“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.”
— Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Every time I visit my young man in prison, he teaches me something new.
Last week, he brought out several strands of yarn, which he had already braided into the beginnings of a friendship bracelet. He explained that he had chosen the red, white, and blue yarn for me, because he knew I was patriotic.
Carefully, he measured my wrist with the yarn, and set off to resume his braiding and tying. As we talked about his week, and his struggles with his family, and conflict with another guy in his unit, his fingers deftly braided and knotted.
He’d been thinking about our relationship, and how he had struggled with accepting a good male role model in his life, and being able to talk about his feelings and emotions with someone who’s supporting him in all that struggle. He’s figured out he can let his guard down around me, and with himself, as he names his feelings and thoughts, and now has the tools to sort through the garbage in his basement, and find some order and contentment.
He’s been wrestling with his anger, and how it has come to the surface at unexpected moments, in unexpected ways. A few days ago, he cried and wept most of the day, his emotions raw and fiery. He couldn’t shut and lock up the door to his basement, and life was messy, with conflicting emotions, feelings, and doubts.
“Who am I?” he wondered, in the midst of his tears and heartache.
The day led him into a walkabout, and the question changed to “what am I?”
The tears washed away some of the grime, and a lot of the feelings of shame and guilt, and he could see, finally, how he had grown, how he had gained the tools to sort through the garbage in the basement, and start filling up the dumpster. He gained some perspective, and could see how he’d changed.
His frenzy of braiding and knotting picked up, as he told me of his journey, his walkabout, and what he had been learning.
A staff member came by, and sat with us for a while. He’d been there for my pal, the day he cried a lot, and had helped him find his way, and sort through all the conflicting flotsam and jetsam that had cluttered up his thinking.
“We only offer tools for your toolbox here,” he said. “It is up to you to pick the right tool, and build your own house.”
My buddy nodded, a tear rolling down his cheek. He took a deep breath and let it out, his shoulders easing a bit, as a smile lit up his face.
Yes, he can see that, the wisdom of the man’s two sentences.
“Yes, my tool box has some nice tools now. And, I know how to use them.”
He didn’t speak, but we could see those words in his face, his fingers still moving in the rhythm of the braiding and knot tying. He was growing up, and he was taking care of business.
He finished my bracelet in silence. The minutes passed, and we both sat there, just taking in what had been said, and taking time to recognize where he’d been and how far he’d come, in these last eight months.
We don’t often have much silence in our visits. Twenty years of not being listened to, not being respected, and not being valued had built up a giant reservoir of experiences, and feelings, and comments. And, the eight months of sitting at this table was all about listening to him find the space where he could grow, finally, and speak his mind.
Oh, and anger. It was the elephant in the room today, and he had been able to see that, and call the elephant what it really was. Being able to speak its name was a big step for him, and he’d been able to do just that, and start becoming free.
The bracelet was finished now, and he tied it around my wrist.
“There, I finally gave you something back, for all that you’ve given me,” he said, a big grin splashed across his face.