Freedom to Choose

Someone once told me, “I don’t care what you do in your life, whether you choose to be a carpenter, a doctor or a bum. I care that you have as many tools as possible so that you are free to choose.”

Though I lost my way and made terrible mistakes, I am still shaped by those words because wisdom has no expiration date. It was waiting for me when I became ready to listen.

It makes me think about the men I’m incarcerated with, about their opportunities, or lack thereof.

Some were like me. They had choices and futures but got stuck in a bottle or a bag of dope. Lost their moral compass in animal craving and spiritual darkness.

Others seem cursed. Born addicted. Burned with cigarettes. Bones broken. Bodies violated. Spirits shattered. Shuttles from one foster home to the next. Starved of food, comfort and love.

Most were somewhere in between. Limited opportunities and bad choices led them here. Not inevitable but certainly understandable.

I grew up believing I would be a lawyer or counselor. Many grew up believing they’d be dead by 18.

I have been blessed to find teachers, inside and out, who helped me take responsibility for my choices, discover my options and grow into the man I am today.

In turn, I have been grateful to teach, mentor and share my experience. I have watched men blossom and change. Others have been unable or unwilling to depart from long-held habits. I can’t control their choice. My hope is to help them see they have one.

There are days life feels like a tragedy. Other days a comedy. A joy. Working with others reminds me I’m not the center of the universe. It keeps self-pity at bay and gratitude near.

Life is not fair. The playing ground is not level. I don’t know how to change that. Each day I wake up and try to share the love, support and wisdom that have been so freely given to me, so maybe one day we can all find the freedom to choose.

Sorry and Grief

It has been a week of grief. A scene on tv. A new smell. A passing memory. It all sends me near tears. Like forgetting a burden until my knees buckle.

I don’t know why. I just know there is a need behind the sadness. Something to be heard and honored.

Crying is a great hollowing out. Sometimes gentle. Sometimes violent. It washes away resistance to what is. Ushers in room for acceptance. Sometimes we have to accept terrible truths because terrible things happen.

Twelve years ago the man I call my grandfather lost his son to suicide. There are no words for that suffering. As much as we have talked and shared, I cannot begin to imagine his pain.

He would never be the same. A piece was lost forever.

But something grew in him. That hollowed out center now holds space. For love. For compassion. Even, eventually, for happiness. Not a moment taken for granted. He has done something beautiful with his pain.

I think of my grandfather when I cry. I thank him for showing me how to live, even in the face of the great and terrible.

Running from Self

I spent half of my life trying to be someone else. I talked like they talked. I dressed in their clothes. I did the same drugs. I tried to xerox my way to happiness.

Every strategy was about change instead of acceptance. None worked. I was still me and I still never felt like enough.

The best advice anyone ever gave me was to sit down and shut up, to be quiet long enough to see beyond my thoughts and feelings. I was desperate so I listened. And listened. All I heard was a roaring in my head. How could listening to this chaos bring me peace?

It got better. It got worse. To this day I never know what meditation will bring. I do know that life is different. I do know that I’m actually OK today.

Something terrible was always chasing me. I ran from it, numbed it, drowned it. It always grew stronger.

When I finally stopped, defeated, what walked in wasn’t a terrible creature, but my wounded self gone feral. I was running from a monster that only needed my love.