You Lived

OpEdWhat do we gain if we hang on to anger? That is a question I am asked frequently when I speak in Victim Impact and other venues. Why do I withhold ‘forgiveness’ rather than offer it freely, without limitations or a requirement for acts / signs of true remorse. Why do I believe forgiveness is a gift to the repentant, rather than a gift to ourselves. These are questions I have been pondering lately with a different frame of mind than in the past.

Last year was a year of turmoil and upheaval, not just for me personally but for the nation. Oddly, though what happened in the nation is very different from my own experiences, I can’t help but draw parallels and then my heart cracks. Even while I feel paralyzed and unqualified to speak, I am and have been drawn, sometimes simply as a witness to the terrible and other times to lend my voice, to demand change and justice. Even when my voice is unwelcome in the cacophony that has greater right, greater knowledge, greater principle still I felt the need to try to make sense and add my voice.

No, it isn’t about me or about me being heard, it is simply to raise a voice to demand change in what is so horribly wrong, what is intolerably unjust. It is a voice raised not because it has weight, but instead because silence is no longer an option. What does any one of us bring as our voices are raised, our pens put to paper, our feet to concrete but the entirety of our life experiences, no it isn’t about me. It is simply one more voice demanding change.

My worldview is based solely upon my personal experiences, what has formed me as a human being and a woman, this is all I have, it is all any of us have from which we can view the world around us and form opinions. Our experiences, they are what each of us carry into the world to form judgment, to balance compassion, to create empathy, to allow love to flow freely or to dam it behind walls of fear and mistrust. What we learn at the knee of our parents, in our homes, our schools and sometimes more importantly through our adult experience; this is all we have to form us as complete adults. My life experience is the only thing I have from which I am able to measure ‘right vs. wrong’ and ‘good vs. evil’, my perspective may be from a different place but it is all I have, the only prism I can see through.

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It is impossible for any one of us to compare our individual experiences to another person and say with certainly, ‘I understand, I know how you feel’. We don’t, we never will. We might have compassion for what they are feeling, empathy for what they are experiencing; we do not know what or how they are feeling. We cannot know, we are not them and thus it is impossible for us to know. When you layer on all the differences including personal experiences, culture, education, generation and yes, even religion and race it becomes nearly impossible for us to put ourselves in the place of another. At best we can be compassionate in the face of terrible loss and to show solidarity in the face of gross injustice.

Why is it so important, that any of us speak out, that we evaluate our premise and speak from our hearts whether we have the ability to walk in the shoes of those wronged, we nonetheless must have empathy and compassion, if we don’t have these, we are not fully human. What has brought me to this brooding walk through a philosophical position on forgiveness (I will get back there), compassion and empathy? December was a month of heated discussions, unfocused wretchedness and soul searching.

Demonstrator, Boston Commons Reuters/Brian Snyder

Demonstrator, Boston Commons
Reuters/Brian Snyder

“Not about you”, “You lived”, and “You are still White” were all said, they are also all true.

Just prior to the discussion that generated those statements I received a letter from the State of Texas Board of Parole, one of the three men who shot me, leaving me for dead because they, ‘Wanted to kill White People’, is again up for parole. He has been back in prison for just over two years having been paroled once before. That letter is sitting on my dining room table; it stares up at me every morning with my first cup of coffee, sometimes I run my fingers over the words. On 7-Feb -2015 it will be twenty-three (23) years since that near fatal night. The night three young men changed my life and their own forever, simply because they hated the color of my skin. They didn’t hate me, they didn’t know me; they simply hated what I stood for, what I represented.

For twenty-three years, I have lived with the consequences of their actions, so have they. Last month my seizures started escalating again; my epilepsy is one of the gifts that keep giving from the shooting, one of the consequences. Now that I live alone my seizures scare the hell out of me. Yet I stare at that letter and I wonder, do I really need to respond, do I truly need to demand my pound of flesh in the remorse that will never be forthcoming from someone who had all the reasons in the world to ‘hate white people’.

FCI Fort Worth, Enterance

FCI Fort Worth, Enterance

I got the first letter eighteen years ago, I responded with a demand they hold him to serve a greater part of his thirty-year sentence. I questioned how they could consider parole where there was not a shred of remorse for his actions against any of his victims. Then, I cried for days. For the next eighteen years, every single time I received one of these letters I responded the same way and I cried for days after, like clockwork every two years. I didn’t cry when he was paroled, I cried though when he was returned to prison.

I do not forgive him or his partners, I think I might have too many reminders. I watch the grace of those who have lost their loved ones to violence, I wonder is it that I do not have grace or that I am simply vindictive and mean spirited. I do not know the answer, I know I am not angry at them but I am angry at the system, the society that created them. I am angry at all of us, who let them fall through the cracks, who didn’t save them and all the other young men just like them who lost hope before they had a chance to live.

So yes, I lived and no it isn’t about me; I hope though I can find a way to lift my voice, put pen to paper and make it matter, make it count. I hope I have enough compassion to fill in the cracks, that I live long enough to see a change and that in some small way I can be part of that change.

Comments

  1. “Our experiences, they are what each of us carry into the world to form judgement, to balance compassion, to create empathy, to allow love to flow freely or to dam it behind walls of fear and mistrust.”

    Val your Voice is being heard..And you are letting the dam walls be broken down to allow the flow of emotions to spill… So many emotions are spilling over right now.. The walls are no longer going to be strong enough in any Dam to keep them from flooding every heart..
    The cracks are appearing ever wider as blood is spilling more freely .. We have to all stand up for what we feel is right..

    You are part of helping Change in the world Val.. Your voice is one of experience.. You said
    ” I know I am not angry at them but I am angry at the system, the society that created them. I am angry at all of us, who let them fall through the cracks, who didn’t save them and all the other young men just like them who lost hope before they had a chance to live”..

    Yes you are right.. WE are ALL of us Responsible.. and no longer can we turn the other cheek to those who condone and to those who do not allow justice to flow..
    We have to look at the flaws in the system and by our thoughts, words, and actions let it be known.. That we DO want Change.. And it can no longer be at the expenses of Others loosing their lives … WE each of us have a right to LIVE… and be heard…. and treated in Fairness and equality.. And not held hostage at the point of any gun.. be it that of the terrorists or those who are supposed to protect us, the police..

    Many thanks Val for sharing your heart.. I hope your health improves dear friend.. Sending Love your way ❤
    Sue

    • That Sue, that is it exactly. I think always, ‘where do I start and how do I start’. How do I lift my voice among so many. But I am searching for that avenue, that channel where beyond my tiny blog I can gain greater voice. I am looking because I have had enough of being afraid.

      • So many more now Val are reaching out in solidarity to give voice even if in a silent walk of protest.. We are showing that we have had enough of the old behaviours and demand Change for the betterment of ALL.

  2. What a burden to live with. I can’t even begin to say what’s what one way or the other. I do wonder, from one of your responses, why you feel compelled to meet them. Is this a part of the healing process and complete forgiveness…do you know if meeting will help you at all or dredge up what you live already…

    • I do not feel compelled to meet them Totsy. In fact, I have no real interest in meeting them face-to-face. However, if any one of them ever asked for a meeting through the Victim Impact channels, I would not turn them down, I would sit down and listen to what they had to say.

      It is hard for an offender to go through those channels. The victim is not compelled to accept the request, but I would.

  3. I am amazed at how well you have done and are doing given this brutal history. I think that forgiveness is a process like grief. No one can determine the timing of the end game of either except the individual who has been wronged. The only reason forgiveness is encouraged without waiting for the remorse of the “sinner” is because #1) they may never repent, and #2) it breaks the necessity of taking revenge (an eye for an eye) which keeps the injured person connected to the hated perpetrator in the spiritual realm. From what I have read of your story throughout the past couple of years, you are peeling off the fingers of these murders from your life finger by finger (your charity work screams that). It doesn’t mean that you will ever forget (or that they should ever be granted parole), but it does mean that one day you’ll be free of them harming you more through psychological manipulation, and one day you’ll get a letter about their parole and feel absolutely nothing while still recommending their sorry asses stay in jail because what they did to you was very, very evil and no remorse on their part shows that they could do this to someone else if given half the chance.

    Having said all that–you’re right, nobody can walk in your shoes but you. It is your journey and how you get to the lofty goal of forgiveness is up to you; I would just encourage you to keep on keepin’ on because you’re in a better place than I would be given the circumstances.

    • Oh E, thank you for understanding. Honestly, they do not hold me, not my spirit and not my heart. I do not want revenge, I do not hate them. I feel pity for their lost lives, that is truly all I feel. That I do not forgive their acts, that is something altogether different for me, that I separate these two things pity and forgiveness I suppose it is because I am from a different spiritual / philosophical background.

  4. I don’t think you’re vindictive or mean spirited, and there is nothing “simple” about your situation. I share your anger and pain at much of society, but the fact is that THEY shot you, not society. They chose their course of action and actions have consequences – they sure as hell had consequences for you for the rest of your life.

    Maybe it’s a fault in me, but I think true contrition has to come before forgiveness.

    • I have always thought remorse came before forgiveness Peg. I have been taken to task for this belief more often than I can tell you.

      I suppose I see the entire picture, the older I get the bigger the picture I see. Perhaps it is because I have done so much with Victim Impact in the Juvenile system over the past couple of years, I think we have failed our young people Peg.

  5. Your candidness alone is admirable. While that event in February cannot ever be removed from history, I hope that you can come to peace within yourself so that you continue to heal. Some days I like to pretend my past was different but then that is only hurting myself in the end when I get a reminder I can’t ignore. I do know that you are stronger and more inspiring than you likely realize xo

  6. I hate to read that your seizures have come back at a time when you have gotten this letter. For me, hurt is hard to forgive and forget. I would still want my pound of flesh! May you find a way to come to peace of some sort after 23 years. By your words and actions you are a part of the change.

    • I hope so my friend. I hope the volunteer work I do is part of it, I hope my words sink in. I think I am at peace, maybe more than I have been in a very long time.

  7. Powerful thoughts … so I will pose a question: Is it easier to ask for forgiveness or not forgive?

    • I don’t know Frank, I have never had a problem showing remorse or asking for forgiveness. I have never believed forgiveness is free, it is simply what I believe.

      • Therefore you find it harder to forgive?

        • No, I don’t find it hard at all to forgive. I forgive easily. Just not freely.

          I simply truly believe there should be some remorse. Something that acknowledges wrongdoing.

          • So remorse must precede forgiveness?

            • For me? Yes

              • I wonder if forgiveness first would lead to remorse? Well .. of course it would, and of course not in all … but I wonder about the success rate.

                • Don’t know Frank. I think though we all have our own standard, what we can live with, our own philosophical baseline. That is mine.

                  • Now this what surprise you, but yes … my archives has a post on forgiveness. https://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/on-forgiveness/

                    • I think it is important to remember, always; I am not a Christian and thus have a very different view on the issue. I am not burdened with ‘hate’, I do not hate them Frank. I am not even angry at them any more. Though sometimes, when I am in a great deal of pain, or after a grand mal seizure when I have stopped breathing and I am afraid, yes I am angry because I wonder if I will live through the next one.

                      But I am not angry at them. I think that day 23 years ago set my feet on a path I was meant to walk. I am at peace with that path.

                      Thank you for finding that, it was an interesting read. I understand, have always understood the Christian view of forgiveness. It is the framework of many of the discussions I have had in many Victim Impact groups over the years. With offenders, sitting in front of me who have become Christian or refound their faith while in prison demanding that I adhere to a set of practices and principles that are not mine and that offer me no comfort or value.

                      I am fine where I am. I stand by what I believe. I do not owe forgiveness to those who are not remorseful for the harm they have done. My spirit is not heavy for not offering it for free.

                    • Yes, it was a post focusing on a Christian perspective … and I know you realize I wasn’t pushing anything on you. Actually, the first three examples in the opening paragraphs were my trigger because they were about forgiving leading the way. Wouldn’t you know it, I saw a report within the past two weeks about the shooter of Pope John Paul II visiting his tomb. … Thanks for the discussion! 🙂

                    • I always enjoy these Frank, mostly with you because I know you are not pushing anything on me. Thank you.

  8. Sure the system had failed these guys, but that doesn’t give them the right to think on what they have done. How can someone not feel remorse? You’re kind and have been compassionate. I hope, by whatever miracle, “I’m sorry,” reaches you. ❤

  9. Val, I read this piece a couple of hours ago, and couldn’t comment then. But it’s stayed with me. There are so many pieces to this post, I don’t even know where to begin.

    The fact that you still hold anger towards the man who shot you shows you’re human, but the work you have done with folks in prison shows your humanity. You’ve taken a truly horrible ordeal and squeezed that drop of lemonade (or maybe water with a hint of lemon) out of it. I honestly marvel at you.

    Your belief that he should feel remorse is right on target. And it’s different from just knowing the rights and wrongs in the world. He should understand and be sorry for what he did to you, and what he did for no reason other than skin color. And while there is a history of racism and violence, more violence and more racism doesn’t make it go away.

    On the other hand, a tiny bit of me finds it refreshing that, since he is clearly NOT sorry (although obviously very sorry he got caught), he is not lying and saying he is. I am so tired, so very tired of the hypocrisy of our politicians apologizing for doing things that they are really not sorry about at all.

    You are pretty amazing, Val.

  10. Val,
    your (((PASSION))) is felt directly in Duluth, MN. & I LOVE it! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  11. Wow. Just wow, Val. Such a beautiful peace of writing. I think it is possible to forgive but not forget. And I can totally understand why those letters weigh so heavily on you — because you are a compassionate person and you can see so many sides of the situation. Have you ever thought about meeting these men face to face? To see if you feel they have changed? I’m not suggesting you SHOULD do this, I’m only curious if you’ve ever considered it. Happy new year, Val.

    • First, I want to wish you a Jubilant 2015 Renee.

      I have always thought each of us must approach forgiveness on a personal level, it isn’t a one size fits all. Not something we can ‘subscribe’ too and then hope for the best. I found what works for me on a personal level, but now I am feeling as if I need to let go of some of what has surrounded me with regards to needing to hear the words, ‘I am sorry’.

      Yes, I have considered meeting them and ultimately I know it is not on me to initiate it. I would meet them were any of them ask for that meeting I would sit down with them.

  12. I can’t imagine what it’s like to receive those letters. They must bring everything back to the surface again, and I suspect it’s never easy to push the emotions back down. My thoughts are with you.

    • Oddly Carrie, I am more at peace than I have ever been. I think I have turned some corners in this past year, made some personal choices. Now, it is simply part of who I am and what I have become. My history is oddly layered but doesn’t truly define me, except perhaps in the way in which I see the world. I am told even that is strange considering my history.

  13. This is so raw and personal and I wish I could give you a big hug from across the miles. You show great inner strength and must handle this in your own way. I cannot imagine what it is like to walk in your shoes, but I know you’re right. It’s on all of us for failing them, for not giving them the tools and support to live better, law-abiding lives. it’s frustrating, I know, but it’s our reality.

    • Oh Monica, I felt the hug; thank you. It is difficult to be impersonal when things touch us so very deeply. Oddly, there are days I can’t imagine walking in my own shoes. I think this is why I feel so deeply the losses across our nation. It is time all of us come together in solidarity, to focus on what is so terribly wrong and fix it

  14. Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™ and commented:
    Absolutely magnificent work Ms. Valentine. You seem to get better with each published post.

  15. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Incredible story … Life changing. Effects will always be there.

  16. You already are part of the change.
    I love you, with your overflowing-with-compassion heart and poison pen which only sends toxin into those who drink the Kool-Aid.
    xxx

    • Thanks darlin’

      This one has been percolating in the back of my head ever since I got that damned letter. I just had to scratch it out. I don’t know why those things bother me so after all these years, they shouldn’t.

      • Because the only way for them to stop bothering you is for this to be a world where such things were merely a memory which everyone who held wished they had never seen.

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