Many of John Kingham’s words give me pause. We live in vastly different worlds, he and I; John is an inmate locked up in Florida, while I am living freely in New Jersey, too often taking for granted the privileges that come with my freedom.
I was first introduced to John when he wrote to Sister Sheila about Living Peace, among other things. He is a subscriber to Living Peace through Sisters Janet and Rosalie, mentors and companions to him. I shared that first letter to Sister Sheila with the Living Peace editorial board, and we decided to invite John to write an article about his experience of starting a Zen sangha in prison.
When I sent him the proof copy of his article, he wrote back to tell me how excited he was to see his words in print. He was grateful for the opportunity to be heard, mentioning in a matter-of-fact, not complaining way, that life in prison reduced one to a dehumanizing anonymity where the inmate is not heard, seen or noted. “One of the more potent insults is I don’t see you.”
I received that letter just a few days after the eclipse. Someone I was watching with commented on how that event was so uplifting and unifying here in the States. Indeed, while nature is screaming her pain through hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts and wildfires, her beauty and rhythms go on (so far) in spite of our abuse. Apart from being a spectacular natural event, the eclipse was a reminder that the most important things–the sun, the moon, the stars, our essence, our center, our strength–cannot be taken from us.
I doubt John or his fellow inmates were out in the yard viewing the eclipse with a pair of special glasses. But it took a lot of dark hours locked away for him to shed light on his spirit and then learn how to stay centered in unforgiving circumstances.
It’s easy to forget about the populations we cannot see, convenient to judge or dismiss them. There is no requirement that we believe in the ability to transform, but so much that is worthwhile and gratifying is born of an effort to change or to help others do so. A heart permanently eclipsed by an inability to see might just be a heart in need of some special glasses.
You can read John’s article, “A Field of Future Buddhas Waiting to Bloom” in the latest issue of Living Peace.