There is No Restoration in Dehumanization

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A bird flies over barbed wire on top of fences at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California. In 2014 when this photo was taken, California was under a federal court order to lower the population of its prisons to 137.5 percent of its designed capacity after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that inmate health care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Photographer, Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This past weekend, I had the honor of serving inmates a Donovan State Prison through restorative and healing work.  In the process, I connected with a Samoan brother, Utu, who’d been incarcerated for nearly two decades and, most recently, spent four years in, what the inmates and prison guards refer to as, the hole, solitary confinement.  Utu held a type of innocence that is very difficult to maintain in inmates who’ve experienced and perpetrated the most tragic and heinous acts of violence.

There was an immediate spiritual connection that occurred as he began to share pieces of himself in a place where even a little bit of vulnerability can get a man killed; one that allowed me to see we are both greater than our experiences and our choices.

In 2010, do to over crowded and under-equipped California prisons,  Utu was one of many inmates forcefully persuaded to sign a prison transfer request from California to Arizona. He was told it would be a temporary five-year arrangement.  While in Arizona, he discovered that what he had signed up for was “to live in hell,” and doubted he would make it out of Arizona alive.  Not only were tensions between prison guards and inmates more hostile, but racism and inequity were used to instigate more animosity and violence among the inmates.  Without going into details, he told me he got into a confrontation with another inmate, and beat him unconscious.  The next day, Utu was sent to the hole where he would live out the rest of his five-year incarceration sentence in Arizona.

A prisoner named Ahmad Al Aswadu wrote an essay titled “A Black View of Prison” in the April-May 1971 issue of the Black Scholar. In his essay, he describes the experience of living in the “hole” while incarcerated:

The “Hole” (called such because its locality is usually under the prison’s first floor) is solitary confinement. One could stay in the hole for a week or a lifetime depending upon his color and attitude. It is here in the hole that men are made and broken at the same time. It is here that the previous threat of getting “hurt” can realize itself all too quickly. And it is here that the seeds of Black Consciousness have been cultivated in the minds of many black men.

It is very difficult for a layman such as I to describe the atmosphere of the hole but I shall try. I believe that the very first thing that the brother notices about the hole is the desolateness and the feeling of utter aloneness. The first time that I was sent to the hole I felt as if my soul had deserted me. I don’t believe that I had ever experienced such a feeling of intense emptiness in my life before then. I had been sent to the hole to have my attitude changed, because, as they stated, it was not conducive to “good order.” 

His father died shortly after he was placed in the hole.  Samoans follow a code of living and culture called the Fa’a Samoa which means “the Samoan Way.” Central to this culture is the Fa’amatai. The family is the most significant socio-political element of Samoan society. Family responsibility and the care of family land are the keys to the culture. For Utu, not being able to be at his father’s funeral or with his family was devastating and a source of shame; and there was nowhere for him to escape this shame.  As he began to unravel into hopelessness and deep depression, a few months into his solitary confinement, he heard  a clank as someone opened the  small window of his iron cell door and asked if he wanted to find God.  God was nowhere to be found, he thought; that hole was the furthest he could be from God.

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Photo credit: Modesto Bee Newspaper/ Bloomberg via Getty Images 

A clergyman visited him once a week, on the same day, at the same time, like clock work. He learned to keep track of time by keeping track of his visits.  He’d be Utu’s only visitor for the four years he remained in the hole.  Utu was not allowed any possessions, but the clergyman somehow got the prison guards to agree to allowing him to have a bible, which he fiercely read and studied during his four years in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement strips away anything that can possibly remind a man of his existence. There is no radio, no television, no books, no pencils or paper and no hobby-facilitating materials. Inmates are provided institution-issued clothes and possibly, but not always, sheets.  Personal hygiene provisions are reduced to only toilet paper, which some inmates may not receive.  Cells frequently have no windows and inmates are housed with a vacant cell between them to reduce the possibility of communication. The 23/1 rule (23 hours in your cell and one hour outside of it) usually applies, but only if the guards get around to it. This could mean that inmates may only get one hour every five days, and often during that one hour, inmates are not allowed to go outside or anywhere with windows, but are confined to a “common area,” alone. Depending on the institution, sometimes they are provided with golf pencils and paper to write during their hour, but may only be allowed to mail out and receive one letter a week. Utu felt his mind slipping away from him while in there, and reading the bible was the only experience that helped him hold on to his humanity.

No one is ever SENTENCED to solitary confinement – the determination of that punishment is made in each institution at their own discretion and for a duration they presume to be necessary. It could be because an inmate violated a rule within the institution or merely because an inmate is presumed to be affiliated with a gang. It also could be just cruelty and sadism on the part of the institution administrators.

Utu was transferred back to California a little more than a year ago.  His mother passed away three months ago, and though he wasn’t able to attend her funeral, he was close enough for his family to come visit him and pray with him. As he shared  glimpses of his life with me, I wondered how a man who has lost so much could still hold innocence and gentleness in his soul.

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During the three days of restorative and healing work, we delved into discussions and activities that pushed us to think more deeply about transformative power through forgiveness, empathy and consensus building.   One of the activities in which the inmates were tasked to practice the consensus building strategies they had just learned required that each select a photo.  The objective was for each person to partner up, and through consensus building, agree on one photo to represent both.  Once the partners agreed on the photo, they looked for another set of partners and the process of consensus building began again until one photo was selected to represent the group of four, which then joined with another group of four to repeat the same process.

I partnered with Utu who had selected a photo of a blueish-turquoise ocean gently swaying against black cliffs abundant with vegetation. That morning he had spoken of going home to Samoa where his heart had always told him he belonged. His family came to the Unites States when he was a little boy, but it seemed that leaving his motherland had been more of a curse than a blessing.  His family broke apart in the United States.  Upward mobility and the accumulation of things became a priority.  Home to him means returning to a place that nurtures family and community, something Utu feels he can no longer achieve in the United States. There was a profound longing in his eyes for home as he described the aspects of his photo that reminded him of Samoa. He is homesick for a feeling, an experience he hopes to find when he returns to Samoa.  One where his heart is full, his body loved, and his soul understood.

Then came my turn to explain why I chose the photo I held in my hands.  The photo reminded me of the purest love between a child and his parents or grandparents; the bond that exists when a child is nurtured as the one who will continue the wisdom and legacy of the elders, and in turn, of the ancestors. It is this passing on of knowledge that creates strong and dignified communities.  I told Utu that the photo reminded me of the unconditionally love my grandmother poured into me. When children are raised with kind love, veneration and respect, they grow up to be the keepers of the greater community.  Finally, I explained, that most of all, the photo reminded me of the importance of knowing how to give and receive, the collaboration that manifests in a beautiful way within families and communities when everyone is working together toward a common goal.

Utu timidly asked, “which one should we pick?” I told Utu that I had the privilege to experience home, and nothing would fill my heart more than for him to experience home, even if was just symbolically.  So I told him, “You choose.”  His eyes became watery and he said he’d choose the picture I held in my hands, because more than the beach and the tropical trees and the smell of the salty mountains, he missed the love of his mother and father.

Utu is due to be released in 2021.  In a place void of humanity, where vulnerability and compassion can get one killed, where suspicion lurks in every corner, and where brick, steel, cement and barbed wire remind inmates of the total aloneness of enforced solitude and deprivation, Utu was able to maintain an innocence and gentleness rarely found behind bars.  I pray he makes it out.

Another inmate whose been on a long, arduous path of healing said, “I’m thriving in prison. For the first time in my life, I am thriving.” If these men whose hearts have been hardened and hopes shattered can transform themselves in a place meant to annihilate what little love they remember from their childhood, imagine what could be possible if we created opportunities for healing and restoration.

Restorative justice and restorative practices are ancient approaches that are being revived in modern-day systems. Aboriginals around the world have used religion or tribal leaders to peacefully resolve conflicts or crime for hundreds of years. This traditional approach to restoration is rooted in the belief that there should be social harmony, redemption and a pursuit of absolute good for the individual and the community in the handling of conflict and crime. Rather than the punitive elements connected to shame, guilt, humiliation and dehumanization, aboriginal cultures around the world have focused on restorative elements of redemption, reparation, rehabilitation, healing and forgiveness.

 We have long known that in the act of destroying the other, we are destroying ourselves.  In Mayan tradition, there is a greeting that many people working with Mayan tradition know of. In Lak’ ech Ala K’in means I am the other you and you are the other me. It is an honoring for each other, for the sacredness of our belonging.  Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning, “my humanity is inextricably wrapped up in yours.” Bayanihan is a Filipino custom derived from the word bayan, which means nation, town or community. The term means being in bayan, which refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal. In ancient Sanskrit Sarvodaya mean universal uplifting; the good of the individual within the good of the whole. So you see, we come from each other, to commune with each other, and to thrive with each other.  Even scientifically, we have discovered the presence of mirror neurons, which allow us to feel the other’s pain.  In essence, what we do onto others, we do to ourselves. This is who we were before colonization, industrialization and capitalism.  Who we were has been erased from history, but the memories remain in our DNA, and we are once again being called to rewrite our history, and re-right the injustices we have participated in.

I recently came across this:

Remember: Oppression thrives off isolation.  Connection is the only thing that can save you.

Remember: Oppression thrives on superficiality. Honesty about our struggles is the key to your liberation. 

Remember: Your story can help save someone’s life.  your silence contributes to someone else’s struggle. Speak so we all can be free. Love so we all can be liberated. The moment is now.  We need you. 

Remembrance and imagination are the greatest tools we have to create a world in which our children can love and be loved, fully and unconditionally.

Desert Water Drop (Borderlands)II

Here are photos from yesterday’s Border Angels desert water drop. “Since 1994, more than 11,000 sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives have died from dehydration in their attempt to across our increasingly militarized border. Our water helps reduce the 500+ deaths every year.”

These water drops save lives and bring attention to this humanitarian crisis.

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The back of the Border Angels’ shirt reads: Who would Jesus deport?

These experiences allow me to reaffirm my role and purpose in how I serve as well as provide deeper conviction for my solidarity and work in education and social justice. Each time I participate in a water drop, I have the opportunity to hear new stories of the courageous and tragic plight of so many immigrants. Each story is different, but they all represent the unwavering human spirit of survival, strength, hope, and the determination and perseverance to obtain a better life.

On this most recent experience I had the honor to meet a father and son who were experiencing the desert water drop for the first time. The father, Luis, crossed through difficult border terrain six times with his mother starting from the early age of six. Desperate for access to quality health care and for a second chance for her son’s life, his mother decided to make the treacherous journey with Luis and her 18 year old son suffering form leukemia. The doctors in Mexico had given her son a month to live. Under the care of a compassionate and determined doctor from the UCLA Medical Center, her 18 year old son went on to live 16 more years.

Luis recalls walking all night with his mother and brother in the silent, darkness of the night; the only sound was the crumbling of the earth under their feet and the sound of their breath puncturing the suffocating stillness. He wasn’t scared, his mother told him everything would be okay, and he felt safe with her. It isn’t until now that he can recognize the extraordinary feat his mother was leading and how vulnerable his safety was on those treks.

Besides blistering heat, temperatures soaring as high as 110 degrees, and burning cold, temperatures falling as low as 20 degrees, migrants must also contend with dangerous creatures that roam this unforgiving and untamed borderland such as the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Arizona Bark Scorpion, and the Brown Recluse Spider, on of the most venomous creatures in the area. These creatures hid under rocks and shrubs where migrants hide from both the border patrol and the sun. The death of many of these migrants is not a painless death. Dying from exposure to the elements can be brutally elongated process.

In his award-winning book, “The Devil’s Highway,” Luis Alberto Urrea describes the stages of heatstroke in painstaking detail. “Those in shape will, sooner or later, faint. This is the brain’s way of stopping the machine, like hitting the brakes when you realize you’re speeding towards a cliff.” Initially heat cramps will develop primarily in the legs and abdomen area, followed by heat exhaustion, usually manifested by dizziness, blurred vision, head aches. Once heat stroke sets in, one will begin to experience fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. “By the last stage of heatstroke, hallucinations occur, and the body’s nerves are aflame” leading to convulsions and eventually unconsciousness. “You are having a core meltdown, “Urrea explains. “Your temperature redlines – you hit 106, 107, 108 degrees. Your body panics and dilates all blood capillaries near the surface, hoping to flood your skin with blood to cool it off. You blush. Your eyes turn red: blood vessels burst, and later, the tissue of the whites literally cooks until it goes pink, then a well-done crimsom.”

Maybe more difficult than the dangers faced in the desert, is the separation of family. Luis’ father was a migrant farmworker who left his homeland to work in the fields of the United States when Luis was too little to remember. Unlike his older siblings, Luis has very little memories of his father, who spent most of Luis’ life working in the fields. It was a beautiful sight to see the juxtaposition between Luis’ experience with his father and his relationship with his son, Ricardo. Luis told me he had been wanting to get involved in this type of volunteer work for a while now, but was hesitant because of the wounds it would open, so when his son told him he wanted to do this as part of his community service project for school, Luis realized that in order to support his son, he would have to confront his pain. In seeing their relationship, there was no doubt in my mind that when we listen and follow our hearts, our children come to help us heal and teach us profound lessons.

There is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for my daughter. There is nothing immigrants are doing when they come through the desert and traverse that border that I wouldn’t do in their circumstances to give my daughter and family a better life. We have a humanitarian crisis in our backyard and we need to join in solidarity with our migrant brother and sisters.

The story of immigration doesn’t just start with the deemed illegal crossing of thousands of people looking for a better life. If you want to understand the problem of immigration, you need to understand who profits from it, not just who suffers. Forced immigration begins with trade agreements, demand for cheap labor, privatization of natural resources, land-grabbing, maquiladoras (sweatshops) run by multi-nationals, the war on drugs, and mafias like the IMF International Monetary Fund creating debt greater than the moral responsibility we have to people’s well-being. You see, this is the very definition of structural violence – the erasure of parts of history in order to criminalize the victims of exploitation and dehumanization. It is through the work of organizations like the Border Angels that we bring light to the narratives that are erased, and begin to humanize the people that have become invisible.

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Dehumanization creates hate. Vigilante groups and some border patrol agents have been known to slash the water jugs left for the migrants.  Nineteen slashed water jugs were counted between the volunteers yesterday.  For every slashed jug, five more were left in its place.  As Jonathan, one of the volunteer coordinators for Border Angels stated in similar words, we can only fight death by saving a life.  “Be a sweet melody in the great orchestration, instead of a discordant note. The medicine this sick world needs is love. Hatred must be replaced by love, and fear by faith that love will prevail.” – Peace Pilgrim.

 

 

Desert Water Drop (Borderlands)

The work of the Border Angels (Angeles de La Frontera) is driven by the following words: “When I was hungry, who gave me to eat? – When I was thirsty, who gave me to drink?” (Matthew 25:35). They operate from an uncompromising core spiritual belief that all people must be treated and received with humanity and compassion.  One of their missions is to reduce the number of deaths of the immigrants crossing into the United States through the dangerous and almost inhospitable desert terrain along the Californian border.

Over 11,000 immigrants have died since the militarization of the U.S./Mexican border began in 1994.  Every summer, more migrants die on this border than the entire history of the Berlin Wall.  Border Angels leads water drops in which volunteers hike into the desert to strategically place gallons of water for migrants making the treacherous journey into the United States. This water can be the difference between life and death for many adults and children crossing.  There are many vigilante groups that slash these water containers, but there are many more angels that continue to protect and fight for the most vulnerable.

Continue reading after photo mosaic.

 

Besides blistering heat, temperatures soaring as high as 110 degrees, and burning cold, temperatures falling as low as 20 degrees, migrants must also contend with dangerous creatures that roam this unforgiving and untamed borderland such as the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Arizona Bark Scorpion, and the Brown Recluse Spider, one of the most venomous creatures in the area.  These creatures hide under rocks and shrubs where migrants hide from both the border patrol and the sun. The death of many of these migrants is not a painless death. Dying from exposure to the elements can be a brutally elongated process.

In his award-winning book “The Devil’s Highway,” Luis Alberto Urrea describes the stages of heatstroke in painstaking detail. “Those in shape will, sooner or later, faint. This is the brain’s way of stopping the machine, like hitting the brakes when you realize you’re speeding towards a cliff.” Initially heat cramps will develop primarily in the legs and abdomen area, followed by heat exhaustion, usually manifested by dizziness, blurred vision, and headaches. Once heat stroke sets in, one will begin to experience fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. “By the last stage of heatstroke, hallucinations occur, and the body’s nerves are aflame” leading to convulsions and eventually unconsciousness. “You are having a core meltdown,” Urrea explains. “Your temperature redlines — you hit 106, 107, 108 degrees. Your body panics and dilates all blood capillaries near the surface, hoping to flood your skin with blood to cool it off. You blush. Your eyes turn red: Blood vessels burst, and later, the tissue of the whites literally cooks until it goes pink, then a well-done crimson.”

It’s a painful, horrific way to die, yet many immigrants understand it’s a necessary risk to escape the violence, poverty, and injustices back home.  One of the volunteers I walked with, I’ll call her Socorro, is a 23 year old woman whose mother crossed the border when she was eight months pregnant with her.  I asked her what had made her mom take such a risk, to which she responded, “The risk of dying with me in the desert was worth the life of misery we were escaping.”  Socorro said the first time her mother attempted to cross the border, a border patrol vehicle had been stocking the area in which her and another woman, who was approximately 5o feet away, were walking.  They’d prowl, sometimes turning the vehicle’s lights off and then unexpectedly turning them back on.  She serpentined between shrubs and gullies trying to avoid being caught.  The woman in front of her was detained and raped by border patrol officers.  She could hear her struggle as she swerved in the dirt and made groaning and whimpering sounds.  Socorro’s mom recalls this event as one of the most powerless moments she has experienced in her life.  She stood there still as the night with every cell in her body wanting to jump out and stop the rape, but there was another life in her she was more obligated to protect.

Another volunteer talked about her brother being lost in the desert for three days after the group he was crossing with had scattered to avoid being caught by border patrol agents.  I’ll call her Daniela.  Her brother was deported when he was 17 years old and wanting to reunite with his parents and siblings in the United States, made the perilous journey through the desert.  Approximately 2 days into the trek, Daniela’s brother and another migrant became separated from the group and went on to roam through the desert for three days without sufficient food or water.  After three days of fear and uncertainty, Daniela’s brother and the man he was with were picked up by border patrol in a state of confusion and exhaustion.  Relieved, they told one of the agents their biggest fear had been not finding their way out.  The agent smirked and told them it had only been three days.

In case you are wondering why people don’t just apply to come to United States legally and wait in line like “law abiding” citizens, here is a link you may want to read:  http://g92.org/find-answers/process/

“We can tell people to wait their turn in line, but, for example, for a Mexican (or a Guatemalan, a Filipino, a Pole, or any other country) who does not have a college degree and has no close relatives who are U.S. citizens or green card-holders, there is almost certainly no line for them to wait in: without reform to the legal system, they will not be able to migrate “the legal way” to the U.S., not if they wait ten years, not if they wait fifty years”

Immigration is a human right.  Humans have been migrating from the beginning of our existence.  Most people who make the trek to leave their homeland, family and friends do so because there is no other option for their survival.  Most do so with a broken heart and heavy spirit.  In their circumstances, escaping their conditions, there isn’t anything different those who have the fortune to have been born on this side of the border would do to give their families a better life.

 

 

 

First I Had To Ask For Forgiveness

I hate you, you fuckin’ asshole!  I can’t stand you anymore!  You don’t do shit for me and my daughter – I might as well be on my own!  I do everything around here.  You don’t do shit, what the fuck do I need you for!  I don’t know why I married you!

I can’t remember when things got so violent in our marriage, but my anger became the soot that suffocated the love and admiration we had once had for each other.  It (the violence) crept in like the autumn Santa Ana winds; the anger had always been there like desert sand waiting for the current.

I first met my husband, David Malo, in 1993 while attending community college.  I can still picture him in his raver-like baggy jeans, with his hair draped down his back like raven feathers and the Hawaii University hat that inconspicuously hid his eyes.  I was 19 years old at the time, raising a one-year-old baby and very focused on transferring to San Diego State University (SDSU).  We quickly became close friends.  One of the qualities that most attracted me to him was his gentle and vulnerable spirit.  He was kind with his words and listened to me without judgment.  He brought calmness into a time of my life that was full of chaos and stress.

He was someone who I felt safe around, because he respected me as a woman and a mother.  Because I was working, attending school full-time, and nursing my daughter, the circle of friends I had once had, was practically non-existent.  He became someone I could count on unconditionally, and even if I didn’t make contact with him for weeks, I could call him in the spur of the moment, and we would pick up right where we had left off.  We continued to be friends and he brought a peaceful quiet into my life that my spirit had been yearning for.

There is something fundamentally beautiful in the spiritual essence of a human being.  One can only discover this beauty through a deep interconnectedness with all that surrounds us.  This beauty is only discovered when we transform within – it is the type of beauty we presence in the untainted innocence of a flower or a hummingbird, or the vulnerability of water.  It was that innocence and vulnerability in my husband’s spirit that lead me to him.  In him I saw the beauty that was possible in me; a reflection of what I had been before fear and disappointment had cemented my spirit in anger.

We began dating the summer of 1995 and both transferred to SDSU in August of that same year.  He never asked for more than I could give.  I never felt pressured or any sense of obligation, because he understood how dedicated I was to my daughter and my studies.  He just patiently waited for me to have time for him.  It wasn’t surprising that my grandmother, whom I lived with, and my daughter quickly grew an affinity toward him.  Often spending time with me also meant he had to spend time with my daughter and grandmother – he never complained.  There were several times when spending time with me meant he had to go on a date with my daughter, my grandmother, and even my great-grandmother!  His energy was always gentle and serene.

But I began to attack.  I didn’t know the transformation I was looking for had to be within, so I became angry toward him, and I began to attack his spirit.  Anger’s sole purpose is to destroy, and I was out to destroy him.  I began to see his contentment as lack of initiative and his quietness as the quality of a pushover.  In my life experiences I had learned to be loud and demanding if I was to preserve what little amount of dignity I had accumulated up to that point. So the qualities I most yearned for, were the same qualities I feared.

Early on in our relationship, David and I got into a confrontation in the car – I was driving.  I hated that he didn’t respond to my anger.  I kept yelling and insulting.  I wanted him at the brink.  Finally, at a stop sign, he got out of the car and slammed the door. A sense of satisfaction overcame me.  I needed anger to feed my anger. Though these episodes of anger were far in between, they would ultimately become the epicenter of a turbulent marriage.

Carmen was ten years old and David and I had dated for seven years.  I had decided it was time for marriage.  David and I had both graduated from college; I wanted Carmen to have a chance to spend part of her life in a “normal” household and to experience the presence of a father figure; and if we were going to have a baby it needed to happen soon because I didn’t want too much of an age gap between Carmen and the baby.  I had it all under control – my life, my emotions, the outcome.  I loved David.  I loved spending time with him, the way he made me laugh, his easiness, and his thoughtfulness.  But I didn’t comprehend then that marriage was much more than a checklist of goals and accomplishments.  On June 29, 2002 we married and vowed a life of love, partnership, and commitment to each other.  We had a beautiful wedding at the Rose Garden in Balboa Park – our friends read poetry that I had selected, David wrote vows for Carmen, and we included ceremonial traditions from various cultures.

Two years into our marriage, I became the alpha female, and he the guy who avoided the confrontations. I nagged, he became more distant. The partnership we had vowed to each other became tainted by my demands and my constant accusations.   He reverted to his video games and golfing, while I shopped and meticulously cleaned every corner of the house.   Two consecutive summers of lay-offs, a year of working night shifts, and a wife that often belittled and humiliated him threw him into a labyrinth of depression – years later he would confess that there had been times he contemplated the idea of suicide.

His transformation was subtle, and my anger was taking its toll on him.  His peace had become agitated and his vulnerability was now perceived as weakness; now I had an excuse to keep attacking.  I created reasons for my anger – he wasn’t a good enough husband, he didn’t know how to be a good father, he didn’t have a father to teach him how to be a man – all illusions to justify my relentless anger.   I just wanted to hurt him the way I had been hurt.  Even when he tried living up to my expectations, I’d set him up to fail, so I could justify my disrespect toward him.  Carmen had become an innocent bystander of the anger and violence I had tried to protect her from most of her childhood.  But now it was unraveling like the finely woven threads of the piña fabric.

The verbal abuse toward David gradually escalated until one day our love for each other came to a crossroads. On this particular day, I had been aggravating him all day with my usual reproaches and snide remarks.  He knew it was escalating, so he exited through the back door of the house into the converted garage.  Before slamming the door behind him, he sternly said, “You know what, I’m not going to put up with your shit anymore.”  I sat on the couch for approximately thirty minutes thinking about how to WIN.  Then suddenly like the bitter squirt of a lime, I got up from the sofa and grabbed the hammer that rested in the kitchen drawer.  With commitment and determination, I made my way through the back door toward David.  My daughter came after me – at the time she thought I was going to hurt [kill] him.  I was so enraged, when she grabbed my arm, I shook her off and shoved her against the concrete patio, her body pressed against the coarse surface.  In reaction to the commotion, my husband came outside, and as he was helping Carmen up, I yelled, “Do you want to see crazy! I’ll show you crazy!”  I took the hammer and smashed it against the windowpane on the door.   Hearing the crashing noise of the glass, and feeling its jagged splinters on my feet awakened me from the state of rage I was in.  Carmen and David stood there looking at me with pity.  What had I become?  Desmond Tutu speaks of Ubuntu – a philosophy, a belief in the Nguni group of languages, which speaks of the essence of being human.  It is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.”  So as I was dehumanizing and humiliating David, I was doing so to myself.

I went to bed that night so ashamed.  I was destroying the beautiful family that God had given me, and I was destroying my heart.  I prayed so that I could find a way out of the darkness, so that I could liberate myself from the anger, so that I could find peace.  Then one day as I was checking my e-mails, I came across a fellowship opportunity at the Ahimsa Center: Nonviolence in thought and action.  When I clicked on the link, the following quote by Mahatma Gandhi appeared:

We are constantly being astonished at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt-of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.

I applied and was granted the fellowship.  That summer my heart began to bloom.  This became the foundation of an incredible journey of healing, reconnecting with my spirit, and allowing God’s light into my heart.  When I returned home from the fellowship, I noticed a difference in my intention for living.  I wanted my breath to capture the sweet orange honeysuckle in my back yard, my eyes to frame the hummingbird’s flight, and my ears to listen to the whispers of the moon.  And though I knew I was headed toward the right direction, my anger and toxic thoughts would seep in at times.  It was around this time that my husband and I decide to go to therapy.  A friend of ours recommended a therapist that was incredibly kind and compassionate who helped David and I get to know each other again.

Because I was healing, my soul was opening up to a spiritual awakening that allowed me to feel a love that I had never experienced before.  This kind of love contained no wanting.  It wasn’t the kind of love that turned into enraged attacks, feelings of hostility, or emotional disconnectedness when my “wants” were not being met.  This was a love that arose from beyond the mind.  I was beginning to love myself, and by loving myself I could finally love David authentically without needing to judge or change him in any way.  I loved him, the him I saw through the gleam of his eye.

A year ago I had a dream in which a man whose face was undefined kissed me gently, deliberately.  I felt energy exponentially synergize inside of me – a profound intense love.  I was in love with this man, fully and vulnerably in love.  When I woke up the memory of this emotion was still vivid.  I glanced at David and wondered if I had ever felt this way for him.  Was he the one?  Had I settled in the hope that I could force this feeling into me?  I was disturbed, yet awakened by this emotion.  For weeks I kept exploring (meditating) the significance of the dream. Then in the middle of a conversation I was having with a friend, it came to me – the dream had not been about the “right” guy evoking a pure and liberating emotion in me.  My heart knew I was with the right guy, for David and I had grown to love life and its experiences together.  To complement each other the way the sun complemented the moon; the way fragrance complemented air.

What I was really searching for was a deeper spiritual connection with David; the same connection that had existed between Tita, Carmen, and I.  At that moment I realized that for as long as I had been with David, he had always been the outsider, not because he wasn’t included, but because he wasn’t needed the way Tita, Carmen, and I needed each other.  Tita had passed away and Carmen was defining her life, and my soul was yearning to have a spiritual need for David in my life.

First I had to ask for his forgiveness:

I’m sorry because I tried to break you, though your compassion and love were more powerful.  I am ashamed, and not only am I asking you for forgiveness, but I’m asking myself for forgiveness.   The process of healing has been long and arduous, and I take full responsibility for my anger, for the pain I have inflicted on you and others.  The transformation is happening within, and I’m experiencing a new kind of love.  I am finding the goodness within.  I am becoming whole, and in my wholeness, I am learning that there is no room for hate, no room for anger, no room for revenge, no room for competition, no room for resentment; just love.  Infinite and divine love.

We are still dealing with the residue of the violence that once existed in our relationship.  David and I were having a conversation about why it is sometimes difficult for him to apologize to me.  I explained to him that it was because he was still dealing with the remnants of my anger.  When he used to apologize to me, I would blame him more and transform his apology into and opportunity for shame.   This is why I approach David with compassion whenever he has wronged me in some way, and once I approach him about the situation, his guard disappears and he feels safe to apologize.  It is the work we must do to continue to heal.

The following is a passage from The Prophet by Kahlil  Gibran:

Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but no into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow

Not in each other’s shadow.

A neighbor recently shared the book with David, and I opened the book to this passage and shared it out loud.  I asked David if he remembered this passage, and he did not recognize it.  I then told him it was one of the readings at our wedding.  At first I felt a heavy feeling in my heart, as if there had been a fraud committed against me.  Then I realized that the day David and I had married, neither one of us was whole.  And though we married because it was the next “natural” progression in our relationship, we had not awakened to the real love within.  Now as we read this passage, present with each other and in our love, we understand that the love that is generated from the light within is abundant and full of grace, and therefore its sole purpose is to generate more light.

Not only did he accept me into his life, but he also accepted my daughter and grandmother.  Though we have had challenging times in our relationship, his gentle and kind spirit has been the constant force that has helped us heal and overcome the painful experiences.  Before my grandmother died a year ago, she told me she could go in peace, because she knew David would take care of me and our daughter the way she, my grandmother, had taken care of us.

David was recently laid-off from his school counseling position, but continues to work with high school students as a substitute.  He is amazingly gentle and compassionate with the students, and that is evident in how the students approach him.  I am a high school English teacher that absolutely loves and cares for the students I serve.   I am lucky to have a husband that shares the same passion and joy for working with youth.  We have so many plans for our future, among which includes opening a school where students can weave their stories into the fabric of the school and use the space of education to heal and become agents of change.  We are excited about our future together and all the possible ways in which we can serve to make this world a better place.  I don’t know where our journey will lead, but I know that living an authentic life next to David is more than I can ever have dreamed of.