Working in the Verb GardenWhen we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us: power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health and our happiness. Our enemies would dance with joy if only they knew how they were worrying us, lacerating us, and getting even with us! Our hate is not hurting them at all, but our hate is turning our days and nights into a hellish turmoil.
· Dale Carnegie
My father was a fundamentalist minister who preached "hell, fire and damnation". At twenty-one I eloped to escape the pain of my home life. Following a traumatic divorce, I struggled to raise my son, Paul. Our life was hard. Sometimes I went hungry and left my food for Paul. By the time Paul was 12, things got better. We moved into a home where we lived until a stranger senselessly murdered my Paul, then 21, on February 18, 1985.
The 17-year-old who murdered him pled guilty and was convicted of "Intentional Murder." He was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 13 years of unpardonable "flat time." As I sat in the courtroom, alone, watching, I was amazed at the pity I felt for this teenager. No one was there for him. No one. Even so, I was angry when he did not get the death penalty. Paul was dead -- he should be dead also.
The judge handled the case in a short time, then Paul's slayer was off to prison. I drove the streets of Austin all night, sobbing. I went to all of the churches in the phone book. I mean ALL of them! Nowhere could I find any peace for my soul. I was consumed with grief and pain.
In July 1985, I met a chiropractor who let me cry all I wanted, and to talk about my pain as long as I needed to. She told me about "Spiritual Things". I was astonished that the churches I visited had never spoken about these things. Hesitantly, I began my search for meaning in Paul's death.
Two months later, I went to Jamaica. As I walked along the shore, I cried out, "Paul, if I just knew where you are, I will be OK." It seemed to me that I "felt" my son's voice say, "I am where I was before I was with you, and I am fine." That moment was the beginning of my healing.
I still hated the man who murdered Paul. Every six months I went to the Board of Pardons and Paroles in Austin. Each time I told them the same thing. "I'm the mother of Paul Hines who was murdered February 18, 1985 by Charles White. Please tell me that Charles White is dead. Tell me that he has AIDS. Tell me that someone has killed him." My life's work was to see that Charles White served every bit of the time that he had been sentenced to.
Then, in 1994, the Victim Services Department of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice invited me to speak to a group of inmates. As the meeting began, I noticed a young boy with red hair, like Paul's. He could have been my Paul, he looked so much like him. "If that young man were Paul," I asked myself, "what would I want someone to say to him?" Instead of following my notes, I let my heart speak. I talked about choices, and about how they could make better choices in the future. There were 200 men in that room. Almost all of them were crying. Afterwards the Director of Victim Services said, "Thomas Ann, your words are gold to these men. Compassion shines in everything you say."
I knew that I wanted to speak with more men like these. I also began thinking about speaking to Charles White. I needed to know about the final moments of my Paul's life, and only Charles could tell me about them. I requested a meeting, and, after a long, tedious process, my day arrived in 1998. It was a "now or never" moment. Paul always wanted a red Corvette. As I left my motel for the prison, I was amazed to find one parked directly outside my door. Paul's soul had sent me a sign! I was to meet Charles. Paul would be there. All would be well.
Charles and I talked for eight hours. We cried. We laughed. We wiped each other's tears. I told him all about Paul, and how much I loved him. I realized that, for the first time, Paul had become a real person to Charles. As our time together drew to a close, I thought about reaching my hand out to him, but I didn't think I could. The hand that reached back, if one did, would be the same hand that had held the gun that killed my Paul. Miraculously, I found my hand stretching across the table. Charles took it in his, and then placed his other hand on top of it. At that moment, so many, many years of pain and anger fell away. Even though I was crying, I had not felt that calm in thirteen years, since Paul's death.
I still miss Paul. I would still like to be with him again, but I truly believe his soul's path was to die the way he did so that I would be able to grow spiritually and do the work that I do inside the prisons. Gary writes in The Seat of the Soul, "If a child dies early in its life, we do not know what agreement was made between that child's soul and the souls of its parents, or what healing was served by that experience." I believe that Paul's soul and mine made this agreement. I truly feel that I am on my soul's path.
The spiritual growth that I have felt since my first meeting with Charles - I continue to see him whenever I can -- has been beautiful. I am grateful daily for this wonderful journey.
Thomas Ann Hines is the founder of the Victim Impact Program, a nonprofit corporation. Her son, Paul, was murdered at age twenty-one. Her grief and rage led her to prisons, and eventually, to her son's killer. She has become the source of compassion that was absent in this young man's life, visiting him regularly, and an inspiration to millions of viewers who learned of her remarkable story on the Oprah Winfrey show. She presents Victim Empathy programs to inmates, religious groups and civic groups. She also leads victim sensitivity seminars for law enforcement and judicial personal, victim service providers, and victim advocates. Thomas Ann appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show as a guest, along with Gary Zukav, on Friday, April 23, 1999. She was featured as the Remembering Your Spirit: Who You Really Are.
VERBS ~ No one really knows what it is to live until he can truly say these eleven great verbs of life: I am, I think, I know, I feel, I wonder, I see, I believe, I can, I ought, I will, I serve. Life is but the process of learning through daily experience the meaning of these eleven wonderful little verbs of life and acquiring the personal power of each: I AM: the power of self-knowledge. I THINK: the power to investigate. I KNOW: the power to master facts. I FEEL: the power to appreciate, to value and to love. I WONDER: the power of reverence, curiosity, worship. I SEE: the power of insight, imagination, vision. I BELIEVE: the power of adventurous faith. I CAN: power to act and skill to accomplish. I OUGHT: the power of conscience, the moral imperative. I WILL: will power, loyalty to duty, consecration. I SERVE: power to be useful, devotion to a cause.
· George Walter Fiske *
Some ideas gain general acceptance simply because they hang around long enough to become “conventional wisdom.” That doesn’t mean that they are true, nor does it mean that certain ideas require recognition and acceptance in order to be true. Whittier wrote, “Search thine own heart; what paineth thee in others in thyself may be.”
Most people pretend, at one time or another, that they do not feel guilty or ashamed, when they really do feel just that. A test of this is found in the way I perceive the many people in my life. How do I deal with others? Am I judgmental and suspicious or fearful? If so, my guilt is secure. I have learned, firsthand, the truth of Whittier’s statement: that the behaviors and actions that I find most repulsive and offensive in others are similar to those things that I do or feel or think that I have not previously acknowledged in myself, or have not forgiven myself for.
I don’t need to feel guilty when my shortcomings are reflected back to me, but I often do; guilt provides absolutely no service in my life. Because I am a small part of All Things, my guilt-based judgment is actually against myself, not “them.” I put that judgment “out there” because I don’t want to own it. Back to my original point, the concept that I may be judging others based on my own unforgiving attitude toward myself is not “conventional wisdom,” but Whittier was an unconventional individual. One does not like to acknowledge one’s shortcomings, especially when they seem to surface in others. Do I like myself today? If there are any doubts, I may be judging others unfairly. I can give this up, if I choose to!
Learning to forgive others and myself quickly can serve to reverse my thinking. I may not like what another person does, or says, but at the same time I should take a moment to consider what purpose may be served by their actions. The lesson could be mine, or theirs, or one for both of us. Acknowledging my own shortcomings can change my perspective enough to let compassion replace judgment, and forgiveness to replace this self-created guilt within me. It could make a huge difference in the lives of others, and allow them to take a very real and useful lesson away from interaction with me, rather than learning that lesson later, with the help of someone else.
It takes only a small change-of-mind, a shift in my paradigm. Nothing stops me but my ego. I need only to allow my spirit to feel and perceive, to look at the offensive behavior of others as an appeal for help and healing, and to look deeply into that mirror being held up to me and see if healing is needed on my part. My response, when given a choice, should be one of love.
This shift in thinking takes practice, and when it doesn’t come quickly and efficiently, I seek the guidance and help of Spirit to see with the eyes of love. There are benefits to letting go of grudges, and chief among them is a peaceful heart. When learning to think in this way, to deal with people in this way, nothing feels or looks the same as it did. Giving up a long-standing resentment is a burden well worth letting go. Spending time focusing on the long list of indignities in my life is good practice for discovering just how prevalent they seem to be, and just how bad they make me feel.
Yet it takes just an instant to drop that load, to forgive the offender and move on. After all, the turmoil, which is created by resentment, is mine alone. No one put it there for me, and the only thing keeping it there is my resistance to forgiving. I can change that by a single choice. Seeking the aid of Spirit to bring love, support and compassion can soothe the sting of any circumstance. Every problem becomes an opportunity; every interaction becomes a classroom where each can play the part of both student and teacher.
Forgiveness begins within and spreads outward to everyone. Everyone deserves forgiveness. Doing this allows me to see my Oneness with others, to love the sameness that binds me to my fellow beings, and heals all.
* George Walter Fiske was born in 1872 in Holliston, Massachusetts, and died in 1945 in Framingham, Massachusetts. He was educated at Amherst College and graduated in 1895. He went on to receive his PhD from Hartford Theological Seminary in about 1898. He was a Congregational minister for some years in Maine and Massachusetts before taking a position in 1907 as a theology professor (later dean) in the School of Theology at Oberlin College, where he stayed to retirement in the thirties. Then he moved back to Framingham Massachusetts. After retirement he continued an active lecture schedule and gave many guest sermons, etc. as one of the best known protestant theologians of his day (and the teacher of many of the ministers). He was just returning home from giving a lecture in Boston when he collapsed and died.