Last night I attended a play entitled Stigmata and its message sparked a plethora of internal dialogue that I would like to share...
The play was about a high profile Wall Street mogul named Carmen Ruiz who awakens in prison without any idea of how she got there. Her only means of communication with anyone is with a hand that provides her with personal requests and clues about her life through an opening at the bottom of the door in her cell. The room is stark with cinder blocks, a wooden bed and pillow, a bench and a simple table and chair for eating. The set was brilliant for the message that Stigmata was about to relay to us.
Carmen knew for certain who she had become. She knew of her wealth, her influence and her climb to success on a ladder made of the necks of her colleagues and lovers. She knew that she was bold and intimidating and that her name held power. Power over everyone accept “the hand”, who did not respond to her threats and fits of rage while demanding that the door to her cell be opened. She banged, kicked, cursed and even pleaded at some point but to no avail. The door was barred with no chance of being opened. Carmen was indeed imprisoned.
The continuous refrain throughout her dialogue in describing herself as a child (in which she slips into character as throughout her monologue) was that she was bad. That she knew, more than her official identity which the world had come to know. She was bad and it began a long time ago with an incident that she recalled at first with sketchy detail until the end of the play. The incident caused her mother to shame her and lock her in a closet everyday after school as a small child until she was old enough to hold a part time job and earn her own money with which she used as a ticket to freedom. Her mother would use this incident to tell Carmen that God did not like her or want to speak with her ever again. Carmen was cut off from the love and freedom that comes from knowing God through her mothers judgment.
Throughout her school years Carmen capitalized on the only reputation that she had come to have – a bad girl with power. The life changing tragedy that defined her as a child resulted in: the death of her older brother (who was beaten and kicked to death while trying to defend her), a demoralizing reputation filled with continuous taunts and innuendos that no child should ever endure, and a need for hunger and power over any and everyone that would try to stand in the way of the freedom that she so desired.
She lived angrily and illicitly. Her lust for power and success was coupled by the natural lust that she had come to know as the only communication that she would have with the opposite sex. She was a woman without friends and the only family that she cherished was her father who she lovingly referred to as Papi, who left her one letter on the day of her departure for college. The letter was full of love and remorse about the way that Carmen had been treated by her mother and others all of her life. Her father included one statement to Carmen which could come across as a clue to freedom to anyone listening: “I hope that you come to know Carmen that you are not a bad girl...” (paraphrased) That would be the last communication from her beloved Papi.
The fact that Carmen was Hispanic in a time where racial diversity was not on the table for discussion in America let alone Corporate America was just another reason for her to be hard nosed and resilient at the same time. Carmen was trapped in an endless cycle for more because she was filled with an emptiness in her soul that she could not articulate...until this beloved prison experience.
I need to interject my own thoughts with this one dramatic point that draws the whole play to Carmen's redefining moment: The key to Carmen's breakdown was when she opened a well known magazine to see herself listed in an article entitle “The top four people in America that we love to hate.” And there it was, after years of climbing and working so hard to become successful in America's eyes, Carmen was hated. Just like she was in childhood and all through her adolescence. Carmen had the same reputation.
After acquainting us with the details of her life from childhood until present (with the help of symbolic offerings or clues from “the hand”) Carmen is now about to come face to face with the last offering that would redefine her entire existence. It was this scene that caused me to grip my chair and fight back tears and guttural moans that were rising from deep within me. As Carmen is huddled in a corner by the door feverishly going through her private discourse “the hand” slides a black box through the opening of the door. All of the other offerings were placed straight ahead of the door for Carmen to retrieve on her own. But this box, this ticket to her freedom was purposely slid through the opening and placed next to Carmen in the corner giving her no choice but to open it or forever remain in her prison. In retrospect the deliberateness of the playwright was simply brilliant. His vision was prophetic.
The black box contained lilacs that Carmen had been picking behind the church after her first communion. They were the lilacs that she would hold out to Father Michael as a showing and partial offering before he would brutally sexually assault little Carmen right there in the grass on the church grounds. In fact Carmen would still be holding the lilacs as her innocence was being stripped away and her mind assaulted as well with the unfathomable details that she would soon learn to hate. Carmen was now bad and she would treat everyone with the same over powering contempt that she was treated with as a result of her childhood rape. Carmen would be blamed by her mother and sentenced to days on end in a closet, with no God and no means of repentance or forgiveness as she was told. Rumors would spread like wildfire throughout the community and Carmen would be taunted and hated by people who should have been her peers.
In the final scene that I just described Carmen had an epiphany that could only have happened in her prison. It was not her fault, it was Father Michael who disgraced and debased her. She was not a bad girl...she was not to blame. The transformation was displayed in Carmen's ability to talk to God without contempt for the first times since childhood. At her final request the door to the cell was opened and Carmen walked out. As we the audience applauded the powerful performance given by Divina Cook, I sat there entranced in the depth of this message not fulling knowing how many lessons that would come from this play or the wee hour of the morning that God would wake me and begin speaking them to me...
Some of us...most of us... are Carmens in one way or another. We have had one defining moment that would change the course of our life and spin us out of control while taking down everyone in our path. Some of us are reformed Carmens who have met “the hand” of God in our prison cell of depression, anxiety, guilt or whatever occurred in the breakdown of our souls that caused an inward collapse. We sat huddled in a corner of desperation until God provided the clue that would turn us face to face with our past and the truth that went along with it, therefore becoming the key that unlocked our cell. The light poured in from the outside and we walked towards it.
Others are Carmens that are still imprisoned, living the same patterns over and over again. Drowning everyone in their wake with the tide of confusion that constantly rolls over them. The voices of blame and shame are ever present in imprisoned Carmen's life. She walks at a fast pace, so that no one can catch up to her, or no one can out step her. This Carmen has no idea of her true capacity to love because hate is ever present. She is petrified of true intimacy and often confuses it for lust. The first touch is the most powerful impression, so if the first touch was one of lust, then most relationships are played out that way. She is hard outside but crying on the inside. She is a willing loner but intensely lonely. She appears to be a leader but really has no direction that could offer anyone a decent chance at life. She pushes and refuses while screaming and crying in silent anguish. Do you know this Carmen? Are you this Carmen?
Sister, friend, mother, wife... God hears your cry. He knows the origin of your pain even if you have told yourself that no true pain exists or have blocked out any related memory of your past. I awakened at 4:50 am for you, crying in my pillow and writing this blog in my mind out of love for you, and I am only human. Can you imagine what a perfect God is doing on your behalf right now? Can you imagine how much He loves and hurts for you? You may already be huddled in the corner of your mind grasping for a bit of reality to make sense of things or you may be heading there shortly. Because I know God and how much He loves us and wishes none of us to be lost but all to be saved by His mercy...your prison cell experience is inevitable. God will remove all of your comforts and hiding places and allow you to suffer the pain of the cell in order to cash in on the offering that came from the pain of the cross. Dear sister, take it, don't refuse the experience, it's the only way out and it may be your last chance at freedom. I am praying for you now as I write this blog but more importantly, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession on your behalf... Carmen, the hand of God is waiting for you....
Bonita Jones Knott (c) 10/1/2011