What if you were locked up for twenty-seven years?
I am listening to the radio, and a man is talking about his advocacy for prisoners in solitary confinement. He receives, he says, fifty letters a day from men in solitary. He reads from several letters.
The one that has my jaw hanging slack comes from a man locked up with no human contact for twenty-seven years. He asks for a picture—and the man says, He doesn’t ask for a picture of something big and remarkable, like the Acropolis. He wants a picture of a hometown street. That’s all. He doesn’t know what life looks like anymore, and he just wants to see Main Street anytown.
Suddenly I start looking around. I am in my car. There is a CVS and a Dunkin Donuts and Jiffy Cleaners. A man on a bicycle waits for the light to change. A light mist clouds the windshield and the wipers clunk once and back again and everything is clear.
I mumble some words I know of Wendell Berry–
what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven [or some Acropolis], but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
For some reason I have to receive a letter from a man locked in a concrete box for twenty-seven years in order to quiet my heart and clear my eye.