A month ago I approached the Asian Art Museum & stumbled upon some colorful, pop-art flowers all over the ground. I walked around the museum and found an outdoor installation from artist Megan Wilson and a powerful poem by Maw Shein Win. I was drawn to the installation when I read the last stanza of the poem: “Imagine a new world. / Keep sisters close.” This line resonated with me because for the past three-four months this is what I have been consciously trying to do. I have been physically trying to make new connections all the while keeping those I hold dear close. I have been making a concerted effort to be with, support, and care for those I love. The line in the poem just reminded me how important it is to forever continue my efforts
As I was examining the rest of the installation, I met Lou and heard his story. I’m sharing it with you because, although we should work to keep our relationships healthy, we still need to be kind to those who will not affect us at all. Here is Lou’s story:
“I was once a lifer. Most of my life was spent in gangs - in & out of prison - 10 of those years in solitary. I had so much hatred in me - it was all I knew. I didn’t understand what empathy was. This meant that if my officers (the ones in from the gang, not the ones in blue) gave me orders, I would execute them. You see, there was a war going on in prison - prisoner v.s. guard. The age old story.
One day as I was being escorted down the hallway, I found myself in a dangerous situation: my shoelaces were untied. This meant a guard could exert his power by stepping on the laces and watch me fall. [This is when I started tearing up, because believe it or not, I’m a huge softie.] I had so many thoughts going on in my head. There were two officers - one to each of my side. I couldn’t bend down and tie the laces. They had their batons out. I couldn’t say anything. There was a senior officer approaching. Three against one. I hate them. They hate me.
Protocol says the two officers at my side would guide me to face the wall so the senior officer could pass. However, instead of passing the senior officer snuck in between me and the wall. Bent down. Tied my laces. Like my grandmother used to. That moment something sparked within me and it was the beginning of the end. It was the moment I learned what empathy was. It gave me the courage to stand up to my peers as he had done to his. He didn’t have to be kind to me, but he led by example and was.”
I spoke with Lou for at least half an hour to an hour. At the end of our exchange I felt my heart swelling and despite the chips it endured in the past year, it was one step closer to being whole again. He reminded me that one kind moment, a genuine smile, or a respectful gesture can ignite a fire in someone else’s soul. In the end - it’s not just about keeping the bonds you have but also about spreading the kindness in hopes that it touches someone you may never see again.
In this unknown journey we’ve embarked on, with an administration that doesn’t seem to know empathy; we are obligated to be kinder and work together for the future we deserve.