel important, but it’s for all the wrong reasons. He’s famous for riding a number of horses to death. The rest he would punish by riding in a brutal fashion.

By now you’re probably thinking, why would anyone like this guy? Because the story is about someone so lost and alone that all he knows is pain. You follow his journey as he discovers you can’t live a life of hate. It’s a masterful portrayal of how bitterness and unforgiveness will eat away at your soul. It shows that the quality of your life depends on you, no matter what has happened.

At the end, he revisits his roots. He goes “native” and returns to the mountains where he was happy as a child to find himself once more. It’s a story of redemption, and those are my favorite kind. I learned things about myself as I traveled Tom’s path.

So, why do I like this character? Maybe it’s the mother in me, wanting to comfort and love someone surrounded by angry, unfeeling people. Maybe it’s the need to protect the defenseless. Maybe it’s my lifelong love of the Native American People. Maybe it’s the need to root for the underdog.

My feelings for Tom’s character are nebulous at best. They’re there. They’re strong, but hard to define. Perhaps I’m afraid to look too close. Perhaps in defining them, I won’t like what I see. Perhaps it’s no one else’s business. I’m not real sure about a lot of things, but Tom Black, is special to me.