05 September 2012

The Circles We Draw

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In !"

From the poem " Outwitted”
― Edwin Markham

            Their faces are weary, reflecting hours of worry, interrupted sleep, hyper-awareness. They haven’t talked with their kids for days, weeks, they don’t want to say how long it has been. The helpful sister thinks it would be damaging to the seven-year-old to talk to her mother on the phone and certainly a visit to the county jail is out of the question. “Why would you put your kids through that?”

            The woman at the table imagines yards of yellow crime scene tape wrapping the block that holds the jail. Or maybe a bright red stripe on the street, marking this a toxic waste zone. No matter the angle, the view isn’t pretty. There’s always a line, drawn by someone else, a line that shouts, “You don’t belong here!”

            This time, the line isn’t on a map, chalking the boundary between countries. It is drawn in a courtroom or on the eleven o’clock news. It is born of anger, fear, helplessness. It is carved by talk radio and amped by slash and burn tactics. It is cemented into attitudes, made concrete by repetition. It is ugly. “You don’t belong here!”

            And where is “here”? I want to know. Here? Among the living? Among the whole? Among those left untouched? Here? With those who’ve never done anything wrong? Ever. Really?

            Is “here” only with those who look like me and speak with no accent? Is it the land of those with similar education and political ideas? Is it those who don’t challenge my ideas, my imaginings, my ways of doing things? Where is “here”?

            I have drawn the circles rather firmly in my life, made sure I knew who was in and who was out. Kept myself safe, I thought. But then again.

             I remember a dining room with steel tables bolted to the floor and gang members eyeing each other warily during a church service. Listen. Watch for any nuance, any hint of trouble. And yet, it is time to exchange a sign of peace. Nortenos and Suerenos lined up to shake hands, to reach across the invisible lines. For a few moments, they were brothers in one prison, united by something more than hate. They have all known loss, grief, separation, maybe even joy. Each of them is more than the face in this room. They have families and histories and many more escapades to plan.

            The mother afraid her child will forget her, the man undone because his father has died without a final word, the almost-brave teenager who cannot begin to make sense of this craziness, they all live within a circle--some of their own making, some fashioned by others. For a while, they are cut off, separate, unconnected. Until someone says, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”



Fran said...

My response is relatively wordless - but there is so much that I want to say. It is all in the heart. Thank you.

Sherry Peyton said...

There is something about the environment of which you speak that brings the realities we all face into such stark relief that we cannot turn away, deny or put out of our minds the horrific injustices we do to each other in the name of "other". Thank you Shannon for a beautiful statement of faith and hope. Bless you. PS. I am reading the book and enjoying it so very much. Thank you again!

Shannon said...

I should throw in a thanks to Fr. Steve Lantry who quoted the Markham poem at the end of Mass last Sunday. The poem has been in one of my "this must be remembered" notebooks since I was in college and I've thought of it often over the years. Working at the jail, it often comes in handy.