These are grueling times.
As many of you know I am in the process of getting back onto disability, a step I had hoped never to take again in my lifetime. In fact, I got myself off the disability rolls in 1992 soon after my mother’s suicide. But here I am again. Those close to me have rightly, and lovingly, reminded me that, It’s there for a reason, Peter.
I am in a very different place in life now than I was in 1984 when I applied for disability the first time after I’d been shot and badly wounded in a hold-up. I am, I think, more forgiving and more accepting than I was back then.
There are some I could, with great justification, sue. I have more than enough grounds and would likely win. While defamation of character among other things is not always easy to prove, it is if you have a drawer full of documentation, not to mention access to some reliable witnesses. Yet, despite the encouragement of some to go ahead and Nail the bastards, I’ve chosen not to. I think if each of us ran around seeking revenge for every misdeed inflicted on us in life some of us, those of us in the civil rights community for sure, would find ourselves doing nothing but. And then all our time would be consumed by bringing to heel those unhealthy souls in the world that lie about or bully others. Justice is not about revenge.
I have received some striking support from some extraordinary people. I’ve had survivors on fixed incomes shove a $5, $10 or $20 bill in my hand and say things like, Buy food, bro. We love you, you’ve always been there for us. It’s pretty special to discover that a $5, $10 and $20 can feel like a million dollars when given with so much love.
Then, of course, there have been those I would have thought would help and instead have fallen silent and still others who have said, Not to worry, we’re sending you something right away, and they don’t. I think people need to understand that people going through hard times deserve honesty and kindness from their peers. If you can’t help, don’t say you can. There is nothing wrong with that, and no one worth their salt is going to be upset with you.
There is something healthy about all this experience for me. Not pleasant, but healthy. Times like this right size a man (or woman). You are reminded that what makes you valuable is you. A woman I know taught me that Buddha believed life’s pain was rooted in our attachment and drive for material things, for they are what we are socialized (brain washed) into believing wealth is.
I know a man who died recently only days after turning 61. He was a wealthy man on the money front, but starved on the spiritual and emotional fronts. He told me once he woke up ever morning terrified, and so he would work from 7:30 in the morning until three the next morning day after day after day. Like so many of us, he was afraid to be with himself. I understand that because that was my lot for years. It isn’t my lot anymore, and the reason it isn’t has nothing to do with money or material things. It has to do with my sobriety, with being uncomfortable in my own skin, and having some good friends. This man was my friend once, and while our paths separated because we answered to very different drummers, we were ultimately opponents, I did love him and his death breaks my heart. Oftentimes you can dislike someones behavior without disliking the person.
I know some people today who are consumed with making money, being tough supervisors of people, ruling by intimidation; one fellow runs around telling the world he was in the Vietnam war when in all likelihood the closest he ever got to Nam was probably Newark. I know others who spew sentences of saccharin sweetness and compassion when internally they are neither sweet (remember, saccharin is a substitute for sugar, not the real thing) or kind. The thing that makes me feel good about me is that I know that many years ago I would have tracked down one or two of these folks and, as we said back in the day, caved their chests in, an expression I learned in reform school many years ago during a moment I was rudely, and painfully, introduced to the reality that the threat, I’ll punch you in the nose, no longer held sway.
The thing is, if the people who have intentionally wounded me over the past couple of years where themselves wounded in life and reached out to me, I’d go help them. Some might try to dissuade me, but they would not succeed.
Justice has nothing to do with revenge and revenge has nothing to do with strength. That is why the people I could easily sue are people I would help. Perhaps I am talking about some kind of emotional or spiritual non-violence. I’m not sure. I do remember that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Non-violence is like water. If you have a fire and you throw a bucket of water on it and the fire doesn’t go out, it doesn’t mean water doesn’t put out fire. It means you need more water.”