Saturday, February 20, 2016

Miguel's Tree

Walking on Mesquite Street toward Klein Park I meet City Councilor Greg Smith. He's wearing a black suit and a black bow tie – and flip-flops. No socks. I compliment him on the discordance. He says later that Miguel always wanted him to go to a city council meeting in flip-flops. Greg doubted they communicated the right gravitas for the occasion; but today he'd wear them.

In Klein Park, I see many familiar faces. Several of Miguel's relatives introduce themselves. There's coffee and plenty of cookies – and a large bow-tie in a big tree, waiting to be unveiled.

People mostly know each other. I see Irene Oliver-Lewis, whom I've known for nearly a half-century – and I'm an outsider. Many of these people grew up here. “This was our park,” someone says. “We were kids. It didn't even have grass then. We were into xeriscaping before there was xeriscaping.” Another family-member points out that Mayor Klein's daughter-in-law is present, and that Klein too was a devoted public servant.

The morning progresses, as someone puts it, “on Miguel's time.” Not precisely punctual.

Jeff Sutton, Miguel's brother-in-law and a pastor, speaks for awhile. He mentions the Biblical importance of trees, like the one we are dedicating to Miguel. He notes that Miguel's parents named him Miguel Gabriel, for two angels. And as a minister of God he asks God to send those two angels down to this tree, so that whenever someone, perhaps a youngster with issues, sits in the shade of this tree contemplating a problem or decision, Angel Miguel will assist. His words – upbeat, in a way – are exactly right. 

I shoot photographs while I listen. Portraits of the faces, some with funny hats. Many folks present have intricate relationships with each other, as deep and natural as the lines on their faces.
Mayor Ken Miyagashima arrives. He tells a funny story about Miguel and a pal painting “Publisher's Clearinghouse” on Miguel's white van and stopping at people's homes. 

The Mayor speaks, and I think he means what he says. But of course I think of the irony: months ago, the two battled for the position of mayor. Two men with deep roots in this community. Two men undoubtedly ambitious but also determined to improve our community.

I can't help recalling the PAC (Treasurer: Congressman Pearce's brother) that viciously attacked Ken. An ugliness
brought by greedy outsiders with more dollars than decency. It hurt Ken. And while I won't allege that the ugliness killed Miguel, it pained him – as did the feeling that fellow citizens might think he caused it. Unfairly, I believe.

Miguel, in a friend's words, “worked very hard to run a campaign that would go by without him saying anything negative or disparaging Ken, or doing anything that would interfere with their friendship. Even when I tried to talk him into criticizing Ken.” The PAC attacks happened despite Miguel – and may have contributed to the size of Ken's victory margin.

Leaving, I pause to say hello to Ken, who's talking with a lady I don't know. She tells me she's the one who posted a comment on my blog post concerning her own suicidal thoughts the weekend Miguel died. Today she's approached the mayor offering insight into the city's mental health services. A client's view. “Miguel gave me the courage to do that,” she says. Ken mentions having her speak with a mental health advisory committee. He gives her his cell-phone number. They're still talking as I leave. 

Maybe the Angels are already on the job.
Wearing a hat for Miguel, with a tag -- and the Organ Mountains!
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 21 February, and will appear later today on KRWG-TV's web-site as well(A month ago, my column Death Saddens and Instructs Us discussed Miguel and his death.)  Below, additional images from Tuesday's unveiling of the tree:]
Miguel -Farmers' Mkt. 2013


 In these five images, the bow-tie gets unveiled.



  1. Very nice, indeed. Blessings on Miguel and blessings on you, Peter.

  2. Peter, thank you for keeping this conversation going. It is vitally important that our community is informed and takes an interest in the lack of mental health resources in Las Cruces. At this point, city leaders are haggling over dollars and cents. How they should be spent. Should we build a new hospital, should we improve existing facilities? How can we recruit more doctors and health care workers? What can we do to help people with no insurance gain access? What about profit? These are important questions.
    However, we also need to have conversations regarding whether or not those services are effective and appropriate. What other resources are available in our community that do not involve prescription medication, "protective custody" or involuntary hospitalization. We are a community of vibrant, talented people. There are many people in Las Cruces who approach mental health care from a completely different angle. People who have figured out a way to find balance in their own lives and minds. People who have taken their power back. No longer dependent on doctor's and prescriptions and facilities. People who are committed to empowering others to do the same. These are the people I would like to see involved in discussions with city leaders. Maybe the city leaders should wear flip-flops more often, become more approachable more relatable more willing to accept thier own personal struggles with stress, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety and addiction. Maybe if people began to see that mental health care is an issue that effects us all to varying degrees we would begin to have more compassion for each other and for ourselves. Thank you Peter. Thank you Miguel. You inspire me to speak up even though it's scary and embarrassing. Bravery is not the absence of fear but action in the face of fear. -the lady in the park

  3. Thanks. If you have specific suggestions on columns or posts on this subject, now or later, feel free to contact me.

  4. So saddened to read the front page this morning. Mr. Silva has been an inspiration to the people of Las Cruces. A memorial in his honor, a place where friends and loved ones and maybe troubled people could gather to pray and reflect is a truly lovely idea. I believe in the power of prayer especially, wherever two or more people are praying for the same thing. Let's believe and have faith that Miguel's memorial will be found and returned to it's rightful place. Also, that the terrible act of it's theft will bring more attention to the plight of people in Cruces who are struggling find treatment and support for thier own battles with anxiety, depression and addiction. That this thoughtless act will be transformed into good purpose. Keeping the Faith.