Growing our internal souls: Freedom from internal gray waters


“A REVOLUTION is not just for the purpose of correcting past injustices, a revolution involves a projection of man/woman into the future… It begins with projecting the notion of a more human human being, i.e. a human being who is more advanced in the specific qualities which only human beings have — creativity, consciousness and self-consciousness, a sense of political and social responsibility.” — Activist Grace Lee Boggs, a centenarian, June 2015.

Grace Lee Boggs is a Chinese-American humanist philosopher who has seen the ups and downs of America, from the time of Dr. Martin Luther King’s million man march in Washington to the ascent of President Barack Obama into office, including the decades-long plunge of the population in Detroit, a former bustling city with auto manufacturers.

She turned 100 years on June 28 and hundreds of Detroit citizens came out to pay tribute to her. Melissa Harris-Perry had this to say on a  Facebook post: “On this day in 1915, a revolutionary was born. For seven decades, Grace Lee Boggs — philosopher, writer, and activist — has been engaged with some of the most impactful US social movements of the last century. Workers’ rights, civil rights, Black Power, women’s rights, environmental justice: where there is inequality, where there are people struggling to have their voices heard, you will find Grace Lee Boggs.”

Decades ago, Grace Lee Boggs re-imagined what Detroit would be, after seeing blocks of abandoned buildings, once industrial sites for manufacturing automobiles. She shared her vision of turning these abandoned plots of land into urban gardens, which mushroomed into the creation of artisan bakeries and publicly displayed murals on some of these buildings. Even as her vision gained traction, she encouraged citizens: “We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.”​

Grace Lee Boggs passed away on Oct. 5, 2015, and would have celebrated her 101st birthday on June 27, 2016. Grace exhorted and reminded us often to grow our souls, to become aware of this time at another part of the world and what we can do to make ourselves grow. Perhaps because even as she grew in years, her young soul was kept vibrant from engagement with causes and others’ plight.​

Clogged with gray water

May, my 9​3​ 1/2-year-old neighbor, had a plumbing problem. She whispered if I knew of a good plumber. Yes, I told her. I called the plumber, Abel and spoke to him about May’s problem. I also gave my neighbor the plumber’s number. I requested him to take care of May. The problem took several pieces of equipment  — a soil spreader to keep the ‘dug-up’ section from caving in, an excavator, a hose, and shovels. We gave the plumbers access to our outdoor electrical outlet and the manhole to remove the four feet of gray water that accumulated. It took a few men to clear the clogged area, only to discover an expanded white gunk, almost like a concrete white cork plug, from the use of disposable wipes.

For three days, these Latino plumbers persisted in the sweltering sun. I saw beads of sweat forming on their foreheads that twice, I offered them, pitchers of ice water, homemade oatmeal cookies and ginataan. To resolve the clogged plumbing, four neighbors looked into the problem, making sure it was reasonably resolved on time, as it involved pumping out the gray water, installing new valves for clean-out and restoring a portion of the front lawn that was excavated. Four neighbors looked after the plumbers, out of care for May, but also because we wanted to lend a hand. It is after all in lending a hand that a neighborhood becomes livable and safe for everyone.

Pumping out internal gray waters and growing our internal souls

I wondered for a moment how we take that plumbing issue and apply that to our own internal plumbing and grow our internal souls. What does it mean to grow our own souls?

One evening, I was watching Anand Giridharadas’s TED talk about a tale of Two Americas: A “Republic of Dreams” that believes in striving, generosity and giving second chances and a “Republic of Fears” that is stingier, a middle class that shrunk by 20 percent, and a grimmer reality. Anand postulates that we need a unified America and that America’s adopted sons and the Republic of Dreams be kept alive while the Republic of Fears be kept muted and examined by America’s native sons. His book, “The True American,” according to the TED website, “documents an immigrant’s {Bangladeshi Rais Bhuiyan] struggle amid the ‘War on Terror’ to save his would-be killer [American native-born Mark Stroman] from death row, in the name of Islam.”

Rais Bhuiyan, a former Air Force officer in Bangladesh, had dreams of a better life in America. He took ​information technology (IT)​​ classes and worked the cash register at a mini-mart in Dallas. Ten days after 9/11, he was shot when a pale-tattooed man, Mark Anthony Stroman, kept asking, “Where are you from?” When he answered, Bhuiyan’s accent revealed where he was from and he was shot in the face.

Stroman thought he was exacting revenge for 9/11 when he shot Bhuiyan in the face. Bhuiyan survived with no brain injuries but lost eyesight in one of his eyes. Stroman thought wrong, for he had shot a Bangladeshi native, an adopted son of America. Bhuiyan, said Giridharadas, looked to his Muslim faith, read the Koran, forgave Stroman, and campaigned to save the life of this native-born son of America from death-row execution.

Only love can unify the two Americas: one Republic bred by hatred towards those who are non-whites, who are as American as anyone, in pursuing their dreams with hard work, conviction, honest pursuit of moral ideals and good values; another Republic of dreams that is more generous and creates spaces for all to pursue their highest potentials.

What possibly breeds hatred that can make Stroman simply pull the trigger, intending to take a person’s life? What possibly breeds one’s heart to be generous and to be supportive to help others reach their goals? How can we all be aligned as One Compassionate America?

Spirituality and absence of absolute certainty

Check yourself when you are in a state of absolute certainty, do you feel superior? Do you feel like you have a built-in microscope that sees through their mistakes? Do you feel entitled to profile them, to talk about them through gossip and label them names, as if you know them and are reacting to what they are saying, instead of listening with respect?

I casually watched folks speak of “cultural hypocrisy.” It would have been laudable to hear them expound on what that means and how we conduct ourselves towards cultural integrity. Except, they were also heard saying to dissociate from “those people.” What they really seem to do is detach themselves from whom they truly are, to keep up with the Joneses — the hip and the trendy — that they had formulated a term for their own “state of absolute certainties.”

“Spiritual humility involves keeping an awareness that, as Paul Tillich said, ‘Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.’ The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear.”–Jiddu Krishnamurti (Spiritualityhealth.com, March/April 2015).

Perhaps the next time we are quick in our mouths to judge, much like, let me call him Mr. ​​Photographer, he made presumptions that the Latino plumbers were not competent. He asked about the truck, he asked about their experiences, as if he was going to be paying them.

9​3​ ½-year-old May, a Caucasian, asserted herself and said to Mr. Photographer, “I talked to Abel about what he is going to do. He knows.” May did not presume, she inquired.

When I see May to bring her my banana bread, I plant a kiss on her cheek and whisper, “I love you May,” and she responds, “I pray for mazel​ (drip from above)​ be with you always!” The next day, a knock on the door, a plate ​of luscious red strawberries from May.

I only know what is for certain: to love someone every day and to live for change, much like Grace Lee Boggs, a 100 year old, and the gracious example of May, a 9​3​ ½ year old.

Happy July 4th​, 2016,​ our American Independence Day! My wish, like Grace, is for all of us to grow our internal souls.​

Footnote: This is a sentimental day for me as this would have been Asuncion Abarquez’s 89th birthday, a teacher, a wife, a mother of five women, a grandmother of nine and a great-grandmother of four. ​Gone too soon, and you will be in our hearts forever, Mom!

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.

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