Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Saturday we ventured by ferry to a Giants game with a dear friend, who for many years gazed out his window at the ferry and dreamed of someday riding it. Our friend (let’s call him John for the sake of this recounting) believes in the importance of having dreams, of envisioning them as a future reality, and of never wavering from the path that will make his dreams come true.
For 29 years our friend dreamed his dream, and on Saturday he was finally able to stand at the railing of the Larkspur Ferry and see his former home from the outside. He waved to the men in the yard who are serving time as he did for 29 years, in San Quentin Prison. It was an emotional moment for him, to say the least.
We first met John fifteen years ago, when we began volunteering in San Quentin. My husband is fond of saying that when we were volunteering in the prison, we were mentoring John, but that now he is mentoring us. John is a role model of someone who has redeemed his life, and not only that, has become an exemplar of how to grab whatever opportunities and tools come his way to improve himself, to be the best person he can be.
In January Tom and I began a course with the Alternatives to Violence Project (www.avpcalifornia.org) to learn all the different forms violence can take in our lives, and how to deal with conflict in a constructive, non-violent way. Since that basic course, we continued with the advanced course, and then trained to be facilitators to bring AVP into prisons, which we have done in Susanville and Solano State Prison.
AVP has much to offer, and I wish here to talk about how our friend John embodied some of AVP’s principles as we rode the ferry back to Larkspur after the Giants game. Incidentally, John took the AVP courses and became a facilitator while in San Quentin. He facilitated AVP workshops in the prison, and now facilitates AVP workshops in the community. He was the lead facilitator on two of the courses we took in Santa Rosa, one good example of how he is now mentoring us.
On the ferry we befriended two women, one a school teacher and the other a psychologist who works for the Veterans Administration. After observing how deeply our friend was moved by seeing San Quentin, the women asked how we (John, Tom and I) met. Soon we were deep in discussion about AVP.
Our conversation meandered, and our new friends mentioned how they had waited on a very long line to enter AT&T Park. As they were about to be waved through the gate, two very large, aggressive women came over and cut in front of them. Our friends told the interlopers that they had been waiting on this line for a very long time. Some of the people behind them also complained. But the two women taking “cuts” were unmoved.
After our new friends related this story, John said that he would have said to the women who cut in line, “Please do go ahead, I don’t mind.” We were amazed! But John said that these women who jumped in front of the line must have had a reason to do that, and that we have no idea what is going on in their lives. Perhaps we could make their lives easier in some way by just letting them go in first. He added that it helps to look for the best in people.
This little vignette is an example of one of AVP’s principles, and that is to always look for the best in people. As our friend spoke, I was stunned that here was an opportunity to live what we have been learning in AVP, and our friend embodied it so magnificently!
The second example I’d like to give is that Tom and I talked to John about how we were considering facilitating in Chowchilla, which is a women’s prison. I’d like go to Chowchilla because that definitely would be going out of my comfort zone, and would be a good opportunity to grow as a facilitator. But I mentioned to John that I have no idea how to act with women prisoners, and that they might see me as a “phony do-gooder.” Once again John’s reply set me back on my heels. He said to expect the women prisoners to see me as a good person who is there to help them, and as someone who sees them as human beings who have a core of goodness inside of them.
Here again, our friend was mentoring us. He was effortlessly living what we’re being taught in AVP, which says among other things to expect the best, to look for the goodness in every person, and to believe in a positive outcome.
At that moment I finally understood what Tom meant when he said that John is now our mentor. He has become our role model, and we are indeed humbled by the sweetness of his spirit. John steps out and lives, not just talks about, what he truly believes.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
"Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world."
"An Interrupted Life"
Monday, August 22, 2011
(Thank you, Mary, for suggesting that I write about this incident on my blog.)
Recently I read that “Every person in this life has something to teach me” (Catherine Doucette). I might add that, if I’m attentive, every situation also has a lesson to impart.
It’s been a crazy summer. Certainly the weather has been cooler than usual, and time seems to have grown wings, the way it flies by. But this summer has gone by especially fast because we’ve spent a good deal of it repairing the water damage we sustained in our Tahoe home, negotiating with our insurance company for reimbursement, and working on a project to beautify our front yard in Sonoma.
With all that going on, at times I’ve lost my focus and balance. By way of example, recently we returned from Tahoe to find the new exposed aggregate paths in our yard did not turn out the way we wanted. The aggregate looked pale and washed out, and there didn’t seem to be anything we could do about that. The deed was done, the concrete poured, and even our wonderful contractor was disappointed in how it had turned out.
The main reason we undertook this project in the first place was because we had hired a cement contractor several years ago to jackhammer our paths and pour new concrete. His work was unsatisfactory: the cement turned blotchy with dark stains, and the contractor made no attempt to fix it.
Now it looked as though we’d spent a small fortune to redo the paths and add decorative touches, and once again it was turning out poorly. It took me a while to admit my disappointment to myself, and then to speak it out loud to Tom. As it turns out he also was disappointed, but there seemed nothing we could do.
On reflection I realized that I had a choice: I could either wallow in disappointment (and let that affect my life in the next few days and weeks), or I could accept the situation and move on. Of course it’s much easier to decide to let go of something, than it is to do the actual “letting go”!
In the past weeks I had only been able to exercise and meditate fitfully, because of all the work going on in our front yard. Now with the realization that our yard wasn’t turning out as well as we had dreamed, planned and paid for, I saw anew the importance of maintaining my exercise and meditation practice. In order to stay balanced emotionally, I need the endorphins from working out, and the peacefulness that derives from regular meditation.
It wouldn’t be possible to overstate the place of prayer in my life. I brought my disappointment to my prayer time, and sought the peace that letting go of the situation would bring. For several days I focused on letting go of my expectations for our yard, and my disappointment that we were unable to meet those expectations. No matter how much money we put into the project, or that we hired a fabulous designer and found an excellent contractor, we couldn’t bring about the result we sought.
How little we can control in our lives! We are born into a family, a financial situation, a religion and a country that we don’t choose, and are given bodies that may or may not be healthy. We make decisions throughout our lives that have their basis in events we have little control over. Certainly we do not control the way we die, or the time of our death.
At some point in my ruminations and through a lot of prayer, the grace of letting go did come, and I truly, honestly, let go of the results of our front yard project. What’s very interesting is that once I was able to do that, our contractor tried various techniques to bring the new concrete closer to what we were looking for, and the paths did in fact look better to us.
Shortly after, I was en route to lunch with a friend in another town. As I was driving slowly along a country road, I came around a bend and discovered a flock of wild turkeys on the road in front of me. Most of them had already crossed, but the stragglers turned around and began retreating to safety. As I waited, their leader looked at me and began to waddle back across the road. He stopped in front of my car, looked at me again and flapped his wings, and then trotted all the way across. One by one, each turkey ventured out. Looking me in the eye, each would flap his wings as if to say “Thank you!”, and then would cross to the other side! I laughed out loud as each turkey stopped and flapped his wings at me! It felt like a salute from the Divine, affirming me in the letting go of what had been weighing me down, our dashed expectations over our front yard. Of course I believe the Divine has a wonderful sense of humor! Why not use a flock of wild turkeys to say, “Well done!”