Tag Archive: Amends


Reclaiming Humanity

I watched PBS’ four-part documentary College Behind Bars. The documentary tells the story of a small group of incarcerated men and women struggling to earn college degrees and turn their lives around in one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States – the Bard Prison Initiative.

During the 4th episode, the internal reflection of Rodney Spivey-Jones challenged me to reevaluate my failures. Looking squarely into the camera, Mr. Jones reflected on his shortcomings. “We rarely get a chance to think about how we hurt the victims. And yet, that’s something that’s required of us when we go to the parole board. Once you can empathize with other people, you can realize that you’ve caused a lot of harm. If you can connect your pain to the pain that you’ve caused, there’s a responsibility there. And it’s hard to escape it.”

Over the past eight years, I revisited the concept of ‘making amends,’ a traditional term specifically designed to “correct a mistake that one has made, or a bad situation one has caused.” In May 2013, I wrote of twenty-six (26) severely painful situations that required amends. Seven (7) of the twenty-six (26) refused any communication, eleven (11) forgave, four (4) were never found, and four (4) others were works in progress. March 2019, I reconnected with a woman to whom I wrote 18 letters years prior. Despite those efforts, Mr. Jones caused reflection. Did I do enough?

What is enough? All of us are like Rodney Spivey-Jones. I have many people where I only recently thought of how I hurt them. Only a short-term diagnosis of ‘terminal’ forced me to explore the level of harm I caused? For instance, that woman in the military who I badgered for a date is ok now? Did she have a good life? That company I took quietly accepted over expensed travel reimbursements, could they have used that money to benefit another? And of the woman I married and divorced, did I leave you better, or just me?

The PBS documentary also followed former inmate Dyjuan Tatro, who was serving a 12-year prison sentence during filming. Not only did he pay for his crime, but he also made amends and laid the foundation for a better life post-prison. “It was in prison; through the Bard Prison Initiative, that I was able to turn my life around,” Tatro said. “When you’re in prison, and you don’t have any other opportunity, you have to make the most of the one that’s been given to you.” Tatro is making the most of every day. 

Our lives are a collection of ‘single’ days. As such, throughout much of my life, I embraced little ‘intentionality.’ Did I amend the errors of my past? Have I transitioned through restitution? Was there an apology, changed behavior, compensation, or generosity? Or, did I play the ‘victim’ card like decades earlier? Did I lay the foundation for a better life (whether here or in the next)? 

For so many years, everywhere I went before, I created a lot more damage than good. So much so, that I am unsure whether I could seriously restitute anything for past aggressions. As stated before, and as I state to God, I am accountable. Just as Rodney Spivey-Jones did on national television, the ‘buck’ drops at my shoes, and I must make amends. 

Even though I am down to nine months of a two-year ‘prognosis poor’ diagnosis, I have much to give and much to offer. I will continue to show that I am capable of redemption. God knows my life has value beyond the sum of my errors. One day, I hope God will note that this man was able to reclaim his humanity rather than succumbing to ignorance.

Reclaim yours too.

First of The Last Amends

I was confused. Upon opening my Google Calendar, I noted the ‘To-Do’ list item in my Google calendar, dated Friday, March 22nd, one day after my MRI. It was created during a more blissful period of life, some nine years prior, when I promised someone a trip to New Zealand during their 55th birthday. The note was accompanied with an additional entry:

Your spirit brought us together, and now that things continue to move forward, I vow to keep my promise and take you to New Zealand.  I believe it was for your 55th birthday. So you have a standing offer …. should you decide to accept.

I completely forgot about this Google Task. And it’s strange how it showed up this week. Coincidence?

I believe God has a tremendous sense of humor, a willingness, if you will, to occasionally make light of the absurdities with end-of-life situations. For instance, was God reminding me to go on the trip or reminding me to reach out one more time for closure? The person I made this entry for has refuted any attempt to return my emails, my calls, or letters. So at this point in my life, God’s motive, if any, remains ambiguous.

If I dared to write, I would start with the obvious, “I believe I will have to take a rain check, for it appears I have a prior engagement.” Ha.

Last week I had a stroke. Subsequent diagnosis indicated cerebrovascular disease. The doctors were concerned, pretty much quoting the conversation, “with proper medicine and dietary changes, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.”

At this stage of my life, I had zero thought of contacting anyone from nine years ago. Almost everyone has moved on. For whatever reason, the task ‘New Zealand’ was there. The only consoling words I would say straight out is, thank you for caring for me. Your heart and love pulled me through many bleak days. I say those things knowing full well my transgressions, and of the harm, my words and deeds have caused. In prayer, I have begged forgiveness 70x7x7x7x7x7x7x7 (70×7). Regardless, prayer, in and of itself, seems so inadequate.

I want you to know that no matter how it turns out for me, I am forever thankful for the friendship we had.

Stay Well. God Bless,

Mary Elizabeth Dallas wrote, “With terminal illness comes newfound, and profound, wisdom.” I concur. What I’ve learned from working in hospitals is a surprisingly common theme: that until the end, many fail to realize, that happiness is a choice. We often get stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and themselves, that they were content when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

Like others before me, I have a desire to find peace or acceptance. I don’t want to change the world. But I would covet peace. The lesson learned was life is short, and it is necessary to impact the world while one is still alive positively. For me, making people smile, to relieve the world of pain, even for one minute, is my goal.

And like others before me, I woke up today and still have an entire day to face. Life keeps going, whether I am ready for it or not. As such, I am filled with more gratitude – gratitude given by the person written about above and the gratitude I’ve received from countless others. The question then becomes:

Is it possible to find such beauty in everyday living?

If so, why did I ignore so much of it in the living years?

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