Gratitude practice

November 21, 2012

“Standing on a hill and a mountain of dreams…”

In September, I had the privilege of attending a small group talk with an internationally renowned professor of religion at a local college. We had a wide-ranging discussion about Buddhism, including about gratitude practice.

Less than two years ago, the professor was in a very serious bicycling accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Someone in our group asked him what he was thinking and what was his practice as he lie in that hospital bed. He said, “Gratitude.” Gratitude to everyone who was supporting him and especially to the medical staff that was nursing him back to health.

A few weeks later, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area for a conference. I went out a day early to do some hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore, which required renting a car. Five blocks from the rental store, I accidentally blew through a red light. I was only a few feet into the intersection when I realized what I was doing. In my peripheral vision, I could see a pedestrian crossing the street, a woman who was at least 55, if not older, and as I went through the intersection, I could see cars waiting to go in both directions. I gunned it and drove through the intersection without a scratch and without a ticket.

In the minutes afterwards, I was shaken while thinking about what could have happened. Worst case scenario,  I hit the pedestrian. Next-best scenario, I’m in an accident with one of the cars at the intersection. Next-best scenario, I get a ticket, which in California I’m guessing goes for a few hundred bucks. (Thank you, SFPD, for being nowhere in sight.) The best-case scenario is what happened. I made it through the intersection without incident.

In that moment of thinking “what if,” I thought back to the professor. And I used gratitude practice to calm myself. My gratitude was for everyone in that intersection who was paying attention when I was not.

This week there is a lot of focus on giving thanks, and that thanks is often focused on family and friends and health. They are very important. Of course, gratitude is something that we can practice every day, in ways big and small. And it feels great.

What do you believe in then?

September 3, 2012

The most heightened campaign season- the presidential campaign- is upon us. Those of us who vote will walk into the voting booth in November and cast our ballot based on our beliefs.

Here’s what I believe in, Crash Davis style.

I believe in the true self. The beloved community. Equality.

I believe in science and that science isn’t something that you actually believe in but that’s a fact.

I believe in a strong national park system, a space program that boldly goes where no one has gone before, and an FDA that checks our food to be sure that we’re not being poisoned.

I believe that we’re all in this together and that the country isn’t one, giant version of the Hunger Games.

I believe that guys shouldn’t be afraid to cry and that women shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for themselves.

I believe that everyone deserves music.

I believe in the 40-hour work week, the weekend, and that a union is a much better check on corporate tyranny than the market.

I believe in a robust public school system and that all of us should contribute to maintain that system, for the good of the country.

I believe in free speech, free religion, free press, and free libraries.

I believe that patriotism isn’t about waving a flag but is about supporting and pushing for the ideals that get us closer to being a more perfect union, including and especially when we fail to live up to those ideals.

And I believe in love. One love.

(The Crash Davis speech from Bull Durham. This does have some salty language, fyi.)

Goodbye Adam Yauch, my first dharma teacher

May 7, 2012

On its face, it probably sounds pretty ridiculous that a Beastie Boys song changed my life. But I don’t mind admitting it. And as the tributes to Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, have poured in over the last four days since his death on Friday, it’s become clear that many others were touched and inspired by this incredible person.

Adam gave me my first dharma teaching. And it changed the course of my life.

The story starts two years earlier in 1992. My cousin was working at a record store at the time. We were both 19. One weekend, he rolled into town to hang out, and when we left my house and got to his car, he said, “You have to listen to this Beastie Boys album.” In late middle school and early high school, I had started listening to classic rock, particularly the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and by late high school, I was listening to alternative rock, a little bit of punk, and some hip hop, like the Replacements and Elvis Costello with some Fugazi and Public Enemy sprinkled in. I remember thinking or maybe saying, “Beastie Boys? Come on, man.” I was a serious music fan and wouldn’t tolerate those “fight for your right to party” guys.

That album was Check Your Head. And I was completely blown away. This album had infectious grooves (“So Whatcha Want,” “Pass the Mic,”), driving rock (“Gratitude”), and smooth undertones (“Something’s Got to Give”). It was amazing. I was a fan.

Fast forward a year-ish. In the fall of 1993, I took a class on Asian Art. To explain the art, our professor had to explain some Buddhist concepts for the art to make sense. I thought it sounded interesting.

The next spring, Beastie Boys dropped their Ill Communication album. Of course, I picked it up. Again, it was genius. Right out of the gate, in “Sure Shot,” Adam addressed why I was so skeptical two years earlier:

“I wanna say a little somethin’ that’s long overdue. The disrespect to women has got to be through. To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends I wanna offer my love and respect to the end.”

But it was a song late in the album, “Bodhisattva Vow,” that really caught my attention. It was essentially a description of the bodhisattva’s way of life, the path that a person chooses when he or she wants to relieve the suffering of others.

“The Bodhisattva path is one of power and strength, a strength from within to go the length. Seeing others are as important as myself, I strive for a happiness of mental wealth. With the interconnectedness that we share as one, every action that we take affects everyone. So in deciding for what a situation calls, there is a path for the good for all.”

Adam had started practicing Buddhism after traveling to Nepal and put the practice down in a song. I recall reading an interview in which he said it was probably a bit too bold to write that song, but it was obviously meaningful to many people. Today a search for “adam yauch bodhisattva vow” brings numerous news reports of his death with references to his spiritual practice and the song.

It would be six more years before I started the practice. But this song was the seed. The practice has changed my life in ways that I never could have expected. Adam Yauch made that possible. He was my first dharma teacher.

In Buddhism, we say that there is no birth and there is no death. Of course, these physical bodies we inhabit were born and will someday die. But when we recognize the reality of interconnectedness, we realize that we are not isolated beings but part of this larger entity known as our world and our universe. Because we are all connected, we have always been here, and we will always be here. Maybe not in this human form, but in some way, we will always be a part of this world.

In other words, like a dream I flow without no stopping….

Follow your bliss

January 17, 2012

A view of the Rockies from the upper deck of Coors Field

A few months ago, Sensei Tony and I had a conversation in which he gave me some memorable advice: “Follow your bliss.” I was telling him how much I loved my trip to Denver. I had never been to the city, and the thought had never crossed my mind to visit. I was there for a conference.  But even just visiting a small area in LoDo (lower downtown), I fell in love with Denver. And I’ve convinced my family to take a vacation to Colorado this summer. I want to see more.

Sensei told me that he had a student some years ago who had a similar experience in Colorado and eventually moved there. This is not to suggest that we’re moving anytime soon. But it was this anecdote that led him to say, “Follow your bliss.”

The view of Denver from the banks of the South Platte River

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve getting much more enthusiastic about hiking the trails, particularly the Appalachian Trail, around the mid-Atlantic region. I’ve enjoyed hiking since I was a teenager but have long made little effort to get out there and trek. For the last four or five months, before the cold set in, I urged several family members to do some hiking with me. I’ve also set up a closed Facebook page for some friends to recruit fellow hikers and to share experiences. And, after reading the book To a Mountain in Tibet, I’ve even started researching a hiking trip to Nepal.

 
To those closest to me, it can sound like I’ve taken on a new fad. But I feel moved to follow my bliss. I don’t want to be 60 and realize there were things I didn’t do that I wish I had done.

Follow your bliss.

Shifting the paradigm: From rescue to acceptance

January 1, 2012

Two weeks ago, Blue Mountain Lotus Society, my local Buddhist community or sangha, celebrated Satori. Satori, or Bodhi Day, as it is known in some parts of the world,  is probably the biggest celebration on the Buddhist calendar. It is a celebration of the enlightenment of Buddha Shakyamuni, the former Prince Siddhartha. In recognition of Shakyamuni’s seven days of meditation under the bodhi tree that led to his enlightenment, some monks spend a week in intense meditation themselves.

At this year’s Satori, our lead priest, Sensei Anthony Stultz, offered a written dharma talk, rather than the typical verbal delivery.  The following is what he wrote.

 

By Sensei Anthony Stultz

Greetings on this blessed eve. As many of you know, the Buddhist tradition has become the fastest growing faith in both the United States and Europe. Why is this? I believe that this is because the old religious concepts have become bankrupt.

We are currently experiencing a paradigm shift in our collective consciousness. This shift calls for the death of what has been and the birth of what will be. We are no longer satisfied by the explanations of the past.  The idea that we need to be rescued or “saved” has become distorted and useless. The concepts of sin and the corresponding shame imply a definition of human life that I think is false.

We are constantly insulting our humanity out of a particular theological reference.  We have been previously taught that we were beggars before an angry god.  We were taught that we are fundamentally flawed and unworthy.

The teaching of the Buddha is that this is simply not true.  It is therefore bad anthropology, and no one can build good theology on bad anthropology.  The Buddha showed us that it is not that we have fallen into sin.  It is that we have not yet achieved our full humanity.

The real source of our suffering is found in the remnants of our evolutionary history.  This history has conditioned every one of us to become obsessed with our own solitary existence, ignoring the deeper reality of our interconnectedness.

In our beautiful liturgical meditation, we don’t just have faith in this Oneness.  Our own senses become a vehicle of that connectedness: Sight- the ceremony and the symbols; sound- the chanting of our ancient wisdom; smell- the offering of the incense which represents our commingling spirit; and touch- the humble and exquisite act of bowing and releasing into our true selves.

We are not content to merely believe in our Buddha Nature, rather we find it in our immediate experience.

The celebration of the Great Enlightenment is the way in which we realize our capacity to awaken to a more universal consciousness, a consciousness that lifts us into a larger being beyond every personal and social boundary.  It truly presents us with a new image of what it means to be fully human, a source of endless potential to live more fully, love more freely and plunge ourselves so completely into life that we never stop to count the cost.

Namu Amia Butsu

Sensei Tony

Will the occupiers do the hard, boring work for change?

October 14, 2011

I’ve been doing this social justice activist thing for 11 years, which makes me an oldhead to some and a rookie to others.  But at the very least, I think I’ve been around the block a few times. On the Occupy Together movement, consider me skeptical but hopeful.

Rallies and public demonstrations are fun and energizing.   People of like-mind gather together to push for or against some policy idea.  It’s thrilling.  It feels good to be part of a group advocating for something righteous.

But public demonstrations alone do not create change.  If they did, the death penalty in Pennsylvania would have been repealed long ago. In the first three years that I was involved in Pennsylvania Abolitionists United Against the Death Penalty, from 2000 to 2003, we wrapped crime scene tape around the governor’s mansion, tossed a blown up death warrant with the words “return to sender” over the fence at the governor’s mansion, hosted a press conference with Sr. Helen Prejean at which we released a poll showing 70 percent of Pennsylvanians favor a moratorium on executions, and organized a rally with Governor George Ryan (R-IL) with 1,000 people on the state capitol steps. We think we had some impact on the administration of the death penalty in the commonwealth, but we didn’t reach our ultimate goal or even the big short-term goals we set, like a moratorium or a government-sanctioned study of capital punishment.

(To be fair to myself and my friends from PAUADP, now Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, we did more than just public demonstrations.)

It’s been hard to miss the Occupy Together movement currently sweeping New York, Boston, Philly, Harrisburg, et al.  When the occupiers say that they’re going to camp out for weeks or even months until they see change for economic justice- the Philly occupiers have talked about being there through the winter- the alarm bells go off.  At least some of these folks don’t understand how to make real change.  Change happened in Egypt and Tunisia with consistent public gatherings because public gatherings to express grievances against the government were unheard of in those countries.

That’s not how change happens in the United States.  Public demonstrations happen every day, even if this one is unusual in its length and size. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard it said at the capitol that rallies have no impact on legislators. I had to explain to a state legislator recently that the purpose of a rally we were organizing was to energize our supporters, with no expectation of directly impacting lawmakers.

That’s how public demonstrations make change, by energizing people to do more.  It’s going to take more than camping out to make the progress on economic justice that the occupiers want.

Look at the work that has been done in the last two years by Equality Pennsylvania, with an assist from its allies, including my employer. From 1981 to 2008, 13 Pennsylvania municipalities passed local non-discrimination ordinances that included at least “sexual orientation” and, in most cases, “gender identity.”  In 2009, House Bill 300, a bill to add LGBT people to the state non-discrimination law, passed out of committee but then stalled before getting to the state House floor.

From 2009 to this week, 10 more municipalities in Pennsylvania passed comprehensive non-discrimination ordinances.  Nearly as many of these ordinances have passed in two years as passed in the previous 27 years.

No one had to camp out to make this happen.  This happened because Equality PA and its allies built relationships with policymakers, supported local activists who pushed their municipal governments to make this move, built the resources necessary to guide policymakers and activists through the process- from model legislation to talking points to stickers- and worked the press to raise awareness.  In a sign of real progress, this week two candidates for county commissioner in suburban Philadelphia endorsed non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.  Outlawing LGBT discrimination is now good politics, apparently.

Certainly, we still have a lot of work to do on this issue. We still don’t have sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the state civil rights law. But what is happening at the local level is progress.

For my master’s thesis, I analyzed the movement that repealed the death penalty in New Jersey.  The research included interviews with key figures in the movement both at the state level and the national level.  Two national anti-death penalty organizers made observations that the occupiers will do well to heed.  One said that the movement was successful in New Jersey because it “matured.” It stopped chanting outside legislators’ offices and started meeting inside legislators’ offices.

The other national organizer compared the anti-death penalty movement in the last ten years to the movement in the 1990s.  This organizer said that in the ’90s the movement was “culturally weird,” standing outside prisons holding candles on the night someone was executed. I’ve heard other activists refer to these folks as “candle clutchers” and “the sandals and candles crowd.”  In the interview, the national organizer said that the death penalty repeal movement learned to stop being culturally weird.

With all due respect to the occupiers, the people’s microphone, in which the crowd repeats the speaker’s words every few seconds, is culturally weird.  Just watch this video that shows Occupy Atlanta denying John Lewis the opportunity to speak to see what I mean.  (And denying John Lewis, a civil rights hero, the opportunity to speak also shows a tin ear for messaging, especially for a movement that wants to attract racial minorities.)  The movement is going to have to be conscious of behaving in a way that will attract average Americans and not become some side freak show.  They’ll also have to be aware of the fact that each occupy city impacts the other.  If one looks bad for some reason, it will impact the entire movement.

Finally, the movement must lead to some political gain.  This will be counterproductive if the prevailing attitude among movement activists is, “All politicians suck.”  This can’t be a flameout, ala the WTO protests.  The Tea Party has been very successful, in part, by engaging in electoral politics. Occupy Together must do the same thing. That includes not only building relationships with candidates but also, especially, registering people to vote.  If more poor and working class people voted, we would be much closer to reaching the goals we want.

That said, all of this can be overcome.  Unlike some people, I am not a believer in discouraging people who are speaking out, some for the first time, on issues of justice.  We need an engaged populace, especially among people who believe that all people, regardless of their lot in life, should be treated with respect and dignity. The Occupy Together movement must be encouraged to do the hard, boring work for change, not discouraged from participating at all.

Support the death penalty? Then tell your kids about it

September 22, 2011

Tonight the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail. Troy was executed despite such a lack of evidence that not only would he not be executed if he were retried he likely wouldn’t even be convicted.

I know all of the narratives around capital punishment. I’ve been involved in anti-death penalty activism for 11 years and know all of the messages that do and do not resonate with undecided Americans. If I wanted to write a post to convince the undecided, I would talk about innocence and costs and impact on victims’ families.

But this column by Emily Hauser at the Atlantic moved me greatly. Hauser relays the questions from her eight-year-old daughter:

“How does it work?” my eight-year-old asked last Saturday morning . “Will he just stand there and have to — let them kill him?”

I, too, have an eight-year-old daughter.

So here’s a very simple challenge to supporters of the death penalty who have young children (pre-teen) in their lives: Tell your kids about capital punishment. If this is something you feel is the right thing to do, if it’s something you’re proud to support, then explain it to your kids. Explain to them how the inmate knows when his time of death is coming. Explain to them the last meal. Explain to them how the state straps down the inmate. Explain to them how the state injects IV needles into the inmate’s veins and then slowly allows the flow of poison into his body.

If you really think the death penalty is the right thing to do, this shouldn’t be difficult.

Missionary wars

September 13, 2011

I recently received a rather disturbing reaction to one of my blog posts from a small, international non-profit.  The details are not important because I want to simply use this as a jumping off point for an observation about non-profit work.  (And because I’m not going to air what is a private matter on this blog.)  Over 11 years of advocacy and activism, I have consistently seen people who are on the same side working for social justice trying to outdo, out-advocate, and, depending upon the issue, out-poor each other in a way that tears down their fellow advocates.

I’m not going to name names, of course.  Maybe I’ll name names in the book I’m going to write when I retire.  (I’m kidding. Probably.) But this kind of rivalry among advocates who are working toward the same goals is another symptom of the either-or psychology that I talked about in another post recently.  When advocates on the same side tear each other down, it comes from a place of clinging to absolute truth, or Truth with a capital T, as my teacher Sensei Tony Stultz likes to say. Their pursuit of what they see as the absolute truth prohibits them from seeing their friends with a clear mind and from realizing that their friends’ intent is the same as their own.  Maybe their friends have a different path to those goals. Fine. But their intent is the same, to bring some form of justice to the communities in which they work and for which they advocate.

I’m fortunate to know a lot of great advocates and activists who don’t behave this way. I have a friend who is involved in the Catholic Worker movement.  Those who make a commitment to the Catholic Worker take a vow of voluntary poverty and immerse themselves in struggling communities. My friend could very easily look down on those of us who don’t follow his path as inauthentic or criticize us for not engaging in the way that he does.  But he doesn’t. He sees with a clear mind that we all have a role to play, and everytime I see him, he expresses his gratitude for my own struggle for civil rights that I take to the state capitol every day.

And to be clear, this problem I’ve described of advocate rivalries is not one that is spread throughout the advocacy community in Pennsylvania.  But I do see it from time to time in a variety of arenas. And it’s a shame.

My attitude about the work of others is very simple.  If you are doing work that is compassionate, fair, and just, then go forward. And I’m with you.

How the U.S. helped cause the famine in Somalia

September 6, 2011

A Somali mother grieves the death of her three-year-old son (from Time.com, by John Moore of Getty Images)

This is outrageous, stunning, and heartbreaking. And yet, not surprising.

Theft of aid is a routine occurrence, but when al-Shabab was designated as a terrorist group, it meant that U.S. officials and foreign aid workers whose actions benefited al-Shabab, even unwittingly, would be penalized. By late 2009 the U.S. was withholding about $50 million in food aid from al-Shabab’s territory in southern Somalia, saying it had no legal alternative. By early 2010 the U.S. was in a standoff with aid workers, requiring them to refuse to pay the tolls al-Shabab demanded if they wanted U.S. funding…(snip)

In effect, southern Somalia was largely without aid and lacked a reliable distribution network through which to move emergency supplies in the event of a disaster. Warning of a crisis, Mark Bowden, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, accused the U.S. of fighting its war with aid. “We’re no longer involved in a discussion about the practicalities of delivering humanitarian assistance with proper safeguards,” he told reporters in February 2010. It had become “an issue of where assistance can be provided on political grounds.”

It is a crime under U.S. law to financially support organizations that have been designated as terrorist groups. Thus, aid organizations that operate in territory controlled by al-Shabab in Somalia have been unable to give aid to the local people because they have to pay fees to the organization. To do so would make the aid groups terrorist-supporters.

This is like school “zero tolerance” policies on a global level and with deadlier consequences. We’ve all heard the stories of elementary-age students who were suspended, or worse, for bringing scissors to school.  The policies of their schools are so rigid that there’s no room for reasonable people to give leeway to those who violate the policy. Nor are the policies written in a way that allows that room for leeway.

Our law on supporting terrorist organizations has no place for aid organizations that operate in territories like southern Somalia.  It is a result of the “either-or” mentality that so often creeps into our lawmaking. It’s that mentality that leads to “zero tolerance” policies in our schools, sick drug addicts clogging up our state prisons, the zealous pursuit of dishwashers and janitors who don’t have immigration status, and the acceleration of a famine.

Obviously, there are many factors that have led to the famine in Somalia and elsewhere in the horn of Africa. Severe drought and- yes- climate change. Constant war. Al-Shabab’s control and unwillingness to let aid in. To suggest that the U.S. is the reason for the famine is also a result of either-or thinking.

But the inflexibility of our laws didn’t help and probably made things worse. And for that, I am ashamed.

From Lost Boy to homeless

September 1, 2011

This is not a story about the American dream.

Ten years ago, Simon came to the United States as one of the so-called “Lost Boys” of Sudan after living most of his life in refugee camps.  Of course, these boys and girls weren’t actually lost.  They were forced from their childhood homes by the civil war between the north and the south.

Simon came to the United States in 2001 as a young man in his early-to-mid-20s and settled in the Harrisburg area with at least several dozen other Sudanese refugees.  (I was never clear on exactly how many were here.)  He lived in an apartment with three other young adult refugees.  They had jobs at a local warehouse.  They were in various stages of their educational process, but they were all working toward something.

The guys had a map of Sudan on their wall, and Simon once showed me his trek from his childhood home in southern Sudan; to Ethiopia, where they stayed briefly before being chased out by Ethiopian forces; and to Kenya, where they stayed for many years before leaving for the United States.  They spent weeks, maybe months, walking across Sudan to seek refuge from the war.  They faced starvation, attacks by lions, hyenas, and other wildlife, and hostilities from forces loyal to the government in Khartoum.  After spending about a year in Ethiopia, they were forced out during a coup attempt to topple the government, and they had to escape across a river while dodging hostile bullets and hungry crocodiles.  Eventually, they found their way to Kenya.

While explaining this story, Simon told me that his “uncle” led their group.  It was only many years later, while reading Dave Eggers’ What is the What, that I realized that his uncle may have not actually been a family member. Sudanese kids call adult men “uncle.”

I visited Simon and his roommates once a week for six to 12 months in 2001.  (I can’t recall exactly how long it was.)  Eventually, my weekly visits ended, but we still occasionally visited with Simon.  He met my daughter when she was a baby.  We took him to my wife’s church for holiday services and at least once to my parents’ home for a holiday meal.

Sometime in late 2003 or 2004, Simon left Harrisburg for Nebraska.  I never knew why until, again, many years later when I read What is the What, and Valentino Achak Deng explained that Sudanese young men had convinced each other that there were good jobs in the agricultural and meat industries in Nebraska.

I didn’t hear from Simon again.  Until February.  My daughter had the day off from school and spent half the day with me in my office.  We walked over to Strawberry Square, a small shopping mall in downtown Harrisburg, to grab some lunch at the food court.  And there was Simon, sitting on a bench on the first floor.  I did a double-take.  “Simon?” “Andy!” he replied.  He looked a little different. He had small dreadlocks and had put on a little weight but still had that gangly look like so many Sudanese.

He was also homeless.

Simon told me that he had been locked out of his apartment. I asked if he had been paying his rent. He said yes. He said that he had money in his bank account but that he couldn’t get to it because the bank wouldn’t issue him a card. That seemed strange, but maybe since he was locked out of his apartment he didn’t have ID or his account number. He said that he was talking with a local temp agency about work and that he slept in a local shelter. He also said that he was talking with the bank. It sounded like he could have this resolved shortly.

Simon with my daughter in 2003 and in happier times

Then over the next few months, when I would see him, his story would be the same. This summer I finally realized that he wasn’t close to getting things turned around, even though he said that he was.

Simon also recently told me that he’s been out of his apartment since November. He spent a few months in a shelter, so I don’t know how much of the winter he spent sleeping outside. But at the very least, he’s been out there this summer, including in July when we had scorching heat and last weekend when Hurricane Irene tore through the area.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t done as much for Simon as I could. I haven’t talked with Dr. Phuong at the International Service Center in Harrisburg. I haven’t called my friends at Project HOME in Philadelphia.  Last month I did take him to visit my friends at the Catholic Worker house in Allison Hill, but Simon said that he didn’t need their help.  Just this week- yesterday, actually- I finally talked with a lawyer friend from the Community Justice Project who may be able to help in getting Simon public assistance to get him back on his feet. Of course, that will depend upon his immigration status. If he doesn’t have an apartment and he doesn’t have a job, what are the chances that he has his status updated and renewed?

I also don’t how  much Simon’s situation is impacted by cultural misunderstandings and his mental health. I was aware that the guys went through significant childhood trauma, but when I recently read Eggers’ book, it became even clearer. I’m skeptical that Simon ever received quality mental health care when he first arrived in the United States. And when he refused to ride in my car to the Catholic Worker house, I became more concerned.

If you work or visit downtown Harrisburg, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Simon. He sticks out. He stands about 6’3″ or 6’4″. He has dreadlocks. He has the dark skin color of the ethnic Dinka. He’s always wearing an orange long sleeve shirt and carries a tan overcoat. As far as I can tell, from my time with him years ago to my time talking with him on the streets, Simon is a gentle soul. I’ve never even heard him raise his voice, let alone show any signs of violence.

We occasionally hear about the successes of the Lost Boys from the press.  The media covers their graduations. One refugee carried the U.S. flag at the 2008 summer Olympics.

What’s happening to Simon is the other side of life as a refugee. And I’ve rarely felt so helpless.

Stay human….


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