I’m just back from spending two weeks in California teaching in a prison. The prisoners with whom I work are learning to become addiction treatment counselors. Many of them are lifers, doing time for murder. Of necessity, they have to do their own recovery and rehabilitation work in order to become effective counselors. It’s a long hard road for them.
The majority of these prisoners were seriously abused and/or neglected as children. Terrible things happened to them. Most of them used substances to numb the pain of those terrible things. Because, for whatever reason, they couldn’t recover, they, in turn, did terrible things. Author Richard Rohr says it like this: “…if you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you and even to the next generation.” (The Naked Now, page 125)
What a switch to come home to small grandchildren. Leila, who is almost three, loves to come to our apartment. We hang an open sign on our door when we’re up and ready for company. When she sees it, she runs across the hall and knocks on our door while saying “Knock, knock. It’s Leila!” She says it with utter confidence that we will be thrilled to see her, which we are.
I am always moved by this. Her parents have been so lovingly attentive to her needs that she never seems to doubt that she is loved, that she matters. It’s such a place of innocence. I know that, as she grows up, people and experiences will hurt her and make her question herself, but never to the extent of the prisoners with whom I work. Love is such a powerful inoculation against all the negative things that get thrown at us.
So I come home from the prisoners who teach me so much to the small grandchildren who teach me so much with all kinds of burning questions:
- What if we could all believe that we are loved and welcome in the world, that we matter? Would the world change?
- What would happen if we found ways to protect children from abuse and neglect? Why do we seem to lack the will to do so?
- What is it in us that ignores how awful prisons are? What stops us from focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment?
Questions on your mind these days?
Lovely, Carol. The love in your family is so beautiful!
Your questions remind me of a story that John Philip Newell told at Trinity Church today. There was a Christian/interfaith/contemplative gathering of some sort in Ottawa, which had invited people from a Lakota tribe to take part as well. A Lakota man stood at one point and reflected with tears in his eyes: I wonder how my life would be different, how my tribe would be different, how the western world would be different, if the first Christians who encountered our people came– like you do– to look for the Light in our people.