Tuesday, June 28, 2011

“the things they carried”

This may sound crazy…but it was easier doing time when I had hundreds of days to go – with so many to do, you just do the days without paying them much mind and magically they dwindle away.  Now that I have well below 30 days, unconsciously I awake each morning automatically knowing exactly how many I have left to pull.

Today I have 14 to go.

Yesterday was 15.

Sunday was 16…

and tomorrow will be 13.

However hard I try to just “do the days,” I cannot.  Like a soldier at war on foreign soil waiting to return home, leaving this place is foremost on my mind.  I am neither overly anxious or scared, merely conscious.  A glimpse of freedom and taste of hope tend to awaken a man.

My current insight and attention of this fact was recently augmented by a book about war I read titled The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

(A small disclaimer: if your eyes/ears are easily offended by the profane language that war tends to produce – a lot like prison – then I suggest you not pick up this read.)

O’Brien served in the US Army during one of our nation’s most confusing wars – Vietnam.  The Things They Carried is a clever piece of work; although O’Brien claims that it is fiction, he writes from a personal point of view about himself and the cast of soldiers he served with in such a way that it keeps you pinging back and forth in your mind trying to determine where the fiction ends and the real begins.  He purposely intended it to be this way.

O’Brien starts his work by describing what the typical ground-pounding grunt soldier during the Vietnam War would carry on his person.  He carefully details the basic government issued (GI) tools of war and then fashions each uniquely individual character by describing the personal items that the soldier carried amongst his belongings and how they were significant to him.  All of this is a simple setup.  The heart of the book revolves around war and how, if never experienced, one can never fully grasp the intricate details of the total experience.  Sure, you can hear and understand to a certain extent about war, but the bond that is forged from war comes only to those who lived within the belly of the beast.

My greatest take away from the book was how the emotional experience of war has a tendency to make a man more conscious of life, himself and what is really of value to him.  O’Brien does a fascinating job describing the emotions that are attached to battle, while at the same time he makes you astutely aware that in reality unless you’ve been there, you’re really just a bystander formulating meager emotions from someone elses experience.  There is a bond, an emotional bond, that comes from battle - an unspoken understanding amongst survivors that weaves a common thread through their lives, forever meshing them together.  I now understand better why there are organizations like the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW).  They need each other.

So what’s my point?

Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe not, I haven’t blogged much lately.  Take note:  I didn’t say “written much lately.”  I’ve written plenty, just not posted.  I can’t count the times that I’ve picked up the pen to chronicle some event that has happened in here, trying my best to cleverly expound on what goes on behind these bars and fences.  I laid the pen down.  Unlike O’Brien, I’m not that good of a writer.

Many things happen in here that should not.  There is also a great deal of interaction that is petty but made a big deal.  This world is a world within itself – a subculture – a world stripped of outside stimuli, which on the outside shoulders a lot of the blame for our self-centered induced strife.  The fact is the lack of stimuli has nothing to do with the chaotic unrest.  We, the people, the person, are the problem!  Just because this place is stripped of outside stimuli doesn’t immunize it from “self.”  

 Therein lies the conflict – the battle – people and their innate lust to serve self first.

For the lot, doing time is merely paying one’s debt to society.  But my mind and my faith will not allow me to make it that simple – I must take something positive away from this battle.  That’s why I’ve wrestled so much with what to write, and why I haven’t written as of late.  I want to write – I’ve tried to – but for some reason I cannot.

A friend of mine, Dave, who has visited me from time to time since I’ve been on the inside, recently helped me process my dilemma.  Dave helped me to realize that perhaps all that has gone down in here is not to write about now.  Perhaps it’s to be stored away as experience to extract for some other point and time.  That clicked with me – it made sense and took away the undue pressure I’d mounted on myself to write now.  Besides, O’Brien didn’t write about what went on in the jungles of Vietnam in real time; it was years until he set meaning to a lot of the senseless acts of war that he witnessed.  So with that, I’ll leave you with this – 

I am fine.

God is good!

See you on the other side.

Big love –

…from the inside…ray-ray