They haven’t come yet, but I know they will. For days now I’ve anxiously awaited their arrival, each day just as today, arising early and making myself a cup of coffee and patiently listening. As I slowly sip the warm dark but sweetened liquid my mind wanders away from where I am, just aimlessly drifting through the now fading memories of a life that once was. The quiet of these early morning hours is comforting and I find my strength in these stolen moments of time before the world around me comes to life and my momentary solitude is invaded by the chaos that this world is.
As I stand to stretch my eyes catch that plastic mirror that now hangs from the narrow steel beam that separates the wall of bars from the door of my cage. It’s familiar sight, as countless times have I looked within myself through that simple reflection and through that reflection confronted my inner self and the truths that only too often are only too elusive. The man in the mirror is not a stranger and yet I continue to discover new unpeeled layers of that familiar reflection, and the man I am within.
But at this moment, it’s not about the mirror, but what hangs just beneath that mirror that causes me to pause and reflect. It is a message, perhaps even a mantra, that I long ago wrote to myself, and although I have read it countless times, each time those few words put my world into perspective.
“I’ve been through the dark side of hell and back again,
I’ve journeyed through life with nary a friend,
I’ve laughed and I’ve cried; I’ve lived and I’ve died
And each day I am condemned to do it again and again!”
It has now been over two decades since I wrote those words to myself not long after coming within hours of my own execution. The words came so easily as if inspired by something greater within me. I doubt many could truly understand what those words mean, but I didn’t write them for anyone but myself and I know what they mean, and to me those words are a source of strength, not despair.
Through the many years friends have come and gone and although I am truly blessed by a handful of friends who have faithfully stood by my side even during the darkest days, at the end of each day I still go to sleep alone and at the beginning of every new day I still wake alone. In the endless hours between, I remain in my solitaire cage – alone when I laugh, I laugh alone, and when I cry, I cry alone. If this life I live could be called living, then I live alone and when my final hour comes, I know I will die alone.
To say that I have journeyed through life with nary a friend is not to say that I have never been blessed by friendship, but only that at the end of the day they live in their world and I live in mine. No matter how much we both might try to meet in the middle and find that common ground we can walk together, it is like an eagle soaring in the skies above, looking down and longing to swim with the fish below…we are of two different worlds.
Inevitably the friends drift away, even the very best of friends as that’s just how it is when the months pass on to years and the years pass on to decades. I’ve come to accept that and choose to enjoy the time we can share together. My fate is not their fault and I am truly blessed by those who can reach out as they become a source of strength even if only in passing.
I now smile when each will ask that same question. Those of the real world will always ask of those of us in this world… “How do you survive and even stay sane after so many, many years in solitary confinement, condemned to death?” Some will go a step further and express their admiration for my strength and perseverance. But if only they knew what a coward I am as I did not survive over a quarter of century in a cold and solitary cage because of my own strength – I only wish I had the strength to end this eternal nightmare long ago, but I know that I do not.
No, I deserve no credit as I know only too well that the only reason I have survived is because I didn’t have a choice. All I can do each day for an infinite number of never ending days is remind myself that each day is only one day and no matter what might happen in that one day, it will pass and tomorrow I will awake to yet another new day and it too will pass, again and again.
But then there are those days such as today as finally I can hear them somewhere off in the distance, slowly, but methodically moving my way. My coffee cup is now empty and anxiously I stand at the front of my cell door straining to catch that first glimpse of them coming around the far end of the wing. They are getting closer, the distant hum now becoming a more distinct sound not unlike that of a squadron of kamikazes descending upon Pearl Harbor – only I know they are coming and I await them.
Then I see them coming around the corner towards my area, about eight wide in almost perfect formation. They are still a few hundred feet out but closing in quickly. I close my eyes and just stand there breathing and breathing until I can begin to smell them…first the overpowering stench of their exhaust, that aroma of oil mixed with gasoline that almost overpowers the now drowning wound of the formation of mowers moving across that narrow strip of grass between the wing I’m on and the next wing over and just as quickly as they come, they are already past and moving on beyond the far corner towards the next strip of grass, but I am thankful that the noise is now fading away as it’s not the noise that I enjoy.
Breathing slowly and deeply, I now find my moment that I awaited as the first scent of that freshly cut grass finally reaches me. It’s funny how such a simple smell can so easily transport both body and mind far beyond this solitary cage, yet in that moment I can imagine myself back out in the real world, lying there in that freshly cut grass. Although it has not been almost 30 years since I have touched a blade of grass, in that moment I am free from the steel and stone that has entombed my body but not my mind.
It is in that moment that I find the answer to that inevitable question of how I survived so long in a solitary cage as for that one passing moment I am again free and even once passes, I am reminded that no matter how much steel and stone man can build up around my body, they can never imprison my spirit and it is that moment that no matter how alone I might feel, I am one with the world again.