Review by Heather Kuttai
Out of all his 16 published books, Embers is Richard Wagamese’s most personal. An Ojibwe man from Wabaseemoong First Nation in Northern Ontario, Wagamese wrote Embers as a set of meditations where he explored the themes that matter most in our lives: grief, joy, healing, sorrow, gratitude, and humility. I have picked it up often, and when I do, it feels new, as though it suddenly contains the gifts I need in that moment. And I have needed those gifts, as we all do, to help reconcile and simply manage how hard life can sometimes be. We all need wisdom; we all need comfort.
Wagamese had many challenges in his too-short life of 61 years, including being raised in foster homes where he was abused and had his culture stripped away. He was also regularly homeless and eventually found solace in libraries, first as a shelter, then as an education. Reading changed his life. After reuniting with his family at the age of 23, an Elder gave Wagamese the name of Buffalo Cloud and told him it was his life’s purpose to write and tell stories.
In Embers, he mused about the sadness and darkness he had experienced, often in the early mornings when he drank tea and burned sweet grass and sage, and he would find peace. He wrote, “Life sometimes is hard. There are challenges. There are difficulties. There is pain. As a younger man I sought to avoid them and only ever caused myself more of the same. These days I choose to face life head on—and I have become a comet. I arc across the sky of my life and the harder times are the friction that lets the worn and tired bits drop away. It’s a good way to travel; eventually I will wear away all resistance until all there is left of me is light.”
May we all find some of that light, especially when we need it most.
In honour of the 11 people killed and 18 injured in the mass stabbing at James Smith Cree Nation, and with compassion and respect for their families and friends.