By David C. Taylor
An historic event took place on February 17, 2016, that contains a bunch of subject matter I feel is in my wheelhouse.
And that's this: The pope's visit to Mexico, during which he prayed for those who perished in the desert trying to cross the United States border.
This is a topic I know first hand, having transported illegal, undocumented Mexican family members to L.A. and beyond. I have personally seen the misery and sometimes death caused by the human desire to no longer live in fear; fear of not being able to feed your family, fear of the drug cartels, and fear of the Mexican government’s corruption. Having done time for smuggling undocumented Mexicans into the U.S., let me just tell you, there are two sides to every story. You can read about the political side almost daily in the media. You can read about the human side in my book, “The Jacumba Connection,” scheduled for publication this summer. What you decide is up to you.
First I must clarify, I am not a Republican, nor am I a Democrat. I am, however, an independent thinker. I am on no one's bandwagon except that of humanity.
I speak from a position of strength, and I’ll validate that statement later in this post. But for the moment, I am going to stand upon my soapbox and do my thing.
According to The New York Times, Pope Frances placed a bouquet of flowers before a cross, on a small table, just yards away from the U.S.-Mexico border and prayed. Offering up a papal blessing for the souls lost trying to cross that very border.
After three minutes of complete silence (on both sides of the border), the pope waved at the U.S. Border Patrol/Homeland Security officers lining the United States side (in case of a possible disturbance).
This response from our government does not come from a place of strength, but rather from a place of fear.
On papal visits around the world the pope always visits prisons, just as he did on this recent visit to Mexico. Why? Because a prison is a place in which you find suffering. He visited the most notorious penitentiary in Mexico, and brought comfort to thousands of prisoners and their families.
Enter the American media, dramatizing the politics, yet overlooking the grace. Silent on humanitarianism and BIG on what Donald Trump had to say which was, "It was disgraceful, the pope praying at the border."
What? Really? I thought the moment was full of grace.
I am not a Catholic. I am not saying, "Hurray for Catholicism!" I am saying grace and compassion are essential for the survival of global ideology—think about the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Feed the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which is a collective of people from all over the world helping Syrian refugees recover and rebuild their lives. Tolerance and kindness are now trending worldwide in the hearts of people tired of fear mongering.
I believe our younger generation understands that we are a global society now, more so than any other time in history. As Pope Francis stated, "It is time to build bridges, not walls."
"Pastor" Francis comes from a position of strength. Not because he is the pope, but because he grew up in Argentina with the brutal "Hunta," a government that had their collective foot on the neck of every citizen. No tolerance. No kindness. No compassion. He lived it. He lived under it. And preaching the same message of benevolence, he rose above it to become Pope Francis.
Just look to history. The Berlin Wall came down from a position of strength; not military strength, but from strength found in the courage to stand up for what is right. And only then the Wall came down.
Yes, the Vatican has a huge wall, built in the Middle Ages when people were afraid of their own shadow. Back then the Vatican thought the world was flat, and the powers that be put anyone in prison who disagreed. But guess what, gang? The world is round, no edges, no borders. Now millions visit the Vatican every year, not to see the wall, but to experience what’s inside.
What does it say to the rest of the world about us as a society when the pope, long considered God's spiritual vessel on earth, is called "disgraceful" by media-driven posers and talking heads for praying to heal someone else's sorrow and misfortune?
We have to stop thinking in terms of the divisive "Them," countered with the overly prideful "Us," and find a way to work towards the compassionate "We."
To survive the culture clash here in prison, you deal with people from a position of strength and integrity. Fear and ignorance cause people to lash out. Knowledge keeps you safe here. Instead of assuming, you ask: "So what do you want to be called, black, African-American, Rastafarian?"
"Call me Lawrence, that is what my mom calls me."
Respect, not fear.
When the news showed a picture of a two-year-old Syrian boy washed up on the beach, I looked over at Little Mo, a fellow inmate sitting next to me in the TV room. He has been a prisoner of the government for 21 years for drug possession, and will soon be a refugee himself, as his only family member died while he served his 25-year sentence. Mo had a tear running from under his glasses and past his cheek. The scene on the TV screen, and on Mo's face, made me tear up as well. It’s called empathy. The discussion of immigration, refugees, and borders calls for just that: empathy.
We have a saying here in prison: "The size of a man can be measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry."
My muse, Angelica, whispers in my ear: "Reach down deep to your integral core, the confident God Spot in all of the us, and find your compassion, your graciousness, your benevolence for others’ misfortune."
Post Script: I am a prisoner, I cannot vote. But you are not. And you can.