THANKSGIVING

First and always, I am thankful for my family and friends.  Thankful for my children, and the people they have brought into our circle of love.  For the very basics: good health, safe home, life itself.  For the icing on the cake:  my two passports and friends and family around the globe, making the whole world my home.   All the things that make me so fortunate and blessed.

In spite of all the pain and suffering I witness at work, I am also deeply grateful for the experiences I am able to have at court and in jail.  I am thankful for the language recipients whose glimpses of illumination also enlighten my life.  I am thankful for the unexpected moments of kindness, of understanding, of true communication, that can take place even in the most formal and contained setting – the courtroom.

I was interpreting on day five of a trial that was supposed to last a couple days.  But due to a very complex set of pretrial motions, the trial was dragging on.  There were convoluted (but necessary) arguments being made based on decisions from judges in prior cases.  There were legal theories related to co-defendants, and search and seizure, and probable cause.  This was all very interesting to me, as a law school drop-out.  But what was even more interesting to me, as a human being, was to witness a very human moment.

The defendant, who had a long history of using street drugs, more than half of his young life, was listening politely and trying to focus for hours, but finally his cup was full.  He burst out, and I of course burst out with him, in his plaintive, suffering voice, that he  was bound to get locked up, so let’s just get it over with and stop the bla bla bla!  He was ready to face it!  Now, in court, there are very strict rules about who can talk when, and under what specific circumstances.  It was not his turn to talk.

Instead of shushing him or objecting, the prosecutor, who had been vigorously representing the state’s interest in following a policy of “drug war” lockups of low-level street vendors (who are most often addicts themselves) turned to him with a look of concern.  She told him that although it is not policy to keep an offer open once trial has been set, she was still willing to have him plead guilty and take the offer of in-patient treatment instead of more incarceration.  She was still willing to give him credit for time served, and have him released to treatment.  And she spoke directly to him as one human to another, with kindness and concern in her eyes.

“We all want to see you sober.  Nobody want to see you in prison. We all want you to have a chance to have a good life,” she told him.

It was like watching the air go out of a balloon.  He just exhaled a long sigh, and said yes, he wants treatment.

The judge reminded him that the treatment option was very strict and controlled, and that if he failed, he would still be subject to several years in prison, without the right to trial.  That he would be supervised for two full years after treatment, and could be sent to prison during that time, without a trial.  That the whole process could end up taking longer than the sentence he would get if he lost at trial.

“I’m not afraid of the potential prison time,” he told the judge.  “I’ve thrown away more time than that myself.  I’ve just wasted thirteen years of my god-given life by taking drugs.  I did that to myself!”  Then he started laughing, like he could suddenly see the irony, the humor and even the hope in the situation.

How many of us have the insight to see that we are the ones wasting our lives, that it is nobody’s fault but our own?  That recognition is what puts us back in charge and allows us to make healthy changes. It is empowering to take ownership of our mistakes, and to be able to forgive ourselves for our imperfections and failures.  It is an act of incredible optimism to know ourselves fully, even our dark sides, and still hope and plan that we can do better.

Once the judge made sure that the defendant truly wished to change his plea to guilty in order to take advantage of the plea offer for treatment, and the defense attorney met with him alone to go over the paperwork, he was set up for treatment.  If he fails, he will end up in prison, but we each hold that spark of hope that maybe this time, he will be able to do it, and regain his life.  He hopes it, and we hope it.

Add that spark of hope to the list of things I am grateful for.  That bright and glowing, ever-shining, maybe this time things will get better, spark of hope.  Because it keeps us going when we have every logical reason to just give up.  And as many times as we are inevitably disappointed, there is still a tiny chance that things will get better, and that we will get better.  And that spark of hope is what lights a path for us out of the darkness.  So let it shine.