I was listening to an incarcerated man speak about his children last week; “This is my life. It is what I’ve always wanted. Not jail but respect. To get the respect I had to do things which would take me to jail. When my boy grows up if this is the life he lives I will respect him and we’ll rule the jail together.” To hear him hurt my heart. He had decided there was a certain path he, and his family, had no choice to follow to achieve his goal; respect. He didn’t realize it but he was talking about fate.
The dictionary defines fate; “the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.” For this man, the family he was born into, the house he grew up in, the neighborhood he roamed as an adolescent, the laws and societal norms he broke to fit in, powers beyond his control, all came together to put him on the path of being incarcerated. It was his fate and the presumably the fate of his children as well.
Wisdom tells us there are two circles; a large one and a small one. The large one is the things we cannot control; events, tragedies, positive occurrences and negative influences, most of life fits in this circle. The smaller circle are things we can control; choices, habits, reactions, responses to the negative influences and the positive occurrences. There is much out of control and life can seem overwhelming and chaotic. How do we find the right path in a world full of greed, hate, and evil? How do we know what’s right when a lot of things seem headed in the wrong direction? Or, are we fated to walk a certain path because of where we were born and to whom, grew up, genetics, role models?
The power to choose, to react, respond to the life that is given to us is great. It cannot stop tragedies, events, life from happening but it can decide how these things which are out of our control impact us. Life seems easier for some than others. Privilege is real. However, it doesn’t define us unless we allow it to set our course.
The late Stephen Covey tells a story about a time he was speaking to a group of people in Sacramento, California:
… I was speaking on the subject of proactivity, a woman in the audience stood up in the middle of my presentation and started talking excitedly. It was a large audience, and as a number of people turned to look at her, she suddenly became aware of what she was doing, grew embarrassed and sat back down. But she seemed to find it difficult to restrain herself and started talking to the people around her. She seemed so happy.
I could hardly wait for a break to find out what had happened. When it finally came, I immediately went to her and asked if she would be willing to share her experience.
“You just can’t imagine what’s happened to me!” she exclaimed.
“I’m a full-time nurse to the most miserable, ungrateful man you can possibly imagine. Nothing I do is good enough for him. He never expresses appreciation; he hardly even acknowledges me. He constantly harps at me and finds fault with everything I do. This man has made my life miserable and I often take my frustration out on my family. The other nurses feel the same way. We almost pray for his demise.
“And for you to have the gall to stand up there and suggest that nothing can hurt me, that no one can hurt me without my consent, and that I have chosen my own emotional life of being miserable well, there was just no way I could buy into that.
“But I kept thinking about it. I really went inside myself and began to ask, ‘Do I have the power to choose my response?’
“When I finally realized that I do have that power when I swallowed that bitter pill and realized that I had chosen to be miserable, I also realized that I could choose not to be miserable.
“At that moment I stood up. I felt as though I was being let out of San Quentin. I wanted to yell to the whole world, ‘I am free! I am let out of prison! No longer am I going to be controlled by the treatment of some person.’ ”
It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, tragedies, sickness, and death, but for the most part, we are a direct result of the choices we’ve made with the experiences we’ve encountered in this life.
I read a quote yesterday that I’ve been reflecting upon; “The world we see and interact with is the product of how our mind perceives the world.” We are assaulted each day by an overabundance of visual, auditory, sensory stimuli. It is hard not to be separated by what we experience. However, if our minds, emotions, and spirits are ever to be free we must train our minds to be still so we can experience the world anew and break free from what we’ve known, what we’ve thought, the life we’ve lived.
Love Lost –
This afternoon I sat in a classroom at the local county jail waiting for the men in my class to arrive. At jails and prisons, they’re never on your timetable, you are on theirs. Just outside my class is a phone the residents use to contact “those on the outside” be it family, friends, or others. A man was using his phone time and talking loud enough I couldn’t help but overhear his conversation. He was begging his mom to make contact with the mother of his child and find out if she would bring their daughter to visit him. Apparently, it’s been a while and he wanted desperately to see her, talk with her, be a dad to her.
This isn’t an uncommon scenario for those who are incarcerated. Their freedoms and controls are stripped away. They can no longer go see someone, do something when they desire, but instead must wait and hope that the object of their affection comes to them. I’ve had many dads in my classes who haven’t seen their children since they were incarcerated because the mom refuses to bring them to the jail. There are valid and questionable reasons which inform the mothers’ choice but the father is powerless either way.
Love confined, locked away, kept from its beloved is one of the great tragedies. Love fully blossoms when it embraces, touches, pulls close the one desired. One of the most difficult losses for our incarcerated fathers to accept is the lack of presence in their loved one’s lives. They understand it was their choices which made it so but they also know; “the heart wants what the heart wants.” So, they will keep asking, begging, trying to stay involved in the lives of those whose worlds consist of more than cement walls, metal bars, and constant reminders that love must be stronger than.
Accepting Both –
This morning I was trying to explain to the dog that; “sniffing” was not the point of him being outside. Realizing, again, our Siberian Husky doesn’t speak English I felt something buzz my head. It sounded like a huge BumbleBee (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumblebee), flinching I tried to spot the culprit and instead spotted a Hummingbird (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hummingbird). It was fluttering from one plant to another looking for nectar. I was mesmerized by its quick, sporadic, movement and “invisible wings.” I know that a Hummingbird’s wings are not transparent they just flap them incredibly fast and they are amazing creatures to watch. I forgot about the dog and watched the bird until it landed on a branch and began watching me. I was still as possible but Trooper had finished, came running back, and frightened it flew away.
A few hours later I mowed, weeded, the yard and after I finished I sat down outside drinking water and trying to cool off. I enjoyed the shade and a nice stiff breeze. I watched as the wind blew limbs, petals, leaves and grass. I thought to myself; “This is the second time today I’ve watched the effects of something I can’t see; the wings of the Hummingbird and the wind.”
I reflected on the invisible forces which move in our lives, propelling us on our path. There are seasons when these unseen powers blow chaos, difficulties, and tragedies and like the leaves and grass we are helpless to stop it. Other times, like the Hummingbird, with great effort we can choose to move to the rhythm of goodness and light.
True wisdom is not knowing how to avoid the hard times but accepting both with grace and humility.