This Precious Life

[This is part of my Truth Tuesday series, which you can find each week on Facebook.]

An outline of my Mondays in prison: three 30-minute visits (“pastorals”) with individuals, lunch break, 90-minute meditation group, then drive from Oshkosh to Fond du lac for three pastorals at a different correctional facility. It’s a long, meaningful day.

Yesterday after group session, R looked me in the eyes and said, “Joy, you seemed sad today. Is everything okay?” I smiled with gratitude about his care and concern, but assured him I was fine. When I got in the car at day’s end, I cried and cried. R's intuition was correct: sadness. I’m sad for T, who expressed he has no safe space in prison to really feel what he feels—to feel the vulnerability of being abused and being an abuser; to feel helpless yet responsible for changing the horrible language heard among other inmates about women and sexual acts.

I’m sad B has been told his entire life that he’s worthless and never good enough, so that he still questions himself and his beautiful meditation practice. I’m sad that S hasn’t heard anything from her daughter, even though she sent stamped, self-addressed envelopes. And I’m sad that M now mistrusts her beloved brother because he hasn’t sent money (her money) while she’s locked up.

As I sobbed in the parking lot, I realized how much easier it would be to ignore these stories. If I stopped volunteering in prison, I wouldn’t have to face this much suffering and sadness. But those initial thoughts quickly passed, because these aren’t only prison stories—they’re human stories. Life is filled with sadness and pain, just as it’s filled with love and ease. I don’t want to separate myself from life or from others. Instead of “us” and “them,” I believe in “we”: our shared humanity.

I’m inspired that D sees his time in prison as a chance to become more awake, compassionate, and calm. He hopes to counsel recovering addicts when he’s released. I’m touched by heartfelt support I received in my prison meditation group while grieving the loss of a close friend. I’m stunned by the beauty and wisdom L conveys through his poetry.

Life isn’t just one way. It’s many things all at once. Yesterday, I was both sad and grateful, honored to bear witness to inmates. Tomorrow, I travel to Iowa, celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends. These are not separate events. They’re each part of our diverse, complicated, and beautiful soup of humanity.

May we all bring presence and compassion to more moments.  

May we actively practice peace, patience, and love.

May we all be grateful for small, ordinary things.