29 May 2010

See with "First Eyes"

Your First Eyes

...Ordinary eyes categorize human beings.
That one is a Zoroastrian. This one a Muslim.

Walk instead with the other vision given you,
your first eyes. Bow to the essence
in a human being. Do not be content
with judging people good and bad.
Grow out of that...

My grandchildren are bi-racial. Their father is Trinidadian with indigenous Caribbean Indian and African ancestry. Their mother, my daughter, is American with Irish and Scottish ancestry. Issues about people of color are, therefore, deeply personal. Today I listened to a 1997 interview on New Dimensions with Melody Ermachild Chavis, author of "Altars in the Street: A Courageous Memoir of Community and Spiritual Awakening". She lives in Oakland, CA and works in prisons with men on death row.

Her information was scary so I looked up current stats in Wikipedia. They're scarier. The USA has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, the highest total prison and jail population in the world- 2,304,115 adults and 92,854 juveniles. The number jumps to over 7.2 million when counting those on probation or parole. In comparison, England and Wales incarcerate 148 out of 100,000 residents, the USA 754 out of 100,000.

It gets scarier - 70% of prisoners are people of color. And nearly 1 million of those incarcerated in state and federal prisons are serving time for non-violent crimes. Men in jails swell those numbers even more since they are also usually non-violent offenders. From 1980-2008 the prison population quadrupled partially as a result of mandatory sentences that came about during the "war on drugs". This happened during a time when the violent crime rate actually went down 25%. California spends more on prisons than on education. Is this the best we can do?

These are our children, our future. Remember the line in Alex Haley's "Roots": "All your ancestors existed to produce you."? I think that when I look at my grandchildren. All my ancestors and I existed to produce them. They are meant to be here. I want a better world for them, where people see them with "first eyes". I want them to be able to develop their talents and make their contribution. I want them to be accepted, respected, recognized for the amazing people they are. I want them to know the freedom that I have known. I want them to be seen, really seen, not pre-judged.

Her's what I can think of to do:

- practice compassion
- do an act of kindness for 1 person each day
- look people in the eye, even the poor, homeless or immigrant
- see each person as unique and deserving of mercy
- volunteer- tutor a child, plant a community garden, tackle a problem, visit youth in prison
- wage peace
- believe that others can change
- be the change I want

Will you join me? What else can we do?


  1. wow.

    my first eyes see the beauty in your spirit for even posting this.

    using my first eyes are are my priority now.

    thank you for this realization.

    and your grandchildren are exquisite.

  2. What a wonderful post.....thanks for sharing....

    Have you read Little Bee by Chris Cleave? I think you would like it...I know I did!

  3. If those kids have any of your genes - I get the feeling they'll be just fine.

  4. Just perfect. We need to treat each individual, the world over, as if they don't belong to any group. But we also need to recognize that what shapes them is sometimes that group, and we need to learn appreciation for what shapes people.

    It's remarkable how this connects with Rumi's reading today, I love it. When I found the painting to illustrate it, I was happy too. In answer to your question, in the future if you want to just say you found the Rumi quote "here" and link to RUMI DAYS, that's fine. But Rumi belongs to everyone, so no citation is fine too, I think. I love that his 700 year old words are just as relevant today as when he spoke them and a scribe wrote them down.

  5. Everyday Goddess- thank you. Nanny- I'll get the book. I always love a good book. Lou- Thank you. I sincerely hope so. Ruth-I read his poems daily and find inspiration and kinship- thanks for posting them.

  6. I love Rumi's poems... I didn't know that one, I'll look it up.

    I often wonder about our genetic memories, and what memories our kids have, with such diverse ancestors! They certainly seem to have 'First Eyes'... today, we were downtown and saw the town tramp, Gordon. We waved 'hello'. I love that so many kids can do this, see past the weird outfits or the crazy beard or the hijab, into the real person. We all need to practice this!

  7. i feel so much hope these days. perhaps it is because i do not read those statistics. perhaps it is because i am seeing so many more women and people of color being elected to the highest posts. perhaps it is because i am surrounded by beautiful nature and beauitful people in a culture of many cultures. perhaps it is because i was raised by an eternal optimist. whatever the reason, i have hope in humanity and these next generations. perhaps that is my gift...hope. i love you!!

  8. Mary, I think the first on your list encompasses all the rest. That practice of compassion seems to be the key to 'doing' the other things on your list. And I'm excited to see such an attainable list. You can do it. I can do it. We can ALL do it! What a wonderful thing to share :)

  9. Nan, what a great question!
    BLO Grandma, grazie!
    Kelly, Ever the wise woman way before your time!
    Judah, You're right, compassion, what a good thing to share!


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