A woman sat on the stage.
She was rocking back and forth.
She was holding back her tears as she tells the story of her son, a good boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
She tells the all too common story of a bad neighborhood and death, a story we all know, but walk by without really looking or listening.
She tells of isolation. She tells of a family torn to pieces by an untimely death, a death that went unnoticed but yet ripped this woman’s heart out.
“I am not a victim”, she says.
“I am victorious!”
“I am victorious!”
The audience cheers.
I spent the past two days at the Californians for Safety and Justice Survivors Speak conference.
I spoke. I listened. I held. I did indigenous rituals.
I looked. I met amazing people. I took it in all in. I cried.
“Telling my story is my therapy” I hear again and again.
This is about the survivors speaking and us listening.
I lead a circle in that circle. a woman who works in a correction facility speaks. She wants change. She wants things to be different. She has seen pain. She is about to retire and wants to work in the community.
“We have all these different programs inside the walls,” she says. “I try to do my best.
I created a running program. I brought in volunteers and had them teach track to the inmates to get them moving to a better place.
And then a shy sweet man speaks up.
“I was a lifer (had a life sentence).
I am sorry for the pain I have caused.
I am grateful.”
And he looks at the woman.
“I want to thank you. I am sure you don’t remember me. I was very quiet.
But I did your program.
I ran in that program.
I ran like fucking Forest Gump. I ran and ran to who I was meant to be.
I ran to my freedom…and here we are.” It is silent
We all hold are breaths, because that is what you do when change is right in front of you saying “Hey, it is possible.“
Horrible things happen in this world. We can choose to be angry and hopeless .Or we can believe in the possibility of change. And when it is standing right in front of you there are truly no words.
I brought two graduates of my program with me. I watch them. I try to protect them. I hover a little. I am so proud. They are finding their voice. They are a little overwhelmed as am I .But they now have a community that knows about things in their life that I cannot possibly begin to understand.
I am beyond grateful to ARC, the anti recidivism coalition that took The Advot Project in as part of the family, and a brilliant family it is, kind warm and inclusive.
It is exactly what my exhausted organization needed right now.
I learned a few important things these past few days.
Sometimes you must scream, scream from your soul, scream out loud to the world for you to then go and begin to heal.
Tears of sorrow have potential to grow magnificent flowers even in the driest of drought, if you let them.
You do not always need words. You just need to look into the others eyes, see them. Dare yourself not to walk away. Stay and exhale together.
There is great good in the world, good people good intentions good vibrations.
We should all strive to be those good people.
All lives matter. My God! They matter so incredibly much.
The answers are in the wind, in the soil, in our hearts. We just need to be still and honor our senses and our ancestors’ ways.
Our inner struggles, the fights we have with our self, inside, can end in dance, if we let go and allow the broken be our whole.
The two days seem like a few years. They are full, filling, thought provoking and profoundly deep.
I fly home and go to pick up my children from school.
Even after these crazy deep experiences, you still need to simply pick up your kids.
My children.My happy children.
My privileged children who do not even know how lucky they are.
My children who I want to shelter from all harm, especially all the things I just heard.
We listen to the cast recording of the musical Hamilton in my car.
We are all singing. And then it gets quiet.
The song that comes on is the one after Hamilton’s son is killed.
It is beautiful and we listen.
“ There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name.
You hold you child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable.
There are moments thatthe words don’t reach
There is a grace to powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable.
They are standing in the garden .
Alexander by Eliza’s side
She takes his hand
Forgiveness. Can you imagine ?
Forgiveness. Can you imagine”
Tears are streaming down my cheeks. The sun is so intensely bright out side.
My youngest says,
“That was nice that she forgives him.”
“What else can she do?” my middle one answers.
“Well, she can hate him.”
“What would that give her?”
“Yeah, I guess you are right.”
“What happens after that Mommy?”
“Listen to the next songs,” I say, trying to hide how emotional I am.
I think of the beautiful woman who told the story of her son who was shot.
I hear the voices of the courageous victims I had the opportunity to listen to, Voices who decided to speak.
Trying to make good out of the imaginable.
And I see the victory.
I see clearly the victorious she claims she is.
And I know that our job is to take their hand and stand with the victims, holding our heads high, changing policy, advocating, writing letters to the Assembly, to our Senators urging them to act, to fight for what is right.
So this world will be a better place.
Can you imagine?