Saturday, April 03, 2010
Walking Justice: Good Friday 2010
I began yesterday morning in prayer, reflection and poetry, curled up in my blanket as I sat on the couch of our common room. The poetry of Mary Oliver seemed to comfort me as I began meditating on the day ahead. I even put one of her books in the bathroom as if to say that I needed a little more connection than usual. And so I asked myself, why today?
Today was Good Friday, the day that marks the death of Jesus, nailed to a cross. And like a typical Catholic, I went to a solemn event portraying the stations of the cross. Actually, I was a part of the stations…
I went downtown with my larger community of friends for the event. When we rode the El downtown, I meditated and talked very little. I’ve been sick for the last few days and my energy level has been low but mostly I was intentionally slow about my preparation. Like the Buddhist, I wanted my actions of the day to be fully mindful. I wanted to be reverent for the day that Good Friday is and for the respect that I would be representing with my body. I sat in my seat, breathing, watching the buildings go by, watching my friends have conversations, smiling…I thought about Mani al-Utaybi, the who died on June 10, 2006 while he was being detained in Guantanamo. He, and two other men, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani apparently committed suicide during their time of detention. I’m not sure that this is true, but I do know that their detention in Guantanamo was painful and lacking in justice and so with my body as a symbol, I represented Mani al-Utaybi.
When we arrived to the walk a few of us gathered. I slowly put on the orange jumpsuit, an outfit that characterizes prisoners in places like Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib. We took some moments for prayer and then I put the black hood over my head and became the silent symbolic representation of Mani al-Utaybi. There were others standing with me, representing more people who were tortured and died in pain. I became a mindful presence of a man I did not know and yet intimately connected with in his death.
We walked through the streets of Chicago with hundreds of others involved with the stations of the cross. They talked along the way about many things. I did not speak.
I walked and I heard people huff in disgust. I heard the curiosity of others. I heard the reverent understanding of how powerful the representation was. I found myself to have a sense of acceptance for all of this, a realization of the reality and then moving on. I didn’t dwell in any one comment but rather rested in the person that Mani al-Utaybi was.
At the ripe age of 25 years old, Mani al-Utaybi was committed to his faith. He desired to get married, have a family and continue his schooling and religious studies. I find that these are dreams that I too share for my own life. And in 2006, when he died, I remember processing my own hopes and dreams within the context of life. Mani al-Utaybi did not have the opportunity to live.
When we got to each station, each of us dressed in the jumpsuits stood in a straight line. We were still and connected. People looked on. Some took pictures and others simply glanced. Yet it was apparent that our role in this event was different. I was different.
We went through each station, each location was different. Friends were around us in solidarity. I could feel their caring presence. I wondered if Mani al-Utaybi knew that people cared for him. I wondered what he would think of this representation of his body.
And then the 9th station of the cross, the execution….
Kairos Chicago and the Witness Against Torture communities took the responsibility to bring the reality of modern day execution to the forefront of our minds. Using the bodies of those of us in jumpsuits, we reenacted the symbolic death of Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani. Each man died yesterday, rested on the ground with only a sheet for a cover. And I too died…just for a moment with Mani al-Utaybi.
With the death of Mani al-Utaybi and the others I couldn’t help but think of all the other things that died with them.
Their hopes and dreams.
The pieces of them that rest in the hearts of those they love.
The reality of a life not fully lived.
The stark realization of a detention never examined.
The understanding of a story never fully told.
The investigation into the reality of how they left this earth.
As Christians we read the passion of Christ on Good Friday and we wonder if Jesus will remember us when we die. We wonder if Jesus is really like us at all and if he is, how is it that people like Mani al-Utaybi are still being crucified today (literally and figuratively).
Mani al-Utaybi, through the representation of my body, was removed from the circle by six pall-bearers, and the action was done. Shortly after I took off the jumpsuit and became me again. I sat down and looked at all the same people that I had once seen through the black hood. I was grateful to be alive and humbled to be in the heartfelt presence of my brother, Mani al-Utaybi. It took me a while to transition into being me again and yet I never fully left.
Today as I write this, I remember Mani al-Utaybi and all the other in prisons across the world. People who are held in conditions that strip away dignity. People who yearn to be released…people who struggle to find meaning in their existence…people who desperately grasp at each day in order to hold on to what little they have left.
Today, there are men and women being held in prisons who do not belong there. They have not been tried in a court of law. They do not have access to attorneys. And for many of them, their reality rests in a state of torture and impending death.
I cry out for them in prayer and mourning.
Salah Ahmed al-Salami…PRESENTE
Yasser Talal al-Zahrani….PRESENTE