Sunday, September 28, 2008

Practice Kindness

On my way to church this morning I was listening to NPR's "This I Believe". This story is taken directly from the writing of Troy Chapman, who is presently incarcerated in Michigan for commiting 2nd degree murder in 1985. I was so moved by this essay that I had to post it....be sure to visit his blog for it is excellent....

CARING MAKES US HUMAN
When the scruffy orange cat showed up in the prison yard, I was one of the first to go out there and pet it. I hadn't touched a cat or a dog in over 20 years. I spent at least 20 minutes crouched down by the Dumpster behind the kitchen as the cat rolled around and luxuriated beneath my attention. What he was expressing outwardly I was feeling inwardly.

It was an amazing bit of grace to feel him under my hand and know that I was enriching the life of another creature with something as simple as my care. I believe that caring for something or someone in need is what makes us human.

Over the next few days, I watched other prisoners responding to the cat. Every yard period, a group of prisoners gathered there. They stood around talking and taking turns petting the cat. These were guys you wouldn't usually find talking to each other. Several times I saw an officer in the group — not chasing people away, but just watching and seeming to enjoy it along with the prisoners.

Bowls of milk and water appeared, along with bread, wisely placed under the edge of the Dumpster to keep the sea gulls from getting it. The cat was obviously a stray and in pretty bad shape. One prisoner brought out his small, blunt-tipped scissors, and trimmed burrs and matted fur from his coat.

People said, "That cat came to the right place. He's getting treated like a king." This was true. But as I watched, I was also thinking about what the cat was doing for us.

There's a lot of talk about what's wrong with prisons in America. We need more programs; we need more psychologists or treatment of various kinds. Some even talk about making prisons more kind, but I think what we really need is a chance to practice kindness ourselves. Not receive it, but give it.

After more than two decades here, I know that kindness is not a value that's encouraged. It's often seen as weakness. Instead the culture encourages keeping your head down, minding your own business and never letting yourself be vulnerable.

For a few days a raggedy cat disrupted this code of prison culture. They've taken him away now, hopefully to a decent home — but it did my heart good to see the effect he had on me and the men here. He didn't have a Ph.D., he wasn't a criminologist or a psychologist, but by simply saying, "I need some help here," he did something important for us. He needed us — and we need to be needed. I believe we all do.

Troy Chapman

Independently produced for Weekend Edition Sunday by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick
cat photo -
http://flickr.com/photos/emelfr/38721889/

6 comments:

Christine said...

Roberta, Thank you for this! I visited Tony's blog -AWESOME. Thank you.

CHeryl said...

Great article, Roberta! I have also become aware lately of the great impact that animals have for healing of all kinds. This is another example of it.

Jaliya said...

Beautiful and so transparently apparent to those of us who know the magic that one small creature can weave. I often ponder the ripple effects of such simple presence when I'm schmoozing with any of my cats ... or embracing another human ...

There seems to be an instinctive empathy that creatures like stray cats evoke in us. All of my cats have been "rescues" -- and I think it's a mutual thing, this rescuing ...

Thank you, Roberta!

Jayne said...

Powerful story Roberta.

Friends of Troy Chapman said...

Roberta, I maintain Troy's blog and am so delighted to see you shared this story with your readers. I am amazed at the response this simple story has garnered. As a friend of mine said today, "It is a simple idea, but when you read it you think, 'How could I have forgotten?' And when you read it in the context of prison, you think, 'How could he have remembered?'" I look forward to getting to know your blog.

Maryann Gorman

kristin said...

Thank you for sharing this, Roberta! (I have been a big fan of NPR for many long yrs now... tho my drive to work is much shorter now, than it has been in years' passed, and so I don't get to experience that same luxury of listening as I drive to work each day.) How wonderful that this small creature should touch the humanity of each man, so powerfully. Would that we would respond so deeply, when we see another human who is suffering or in need. Jesus had a powerful point to make, when he spoke of our treatment of "the least of these"....