I come among you in weakness, in fear and great trembling... not
to convince you by philosophic argument, but to demonstrate the
convincing power of the Spirit...
(Paul: 1 Cor)
So this is what it's like to await a trial and possible prison term for opposing the School of the Americas. Frightening. Uncomfortable. Painful. I wait here in the desert at Manna House listening to the clock tick away hours, checking the days off of my calendar, feeling phobic about boarding an airplane, and worse, trying to mold myself into what I never will be... a brave peacemaker. Oh. Don't misunderstand. I am a peacemaker, just not a brave one! I'm scared. There is a feeling about me of old wounds reopening under the pressure of this suspense-filled time. I'm reluctant even to write and publish these thoughts, but I will do it in the hope that I might inspire even one other person to practice peacemaking in the face of fear and shame.
I never wanted my adult life to be about poverty, publicity, and going to jail. And yet, those experiences have accompanied my choice of living as a Catholic Worker and accompanies my further decision to protest each year at the SOA Watch events in Columbus, Georgia. Poverty. Publicity. Jail. Catholic Workers volunteer their services without benefit of a paycheck. Journalists publish stories about our good deeds as peace activists or we write about our experiences in our own newsletters. We repeatedly risk incarceration when performing nonviolence acts of civil disobedience. I do not fare well in any of these scenarios. And I am not faring well now. And I know why.
The childhood that I lived through (dare I say survived?) involved an overload of familial scandal, shame, financial distress, and yes...jail. My parents, now deceased, loved me with a deep love but it came to me in a twisted fashion and from the depths of their wound: Alcoholism. One autumn afternoon I arrived home from school to find all of our furniture out on the front lawn with an eviction notice tied to the rocking chair. My parents, I later discovered, had not paid the rent and had fought out of doors, in full view of the neighbors, who subsequently phoned the police.
The police thereafter determined my mother and father to be drunk and disorderly, handcuffed them, and drove them off in a police car to the local jail for a night. I was forced to stay with the neighbors who had turned in the complaint. Everyone on the block - and for blocks beyond - proceeded to look at me and my siblings as "those poor children." Poor in more ways than one, shame being as poverty-producing in spirit as having no money for rent is in the material scheme of things. Predictably, as the eldest child, I spent the rest of my youth trying to atone for my family's scandalous behavior. I struggled to move beyond "well behaved" into some sort of sanitized sainthood yet I was concurrently fierce in my pursuit of "normalcy." To top it all off, I also felt compelled to champion anyone whom the world dismissed, overlooked or came down upon unjustly. That compulsion (or gift?) remains with me today.
Now I am a grown-up "fifty-something," brooding upon the paradoxes and contradictions of my life. I am not an alcoholic but I carry within me an unreasonable fear that at any moment I could fall prey to that disease. I am a mother and about to be a grandmother. Respectable positions. But I am also a peacemaker. Not so respectable a position in the eyes of many. A part of me still longs to overcome memories of my wounded childhood and just be perceived as "normal" and "acceptable" in the company of my children, neighbors, and fellow parishioners. Yet, I am about to do a most seemingly abnormal and unacceptable thing.... fly to Georgia and face a judge who will likely sentence me to a federal prison for six months. Why? I was not drunk and disorderly. I was not screaming and yelling. I held no weapons. I simply and directly trespassed on military property with a nonviolent group of people and said "NO!" to a school that is in denial because of its history, its shame, its continual acts of terror against the innocent poor of Latin America.
Somehow, my peace activism is all intertwined with my family life. I am worried that I will embarrass my grown children, that my soon-to-be-born grandchild will someday learn that grandma was incarcerated at the time of his/her birth and be burdened by some sort of residual guilt. The last thing I want is for my family to feel shame. Shame has overshadowed me and my relatives for too many decades already. And so this time of waiting is requiring me to pray. And pray. And pray. I pray that my actions will heal past familial wounds, not reopen them. I pray that my appearance before a judge and my probable time in a prison will reframe the episodes wherein my parents were convicted of petty misdeeds that sprang from their weaker selves. I pray that liberation, not humiliation, prevails. And I pray that in some small way, I may be a witness, a reluctant prophet, who goes forth in solidarity with all of the countless poor in Latin America who have lived and died in poverty and shame at the hands of the School of the Americas.
He supports us in every hardship so that we are able to come to
the support of others...
(Paul: 2 Cor.)
(reprinted from the August 2002 Catholic Agitator, newsletter of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker.)