Home > Friends, Love, Relationships, Social Justice > The grace and joy of “for”

The grace and joy of “for”

I’ve had such a monumental heart-shift recently, it may well take me weeks or months to articulate it.

It will almost certainly take thousands of words. At its core is for: the difference between being for and against, but it runs much deeper than that handful of words conveys.

What a felon looks like. Also, love.

What a felon looks like. Also, love.

A piece of this shift showed up in conversation I had with my friend Ra a couple of weeks ago. I told her how I’d written a post called “I believe you” while she was in prison. I mused aloud about how one piece of that post was difficult for some to grok: the piece where I suggested I was for her, not against him, in sex assault cases. As I wrote then,

It’s not my job to adjudicate. In any case, I’m not interested in weighing his guilt, threatening or cursing him. That doesn’t change anything–not for the better, anyway.

In fact, I believe focusing so keenly on all the details of any one him, speculating about him or castigating him hurts not only you but all of us. We blind ourselves to the whole picture because it’s easier to speculate on one lurid detail: one him. We’re so busy ogling the accident on the roadside, we don’t see the crumbling bridge ahead of us. Nothing gets changed that way because we can’t change something that’s already happened.

I’d like us to stop talking about any one him and start talking instead about how to help you. How to lift you up in healing. How to let you know we are here for you, listening to you, believing you.

I’d rather focus on building than destroying.

I now believe those words a million times more intensely than when I wrote them last January. A trillion times more, even, or to the infinity-eth power.

I also understand that there are a billion more ways to destroy than I then understood, and that I perpetrate some of them daily.

Listening to Ra speak of prison and parole, I am overwhelmed by the tragedy of all the lives destroyed by the United States prison system. Less and less do I believe we send people to prison for reform, or allow those freed from the physical walls of prison to ever be free.

Mackorah Debenzie 2011

Mackorah Debenzie 2011

Somewhere in my heart of hearts, some part of me used to believe people who went to prison deserved whatever they got, for however long they got it. Then, on a long car trip with my beloved Mackenzie some years ago, she waxed eloquent about how dehumanizing that was. I still dehumanized others after that conversation, but Mackenzie’s insights started me down the path of questioning some of my basest assumptions. (Thanks, Mackenzie. ILU.)

With Ra and Mackenzie’s words in my heart, a quote by Ellen Degeneres then made my heart sink as I thought, “That was me.”

So when I read Ra’s most recent post this morning, I cried. Of course I did. It’s the epitome of what I’m struggling to articulate; it’s for, through and through.

Ra is not against Ellen, but for love. For hope. For books, and literacy. For seeing the inhumanity with which we treat prisoners, whether they are within or outside of prison, and for accepting the humanity of individual prisoners, seeing each as herself instead of one indistinguishable piece of an identical whole. For compassion. For love. For for.

I am for all of these things, and for Ra, and for you. I am for you reading Ra’s post and spending some time today contemplating and then basking in the sweetness of sitting with all the many things you’re for.

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  1. June 25, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Yes, exactly so, and I’d like to say here too– the quote didn’t hit me hard either. When I researched it, and read it, I smiled. In the choice between Charles Manson and an adorable bunny, I pick the bunny everytime. But then I think of the reality. Only 2 years before I got there, the prison where I served my time was STERILIZING women without their consent. Torture isn’t funny, abuse isn’t funny. It isn’t just the world– or Ellen– it’s me, too. We have such a learning curve to climb before understanding the breadth of what it means to be FOR humanity. You said it so well here, Deb. You always do. I love you. ❤

    • June 25, 2016 at 10:39 am

      I had no idea about sterilization. I am horrified, but not surprised. It’s so easy to do things to people we exempt ourselves from seeing as people.

      Every day, I think at least one thought and go, “Oh, man, did I really just think that?” I sit with that, too. Understanding that and accepting it–instead of squashing it and pretending it never was–is part of shaping a different, kinder reality to then be accepting of. So, too, is understanding I am not a terrible person for thinking these thoughts.

      The world–internal and external–is so much more complicated than that. I hurt myself as well as the quantity and quality of love I have to give when I focus on being against myself as I was instead of for who I am at this second, and who I am becoming.

      That was a long-ass sentence. It’s hard for me to articulate all these things now, but one things certain: I get better by trying. I am committed to trying.

      I love you and am so, so immeasurably great your love is part of my life, and my family. My heart practically glows when J stops what he’s doing, looks quizzical, and asks, “Where Ra?” ♥

  2. Paul
    June 25, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Careful Deb, you are going down a slippery slope to intelligent design. Bwahaha! [he laughs evilly]

  3. June 25, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    I think I missed that post but I was recently had similar thoughts the other week when social justice was rampaging. You put it so much more eloquently than I ever could. Well said. 🙂

    • June 27, 2016 at 5:19 am

      Thank you! I still feel ages away from being able to express it as well as I feel it, but I feel a little bit closer thanks to this round of practice. 🙂

  4. June 25, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Hatred and fear have never, ever changed my mind.
    Love? Kindness? Thoughtful conversations? Oh yes.
    And I choose flexibiliity. And growth.

    • June 27, 2016 at 5:28 am

      Hatred and fear have never, ever changed my mind.
      Likewise! Whenever my mind has changed, it’s because someone has presented or I’ve found food for thought expressed without antagonism. In the space to reflect afterward, I’ve discovered opportunities to reconsider that can’t be found when you’re either hammering or being hammered.

      Reading Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton has been so illuminating to me. Today is not new, especially politically; history is ever present. Humankind has lost so much by placing opinions before people, and by this … urge, almost, to attack what’s different, when in the end I wonder whether most of it’s so very different at all.

  5. June 26, 2016 at 4:09 am

    Thank you for this post— it gave me a lot to think about and consider what I am “for”.

  6. June 26, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Being fully human is hard, isn’t it? Even harder, allowing others to be fully themselves. I am so with you on the business of being for rather than against … Also, when you need to change something in your life, the importance of moving toward something better rather than running away from something bad.

    • June 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

      I’m really glad for the convergence of circumstances that pointed me this direction. One of those pieces was, surprisingly, the whole DNC with-us-or-against-us thing. It felt uncomfortable for a little, until I understood I could simply say, “You don’t speak for me.” No explanation needed, nor argumentation. (That argumentation creates even more against, which is so much clearer in light of the histories I’m reading.) I can simply say, “I hear where you’re coming from, and neither interested in arguing your perspectives nor threatened by your having ones that vary from my own.” We have so much noise in our lives today, just constant chatter and prodding and bustle. It’s easy to perceive threats where there aren’t, and to be divisive instinctly. I want to respect others’ humanity and quickly, quietly disengage from those who don’t appear able to (currently) respect mine. It’s much easier to take this stance when feeling, for perhaps the first time ever, truly safe in my day to day life. That can’t be touched by anyone’s argumentation. It’s a beautiful thing to learn to be more for oneself than against others.

  7. June 26, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    wonderful!
    wishing you one
    gentle, calm breath
    followed by another 🙂

    • June 27, 2016 at 5:31 am

      Thank you! Yesterday evening was full of calm contentedness. The deeper I sink into that, the longer it sticks with me, so that capturing its vibrancy in such moments becomes part of cultivating it.

      • June 27, 2016 at 7:40 am

        smiling to your habit
        of moving along,
        contentedly 🙂

  8. June 26, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    The problem is, it isn’t *just* for or against in all cases. Sometimes there are grey areas. I am very much “for” liberty, freedom — whatever you choose to call it. I am very against terrorism. Yet to make different gun rules just because one’s on the “terror watch list” without the right of habeas corpus, tramples the US Constitution. Or, to put it another way, I’ll choose freedom over security any day of the week. Or, to make it more personal, I’m very much for public health safety — which is why I recently spent 5 days locked into an isolation room in a hospital, with all of the staff using full hazmat gear. (I was coughing up blood.) But I’m very much against being forced to pay the full bill for it — in spite of Obamacare, in spite of medicare. And, at the moment, that’s what looks like will happen, which will cost both my husband and I all our savings and probably our home of more than 40 years as well. Everything we worked for gone — because I had a tiny aneurysm in my lung that burst. Totally NOT contagious — but “rules are rules” and if you cough up blood from your lungs, you’re isolated until you can PROVE it’s not contagious….

    • June 27, 2016 at 5:38 am

      On the opposite side of each “against” is a “for.” There’s a very distinctly differently feeling to each, with “for” feeling much better in ways that yields tangibly better results.

      I’m so sorry to read about your situation. That is so frustrating. One thing for which I am very much for is healthcare that doesn’t destroy financial livelihoods based on something as unpredictable as the (un)luck of the draw. I touched on this in 2011’s “Dead Moms Can’t Care,” but I suspect there’s more coming; the more I think on this, the more I find myself moved toward what was then only an inkling.

  9. June 27, 2016 at 7:51 am

    It is difficult to be both ‘for’ and ‘against’ at one and the same time. Difficult to want social justice and justice for self. Difficult to wake in the morning in pain, but then step into the free air and let it go.

    It is easy to say, ‘I believe in justice and civil rights and liberty’, until your own life is affected and then you just want someone to hear how you are hurt, you are damaged. To hear your pain. It is an act of balance far to many of us today are working on, far to many of us fail at every single day. I know for me, I do not pray for patience I pray to wake up with a pain level below 5 and the ability to let go of fury so I am able to work toward real social change not just incremental justice.

    I love you

    • July 4, 2016 at 6:14 am

      I agree. It really is difficult to be simultaneously for and against.

      I try to be careful about this being a choice for myself because I know that so many people have suffered so many different things. Saying “you must!” means just another obligation–another something-you-could-be-doing-better–in a world already so full of noise and unkindness. But speaking for me, I am startled how clearly I now see the difference between being for and against. I feel like so much of my own against has been so deeply destructive, and I can see the same in actions and inaction I’ve witnessed, too.

      It took a very particular convergence of circumstances to be here, though … so silly, still, that one of them was a musical. (I’ve got a work in progress on one particular facet of this, beyond the musical, but it’s taking me a while to write five minutes at a time though it’ll probably only be 1,000ish words.)

      I love you.

      • July 12, 2016 at 4:48 am

        It has been a terrible couple of weeks for me.

        I love you too

  10. June 27, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I agree and disagree. I do feel we don’t spend enough time, focus or energy lifting up people who have been through shit, but I also feel that we don’t do enough to punish the shit-hats of the world who don’t even deserve the luxury of prison (yes, I said that right… I feel that there are certain people in this world who DON’T EVEN DESERVE the luxury to live). My first year in college a guy slipped something in my drink and raped me. No one believed me, no one lifted me up and if anything most pointed their fingers at me and called me a whore (though I was, or had been at least, a virgin) and a liar. The worst were the countless Facebook messages telling me to “Free Andy”, like he was the victim. Nothing happened to him of course because he had a friend who watched the whole thing and said it was consensual. That’s all it takes to get off the hook I’m afraid. But here is what my point is… had I been believed and supported, it wouldn’t have changed anything. A year later he (the guy who raped me) bragged to my (former) friends about some pills he had that would get you laid. ALL of those friends apologized to me after that because HUMANE PEOPLE KNOW THE DIFFERENCE between right and wrong. But that’s not my point. My point was that even after a year he (the guy who raped me) was still slipping shit in girls drinks and stealing their privacy, their humanity, their integrity, their confidence, their security, their EVERYTHING from them. I don’t want support. I don’t want sympathy. It’s been over 10 years and all I want is justice. There are people YES who don’t deserve to go to prison. MOST people shouldn’t be in prison for the petty little things they do or have been accused of. But I’m with Ellen 100%. You murder, you rape, you molest… you do not deserve humanity because you have not been humane. You deserve the death penalty. But you can’t shove the good people in with the bad people, treat them all like they are just as guilty as the next guy and expect them to leave prison a productive member of society. A line does need to be drawn but until our society begins to realize that people in prison are NOT all the same and do NOT all deserve to be punished, that won’t change.

  1. June 25, 2016 at 10:20 am
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