Dear Fellow Travelers,
Each year I send out a holiday message to our members. This year, it has been very difficult to find the right words.
For the past couple of months, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude and wonder, mixed with ample doses of fear and anxiety. So I entered a period of contemplation, reflection, and discernment. And as I emerge to start the new year, the spirit has compelled me to send you a very personal message.
My gratitude runs so deep for all the blessings that have been given to us. It seems impossible that we, whose lives have been brought to the brink, would have much to be grateful for. And yet, I’m sure that’s the way it works. I know I couldn’t be truly grateful until I had lost everything, and then had the opportunity to start my life anew.
My new life has been a gift, no longer shackled by the chains of trauma from my dysfunctional childhood family and from other people’s expectations; I bought into it all, even though deep down inside I knew it wasn’t right for me. That it was killing me. The crushing weight of materialism, pieces of me being cleaved off bit by bit, year by year, allowing things to get more and more complicated. Eventually, I was on autopilot, doing whatever I had to do to maintain that unsustainable trajectory and to survive. Ignoring the consequences. Or, more likely, encouraging the consequences. Until I couldn’t do it any longer and I just wanted the madness to stop.
So I threw a hand grenade into my life and dove on it. It mortally wounded me, and the wreckage to my family and all I held dear was unimaginable. Like the tornadoes we see on television all too often these days, the vestiges of my life were here one minute and gone the next.
And yet, what I didn’t know is that God and nature perform miracles every day. Today’s wildfire is tomorrow’s meadow, teeming with life and possibilities. Little microbes feeding new ecosystems that grow into new and different forests. It’s been like that since the beginning of time. But, in our fear and arrogance, we think we can control things, that it is our fault, that we will never recover.
One day, when I was feeling most afraid and most alone, I reached out to another person who was going through a journey similar to mine. Or, at least I thought he might be. At the time there was no information available anywhere. Nothing online, nothing anywhere. Vapor. But I risked it and made that phone call. And we shared our pain, our suffering, our loss.
They say that pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth, and for me that has certainly turned out to be true. But what I’ve learned is that there is a difference between struggling and suffering. Struggling is a good thing, an important thing, a necessary thing. It has helped me learn, and grow, and evolve into the person God intended me to be.
But suffering is optional.
And yet, I choose to suffer almost every day. Sometimes for a few moments, sometimes it goes on for hours. But when I remember that suffering is a choice, when I turn to God and to others to share my pain, my suffering subsides.
We founded our support group in May 2016, and this Monday night will celebrate our 289th meeting, in the midst of a period in which the world celebrates the holidays. We, a rag-tag group of misfits, the discarded, the broken. A gang of people who by all rights should not be able to celebrate anything. And yet, we thrive.
289 meetings. We thrive.
So, at least for me, at a time in the world and in my life when it would be so easy to focus on my wounds, instead I am choosing to focus on my blessings. What other choice to I really have if I want to thrive? And at the top of my list of my blessings is you. The miracle of us, and what we have found in one another. Brothers, sisters, a community, a family.
In the glow of this light, I wish and pray for you and your loved ones to have a happy and healthy Christmastime, no matter what your faith or religion. Please reach out to me or to one another if you are in need, or if you sense that someone else is in need. We will answer the call.
As for me, I’m always in need. At least a little.
Prayers and blessings to all for happy and healthy holidays, לשלום
Rev. Jeff Grant, J.D., M.Div. (he, him, his)
Co-founder, Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc., Greenwich CT & Nationwide
Mailing: P.O. Box 1, Woodbury, CT 06798
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not a prison coach, not a prison consultant