Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fruit for thought

Because David Hanners mentioned it, here is a picture of the basket of fruit that Amy Senser dropped off at the restaurant on Fathers Day night.

The angle doesn't really show you how large the basket was, but yes, that is a big pineapple buried in there.

Anousone loved to buy exotic fruit for his parents. He would bring it to them two, three times a week when he could find rambutan, longan, pomegranates or other fruit that would remind them of Laos. And he knew that half the fruit he brought them would be donated to the Wat Lao Buddhist temple in Farmington.

Keo Phanthavong, Anousone's mother, told me that the last fruit Anousone brought to her is still in her refrigerator freezer. After the sentencing, we all went to the cemetery to spend time with Anousone. Keo told me that on other trips she had seen a young Lao woman eating a mango with her mother, who is buried near Anousone's grave. We ate some fruit, and thought about Anousone.

Anousone's brother, Kono, now buys fruit for his parents. They still take half the fruit to the temple. It is good family tradition.

I have my own new tradition. Amy Senser's fruit basket did not make me want to forgive her, but I know that Anousone has forgiven her, God has forgiven her, and the Phanthavong family is grateful for Mrs. Senser's apology. So each night at 11:08 I stop what I am doing and I ask Anousone to help me pray for Amy Senser. I am not as forgiving as Ped was, and he gives me the strength to keep my promise to pray for Amy and her daughters. (I don't pray for Joe. He needs to apologize before I can pray for him.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My last day at the trial

After the trial was over in May, I was asked to write a victim's statement to be read in court before Mrs. Senser was sentenced. Sunday I was told that my statement could not be read on Monday because I am not a relative of Ped's. Last night I prayed to Ped to let the judge read my letter and this morning he allowed the letter to be read last.

Cindi Phanthavong read the letter and broke down crying. When Cindi read, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal" Amy Senser began to cry. I looked around and even the reporters were crying. I could not believe how loud the crying in the courtroom was. 

Courtroom sketch shown by KSTP-TV
This is the statement I prepared for Judge Mabley to read to Amy Senser.

Dear Judge Mabley:

Before this trial began, I had never heard of Amy World. But I was very familiar with Anousone’s World, and the ways in which Anousone Phanthavong made my world a better place. Over the course of his nine years working with me, Anousone became my best friend, my right hand man, my rock. I miss him every day. We did not call it Anousone World, but the world was a very different place with Anousone in it. His love of others, his desire to serve others — this was the heart of Anousone’s world. Each day he challenged all of us to be better people.

Anousone cared only for others, not for himself. He was trusting and he was kind. He had the best heart. 
Amy Senser killed Anousone Phanthavong, but she did not take him from us.  His soul is with us.  In death, Anousone brought his friends and family together, even as Mrs. Senser’s crime tore her family apart. She lost this case, but the Phanthavongs did not win because Anousone is still dead. Mrs. Senser will eventually return home to her family, but Anousone will never return to us again.
I was raised to value and respect the lessons religions teach us. My cousin Peter is now a Roman Catholic Bishop. My  older sister Emile became a Mother Superior. I know that a good Catholic would forgive Mrs. Senser unconditionally and move on, but I am a Catholic who grew up surrounded by Theravada Buddhists. There are many Theravada Buddhists working at our restaurant. Anousone was one of them. Anousone and I had many, many conversations about all manner of things, and through him I acquired a deep appreciation of the Lord Buddha’s teachings on which Anousone relied in his daily life for guidance and support. Anousone believed in forgiveness, and I know that Anousone would want me to forgive Mrs. Senser.
Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.  I believe this statement to be true because each time I sat down to write this letter, I got very angry and wrote very angry words.  But each of those letters ended up in the wastebasket because Anousone would not want me to spend the rest of my life picking up hot coals. 
Anousone was a devout Buddhist who believed in forgiveness, but Buddhist forgiveness requires the cooperation of the person to be forgiven. Before a Buddhist can forgive someone who has wronged them, that person must acknowledge their wrong actions.  That person does not have to ask for forgiveness in order to receive it, but they must show that they are aware of their wrong behavior.  Buddhists do not believe it is helpful to forgive someone who refuses to acknowledge that they have done wrong. 
Mrs. Senser hit and killed Anousone Phanthavong with her car exactly 320 days ago. She has not once acknowledged Anousone died as the direct result of her actions. Instead Mrs. Senser dragged a grieving family through a year of lawyer games. Her attorney shared Anousone’s arrest record with the world, punishing the victim for allowing her to hit and kill him with her car. Mrs. Senser’s husband said he stood guard over their daughter’s home to protect her from the Phanthavongs. Well Mr. and Mrs. Senser have now seen all of the Phanthavongs in court. I wonder which of them frightened them most? Mrs. Senser’s husband is bigger than any two Phanthavongs put together.
I say to you Mrs. Senser that you killed Anousone Phanthavong. And your attorney smeared Anousone Phanthavong.
Yet, Mrs. Senser, you have not said anything to indicate that you accept responsibility for your actions, and have not in any way communicated to the Phanthavong family your remorse for your part in this tragedy. Every word the Phanthavongs and I have heard from you has been well-scripted, written by attorneys and rehearsed over and over again before being recited by you in this court.
When Anousone was alive, he was very protective of me and now I feel a duty to be protective of him. Mrs. Senser has done her worst, now let us see if she can do her best.
I do not want to hear any more of Mrs. Senser’s attorneys’ words. The family does not want to hear any more of her attorneys’ words. We are waiting to hear her words from her mouth telling us that she knows what she did. She does not have to ask us for forgiveness, we only ask that she acknowledge that actions taken by her were the direct cause of a man’s death. We do not believe that Mrs. Senser killed Anousone Phanthavong on purpose, but a jury has ruled that her actions — however unintentional — were the direct cause of his death. Can she now look us in the eye and admit to having done what she did? Will she admit that on the night of August 23, 2011, she struck and killed Anousone Phanthavong with her car? Or will she force the family and me to carry the burden of this wrongful death with us always?
On behalf of myself and Anousone’s family, we ask Mrs. Senser to let us forgive her.
It is within her power and hers alone to let us forgive her. Forgive her so that we can get on with our lives, remembering Anousone Phanthavong the man instead of lamenting Anousone Phanthavong the victim. Admit to us and this court what she has done and, in so doing, Mrs. Senser will not just free us from our grief, she will free herself and her own family from the terrible burden she carries.
Judge Mabley, please ask Mrs. Senser to do this for us, and I will pray to God for her and her family every night that she is away from them.

Anna P. Fieser
Friend of Anousone Phanthavong

As you probably know by now, Mrs. Senser was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

Just before the court session began, Mrs. Senser went up to Anousone's mother to apologize. I was out of the courtroom and did not see this, but when I came back Amy Senser was waiting for me outside of the courtroom and apologized to me as well, crying as she did so. I was shocked and walked away, then saw Anousone's mom crying.

We all entered the courtroom together and Gail Rosenblum wrote that we looked like we were there for a funeral. No one was there to celebrate. No one felt like a winner.

Justice has been done, but for the sake of her own family I pray that Amy Senser will decide later to come clean and explain what really happened that night. She is going to do the time, she might as well tell everyone why.