I had the pleasure attending the 10th Annual Citizens Against Recidivism Awards dinner and being around some very powerful people . It is an important function because it is about those who have been incarcerated recognizing the accomplishments of formerly incarcerated visionaries, bridge-builders, researchers, and advocates.
Too often, we only hear about formerly incarcerated people when we do something wrong. We never hear about those who have returned to their communities to create organizations, organized for social justice, address violence, and have given of their time to make the world a better place.
Personally, I feel honored to have been a recipient of the advocacy award. Further, I am honored to be part of a group of people who have emerged from the ugliness and dehumanization whole and full of light that they share freely.
When Shit Happens
When I was a much younger man, I worked with a group that loved to play pranks. Of course, I was a leader of that pack. While visiting one of my friends, I got in into my head to order a truckload of sand and have it sent to my other friend’s home across the street. My friend’s father had a lawn that he loved more than his own son, and that upped the wow factor up a few notches. My accomplice/ friend upped the ante even more when he suggested we change the order from sand to fertilizer. Pure genius!
We made the call, put in the order for a truckload of fertilizer, and gave our friend’s address across the street. We sat by the window and waited…
A while passed and we saw the truck pull up to our co-worker’s residence and then something happened we didn’t plan for: the driver dumped the fertilizer right there on the lawn!
This took the prank to a whole other level. We were beside ourselves with laughter. The sight of our co-worker’s mother running out and then his father and the ensuing argument was priceless. Then our friend came out, looked around and it hit him that he was being pranked. We could see the look on his face!
I know, I know, it’s fucked up, immature, and yeah, it was wrong, but we were young, and dumb. Shit happens all the time. The Buddhists have a pretty cool teaching story/ metaphor for this truism.
Imagine you’re having a beautiful day at home with your spouse. All of sudden, out of the blue, you realize someone has dumped a truckload of shit on your front lawn. There are four realities to this situation:
- You did not order it. It’s not your fault.
- You’re stuck with it. No one saw who dumped it, so you can’t call anyone to tow it away.
- It’s filthy and offensive, the aroma fills your whole house. It’s almost impossible to endure.
- No, I didn’t order it.
In this metaphor, the truckload of shit on your front lawn symbolizes the traumatic experiences that are dumped on us in this life. As with the truckload of shit, there are four things to know about the tragedies in our lives:
- We did not order it. It’s not our fault.
- We’re stuck with it. No one, not even those who love us most, can take it away (though they try).
- It is awful, it destroys our happiness, and its pain fills our life. In fact, at times it feels as if it almost impossible to endure
- No, I didn’t cause it.
Taking into consideration the above realities, there are several ways we can respond when shit happens. The first way (and this seems the most popular) is to carry the shit around with us. Some of us put the shit we’re handed in our pockets, and in our baggage. We even put some down in our pants. What happens is that some of us quickly realize carrying shit around leads to the loss of many friends. Even your best friends don’t like the smell of shit.
“Carrying around shit” is a metaphor for falling for the seduction of depression, anger, or negativity. This isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s a natural and understandable response to adversity. But our loved ones disappear because it equally natural and understandable that our friends don’t like being around us when we’re so depressed. The smell of shit often gets worse, not better.
But there is another response we can choose. When we find that we’ve been handed a truckload of shit, we can acknowledge the tribulation, sigh, and then get to working. We can bring out the tools and shovel the shit into our wheelbarrow, wheel it and dig it into our garden. This hard, exhausting, and often very difficult work, but deep down we know there’s no better option.
Some days, we can barely fill our barrow. But the fact that we’re doing something about the problem helps lift us out of our depression. Every day, we dig into that shit, and the pile begins to get smaller. Sometimes it takes years, but the time comes that the shit on your front lawn is all gone. In addition, something else has happened. The flowers in our garden are bursting out in a riot of color all over the place. The sweet perfume wafts down so that your neighbors and even people passing through smile in delight.
Your fruits and vegetables are nearly bursting with ripe fullness. In addition, the fruit is so sweet, you can’t possibly buy anything like it at the local supermarket. We share those gifts freely, even with strangers, without planning to, or expecting anything in return.
“Digging into the shit” is a metaphor for welcoming the tragedies of life. It is work that we often have to do alone — though for deep shit, we might need some assistance. Some trauma needs to be addressed skillfully and we don’t always have the right tools. But toiling in the garden of our solitude, day by day, lessens our pain. When we have lived through tragic pain, learned its lesson for us, and toiled, then we can put our arms around another experiencing deep loss and say softly say to them, “I know.” And they will realize that you understand. It is here that compassion begins. We can show them the gardening tools and offer them encouragement. But if we haven’t grown our own garden, this is a hidden gift we cannot offer.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…