It took being locked away from the world, hidden behind four concrete walls, to be able to finally see things clearly.
Now… why in the world would I start out a blog about THANKSGIVING, with a statement like that? I mean, how is this random quote relevant to this wonderful holiday where we get together with our families each November to celebrate and give thanks? To be honest, this statement on it’s own probably has very little to zero meaning for most of us. However, once I tell you this short story that I’m about to tell you, and give you the opportunity to look at life from a very different perspective, I believe that this statement will take on a very powerful meaning. A meaning that every single one of us can certainly learn from – and maybe more importantly, use as everyday inspiration.
A couple years ago I was watching a documentary about a man who was serving a life sentence in a United States Penitentiary. I don’t remember exactly what the man was in prison for, but what I do remember, is that as the cameras rolled it became disturbingly apparent to me how dreadful this forgotten man’s existence truly was. Now as I watched this documentary unfold, I understood that this was not an innocent man, and that his miserable life in prison had been thrust upon him as a result of his own bad decisions. He did not deny his guilt, and due to his criminal acts on the street, his punishment surely seemed just – but even still – as I continued watching, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sympathy for this man. His days consisted of being locked up in a narrow cage – made up of steel bars and concrete walls – for 23 hours a day, with zero contact with the outside world. The only time he ever left his cell was for one hour of exercise each day, where he would aimlessly roam around a concrete yard (reminiscent of the yard in Alcatraz) surrounded by giant walls way too high to even attempt seeing over. The man had no living family – no children, no wife, no mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle or friend on the outside to call, write, or receive a visit from. Inside his cell, he had very little to occupy his mind with. Aside from his minimal toiletries, he had nothing more than a pencil, some paper, and a couple of books. I can remember trying to put myself in this man’s shoes. To me, it sadly seemed like his life was comparable to being buried alive in a grim, dark grave, just slowly waiting to die. He had no joy, he had no hope, he had no love… he had nothing to look forward to, nothing to strive for, nothing to be happy about… he had no place to go, no way to escape, and no break from the daily torment. His life was truly a living hell, and I don’t know how any human being could survive such harsh conditions. Can you imagine waking up everyday from an agonizing nightmare, and then being forced to come to grips with the fact that that very nightmare, is in actuality your real life?? I know that I for one can’t even imagine it – nor would I ever want to.
So as I continued watching this depressing documentary, I was nearly ready to turn the channel when suddenly the interview portion of the show started up. The individual filming the show asked this incarcerated man a wide variety of questions, mostly about his former life on the street, and the crime that had landed him in prison. Although I don’t have much recollection of the answers the man gave, what I do remember very clearly is the tone in which the man gave them. Instead of speaking in a hopeless tone, he spoke in a very upbeat manner. He surprisingly spoke in a very congenial, likeable way. His demeanor also came across as very positive and upbeat. Certainly not what you would expect from a man living under the circumstances he was forced to live under. His eyes looked like the eyes of a man at peace, instead of looking like the eyes of a beaten down soul – the way that you might expect them to look. His personality was friendly and cheerful – not dead and dreadful, the way you might expect. His optimistic conduct was shocking to say the least, and the individual filming, took notice. After hitting the man with a barrage of various questions, finally the interviewer paused for a moment – taken back by this man’s positive vibe. Then in a very surprising and curious tone, the interviewer said to the man… “You seem to be at peace. Are you actually happy?” Then in a moment that I’ll never forget, the lowly man stares deeply into the interviewers eyes with a big smile and says… “Of course I’m happy. I have my health… I have my bible… and I know God loves me. I’m very blessed and thankful to have those things. What more could I ask for?” How amazing is that?? This takes us back to the first statement I made up at the top of the blog. Although it wasn’t a direct quote, throughout the rest of the interview this man discussed how it was the humbling experience of going to prison that truly opened his mind and his heart – so he could finally see clearly – and now for the first time in his life, he was truly thankful.
I’m not ashamed to say that this man’s response brought a tear to my eye. Here I go through my life always focusing on what I don’t have – whether it’s material things, talents, or money. I’m very often consumed by the negative, and I forget to focus on the many positives. So after watching that documentary, I made a vow to myself, that I would make a consistent effort to try and remain thankful everyday for all of my incredible blessings. If this poor man, who lives in a cage everyday of his life, without friends, without family, without any material things, and without the daily freedoms that I take for granted, can be happy and be at peace in his life – then I certainly can be happy and be at peace with mine.
So today, on this day we set aside to give thanks, I want to wish you all a very special holiday. May we all remain thankful for all of our many wonderful blessings – and remember to focus on what we have, instead of what we don’t. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!