Courtroom awakens karma understanding

One of the most humbling times in my life occurred in Court.

Philadelphia Police Sgt. Washington motioned to me that he wanted to talk. This was odd, I represented the “other side” as  public defender whose client was the defendant charged in an auto theft case. Washington was the arresting police officer whose testimony would insure a conviction.

You from Philadelphia?” this muscular African-American police officer asked me in a quiet tone. Another case had been called to the bar of the Court and we stood in the audience away from the attorney tables.

I grew up in Philly, North Philly. Why?” I said, wondering what I had done wrong. Always get that feeling when talking with police. Old Catholic guilt, I guess.

We used to live on the same block,” he said, and taught me something I hope I never forget.

You helped me learn how to read.”

I was taken back. Looking closer at this man, I tried but failed to recognize him. I searched memory banks of the homes I lived at,  and the friends I had both in and out of school. No luck.

Until, the sergeant mentioned Marston St. — 1434 N. Marston St. , to be exact. Less than a block away from St Ludwig’s Roman Catholic Church and elementary school. “You’re that Washington?” I said, as a beam of light shone and I remembered a skinny little Black kid who would sit on the steps outside the house as I did my “extra” homework for my Third Grade teacher, a nun who was forcing me to learn the “Palmer Method” of handwriting. My handwriting was so bad, this senile Franciscan nun with the thickest pair of bifocals I had ever seen, thought she could improve it through repetitive scrawling on my part . She was wrong. About the “hand-writing.” (Maybe she saw something in my “writing” that she wanted to straighten out before I’d get the chance to utter something blasphemous or profane in the eyes of God? Could she see into my future?)

I’d handwrite one letter after another, trying my best not to bend my wrist but allow each symbol to evolve with a fluid motion. Got that? Well, neither did I. One of the purposes of the Palmer Method was to help someone to write and write some more without tiring out the hand, or causing the repetitive strain we see computer typists suffering from today.

But there I was, my legs drawn up, back hunched over a loose-leaf folder, scribbling away as the young Washington fellow approached and asked what I was up to. I showed him, try to explain it, and welcomed the chance take a break from such tedious work. At some point, he must have brought out his homework and I remember going over it with him. Hey, I was pretty smart as a Third-Grader. Had no interest in girls or sports and had the fear of God instilled in me by fearless nuns I hardly ever had time or the inclination to sin. I studied. The alternative could have been hell.

I must have helped the fellow who was some two years younger than me. We’d meet outside my house day after day, him with his reading book and me with my writing one. I enjoyed helping him. I see now that he may have gotten more out of the excursions than anyone would think possible. I helped him realize he had the ability within to read

He helped me to realize that actions, no matter how small, could have an immensely unproportional effect on another. And I felt humbled when the Universe enlightened me of this karmic cause and effect.

The courtroom case was continued for some reason, and I shook hands with Sgt. Washington hoping our paths would cross again. They will, If the cause and conditions arise for us again.

11 comments on “Courtroom awakens karma understanding

  1. […] . He introduced himself as Sgt. Washington and asked me if I ever lived in Philadelphia. It turns out he lived on the same street and was a year younger. He also told me that I had helped him to learn how to read when I was in third grade and would set out on the steps to do my homework. I showed him a few things and I guess it helped him to get over whatever problems he had with reading. I couldn’t believe that such a small act could affect someone. (See “Karma in the Courtroom“!) […]


  2. kim says:

    If it gets them to open up, what does it matter how you lost your hearing? I have learned a lot from you. So keep telling your stories– true or not. 😉


    • contoveros says:

      I think too much Rock and Roll in my ears might have caused early damage. Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Isley Brothers just to name a few. Throw in a little Jackie Wilson, James Brown and Chuck Berry and you’ll see what I mean . . .

      michael j


  3. heartwriter says:

    Thank you for sharing your heartfelt story.


  4. pcadams says:

    Thank you, Michael. Beautiful.




  5. kim says:

    This is truly one of your most beautiful and profound stories. It almost brought tears to my eyes I can vividly see two little boys– one white and one black– sitting on church steps reading and writing. We never know the impact we might have on another. You are blessed that this came full circle. What a wonderful lesson! 🙂


    • contoveros says:

      Full circle. And I feel I ended up getting more out of it by being able to share the story with others. Who would have thunk that our reading and writing would someday lead to this “writing?” I feel good for having provided a small conduit for understanding ourselves, our meaning for being here.


      • kim says:

        I have long felt the same about my hearing loss. Not sure if I mentioned in here that I knew I was going to lose it about fifteen years before it happened. I was in preschool– my first premonition. A lot of people think they’re being punished by God when they lose something– either as a ‘test’ of faith or for bad karma from past lives. I can’t say about them, but I know my hearing loss– as much as I hate it sometimes– is a gift. My destiny. I have mentioned this to a few other deaf people in the past, and it just pisses them off. Thing is, what may be true about me might not be true for others. Doesn’t stop me from reaching out to people new to the world of hearing aids, pocket talkers and tinnitus. Makes me feel better to believe I can make a difference by helping others the way I was helped early on.


        • contoveros says:

          Now you’re bringing a tear to my eyes, Kim, because I feel the same way about many of my deficiencies. I tell people my hearing problem was a result of an old war wound — it wasn’t. But, it gives me the opening to talk of other things.

          PTSD discussions have opened talks I never dreamed could ever evolve. I’ve learned more things about myself and how to help others with similar problems. (Makes for “built-in” material for some pretty good posts when you need to get inspired to write!)

          Wanting to be a priest at one time (before I discovered girls) opened the door to a spiritual maturing. Not quite there yet, but the Buddhist path has shown me parts of myself I no longer need to be afraid of confronting.

          michael j


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