One day, you wake up in jail. It’s the darkest, blackest, gloomiest jail you’ve ever seen in your whole life. You can’t imagine how they built cells where no light can creep in. It’s so dark you can’t even see your feet ... or your hands ... or even the tip of your nose. The pitch-black room cuts off any chance for you to see what kind of shape you’re in. You might as well not even have a body, you think, ’cause you can’t tell if it’s even there.
You try to feel around, but your hands are chained. When you try to move your toes, they’re chained, too; so tightly, they can’t even wiggle when your brain commands them to. It’s the same way with your head and neck. They’ve got it pinioned in some sort of deadlock. Maybe you’re strait-jacketed. Or maybe they’ve drugged you up with a sedative that makes you feel limp like a bowl of mush or a wet rag. They might have given you an injection in the base of your spine, a powerful nerve block, and you’re as good as paralyzed until it wears off.
There’s really nothing to do except to wait for the effects of that stupid stuff to go away. You fight back an overwhelming surge of panic and settle down to think. You figure the best thing to do is to try and cry out for help. “Help! Let me out of here!” you scream. Your voice travels about as far as your lips and gets drowned in a silence so thick you can hear a pin drop. Must be soundproof cells. You know it’s your voice, though. You’ve known the sound of it ever since you were a little kid. Even if no one else can hear it, you do.
Solitary confinement is pretty solitary, you note. You wonder what you can do to get yourself out of your predicament. You don’t like the lonely feeling that’s settled down on your guts like a bunch of crows on a newly-seeded field. You want someone to talk to in the worst way, but there is only yourself, and you’d give your eye teeth for a way to shake off that nagging voice that says you’re never going to get out of there.
You start to think about your recent past and in a split second a couple of numbing incidents pop up. The memory of them is as perfectly clear to you as the very day they happened. You’re walking up Church Street, on your way to the music school and Fred the Panhandler hits you up for a quarter. He hits you up whenever he sees you. Never mind other people, he always seems to find you. Maybe that’s why your heart burns against him so, ’cause he always puts you on the spot. Or maybe it’s ’cause his skin is black and he’s on welfare, and the state is giving him more money for doing nothing than you get for working. Whatever reason, you tell him no, and an angry train of curses follow. You just let them fly and all your pent-up rage gets released on Fred. He’s hurt, you can tell. You know he’s taken it before, but you’ve stripped his dignity away and humiliated him in a way no human should. Your pangs of conscience at the time are washed away by a flood of reasons and the whole scene gets filed away until this day, this moment, when you’re alone with your thoughts. The pain feels so fresh and keen, you wish you could say something to make it right. But you can’t. And it simmers in your memory like a little sterno flame.
Then there’s the time you ripped off those guys in the car. This incident follows hard on the heels of what happened with Fred. You’re hitching to Hammonassett on a beautiful fall day to hike on the beach and wander around the saltwater marshes, the dunes, the old houses, and the scraggly trees. Four guys from the sub base in New London pull over and crowd in to make room for you. They’re all stoned and they’re getting even more wasted on the biggest hunk of hash you’ve ever seen in your whole life. It’s as least as big as your thumb nail and twice as thick as the end of one of your fingers. You join in, everything’s great ... then someone fumbles the piece as he shaves off some for another round. You join them in searching and you’re the first to find it on one of the mats. Almost unconsciously it slips from your fingers into the top of one of your boots.
You continue to help them look, you poke around the floor mats, you reach under the front seat, you even check the crack between the cushions. It’s not there. And when your exit comes up, you leave them at the ramp, still searching high and low for the missing hash that you know you’ll get a beating for if they ever catch on. Why you remember it today and not back then seems a little strange to you. But, you figure, it’s just another case when doper’s greed got the better of you.
It struck every time the bowl was empty or the last bit of the roach had gone out. You know the typical scene: a circle of friends, the camaraderie around the pipe, the other guys settling down in comfortable listening positions; Europe ’72 comes on. And there you are, sitting beside them with a stupid grin on your face. You want more. Of course, you want more. You’re never satisfied until you’re zonked out of your mind.
The knot tightens in your stomach. “Is that all?” you ask yourself. “Aren’t we going to do another?” You sit there for ages, trying to think up a way to hint at doing more without getting totally rejected. Finally you think of it, the perfect way to plant the suggestion. And you’re as happy inside as a little child opening Christmas presents under the tree. And yet you know you’re always stingier when it comes to doing your own stash; it’s always easier when it is someone else’s. It makes you a little hot under the collar to think about the way you were, way back then. Yet there’s nothing you can do to get rid of that memory.
What you’d do to get high! What you’d do to find dope! It was like a fever that made your eye glisten with a false lustre, your cheeks flush with deceitful color, your muscles twitch with unnatural activity, and your nerves throb with restless desire. That fever had such a grip on you, it couldn’t be quenched. You felt such a slave to it. Time and time again you tried to shake it off. But somehow you couldn’t. You always felt so empty inside and there was never anything to fill that emptiness gnawing away at your guts. Today when you think about it, it nibbles a little bit and worms away. You feel about as vital as a man who can’t shake the cold chills and the fever heat of his malaria.
There are other things popping up, in quick succession, dogging your steps like a bloodhound after an escaped criminal. Things besides dope that your heart panted after and coveted. There were your best friend’s girlfriend, another man’s wife, your buddy’s best clothes, or someone else’s car. There were jealousies and envyings and rivalries. There were rip-offs and shop-liftings and cheatings. You could stay in any one category for hours and never exhaust it. And after that, your mind flips back once again to the old thing about Fred the Panhandler and the guys with the hash. Another endless cycle begins and you play it through again like you would a Bach fugue, with a hundred or a thousand new twists to the old theme.
It’s hard to face up to some of the things you did, hard to look into the darkness all around and know that it’s penetrating into your innermost parts bit by bit. Or that it had been doing that all along for years.
And yet, you search for times when you still had some innocence left, before it slipped out of your grasp like a handful of sand through your fingers. Your eyes turn back to a time long ago, before you became cynical and unconcerned and indifferent; back before the public school system got a hold of you and regimented you into its citizenry. Lust and covetousness for the best of everything and whatever money can buy were bred into your little heart, year by year. They told you the sky was the limit to all your greedy desires. But once you started to acquire the possessions you longed for, it only bred new desires within you for more. The worm of discontent gnawed at your peace and all your unsatisfied desires tossed you to and fro like the waves of the restless sea. Your conscience continually cried out for some authority, any authority in your barren life, and inside lodged a pain of a hunger that could not find any satisfaction.
Under the pressure of work and social life and the lure of cheap pleasures, you lost the wonder of your earlier years. You could no longer appreciate a walk in a field or in the woods or by the ocean unless you had someone with you. Your intense joy at the freshness of the dawning day or the glory of the many-colored sunset wasn’t savored unless you were high. You lost your sense of wonder for the majesty of mountains and clouds, the infinity of sky and sea, the perfection of flowers or the sight of a young animal in its earliest moments. Instead, a restless desire for excitement took its place and all your purity was robbed, channeled into a lust for sports, recreation, drugs, and other pleasures. Now you can’t produce those feelings again. You are empty.
Also your friendships became more demanding and painful. To know others in a deeper way claimed your wholehearted loyalty and commitment, your watchfulness and care. Much time and effort was required to increase in them. In the end, it cut deeply at the root of your self-centered life. A lot of relationships died from neglect. The tragedy of these embittered you and when you tried again, you tried more cautiously. Next time your defenses were up and your heart stayed guarded.
In the end, your innocence was sacrificed for other goals, other pleasures, and other pursuits. All that remained was the melancholy longing for a paradise lost. A sorrow filled you and you looked at all your wasted opportunities and wondered why you lived the way you lived.
Little do you know that in the next cell over is a vet who’s playing back his whole scenario, watching it run in reverse before his eyes. He’s seeing the little zinging pieces of metal fly out of a guy’s chest and wing their way back to his rifle. The man he just shot stands up again and he and his buddies take their rifles back to camp, hand them in, and others pack them away, crate by crate. They’re all shipped back overseas by boats and planes and taken to big factories where women disassemble them.
Funny, he thinks, it’s women who are chosen to do this special, careful work. The pieces are all sent off to huge, roaring furnaces and all the little parts get melted down into one great molten mass. As it cools, railroad trains line up nearby and take the crushed ore off to the most distant parts of the country. Far away from man or beast, in lonely, remote places, men bury the trainloads far beneath the ground where no one will ever find them or use them ever again.
And all around you, for miles and miles in every direction, other men lie tucked away in the folds of darkness. Like you, their thoughts busily race over the nagging past, and their mind’s eye examines every detail of the misdeeds that brought their innocence to an end. Each knows his own agony of mind and each hears his own excuses over and over again. Each goes back through his own experience, trying to erase the effects his greed had on others. Go back through yours.
Go back to a time when the North Woods were pristine and alive, before the greed of men chopped them down and destroyed the giant trees year after year. Go back to the mountains before the miners appeared, back to a time when streams were unsluiced and valleys were lush and green. Go even further back before the plains belonged to the government. There you’ll see herds of buffalo, cropping slowly windward, great shaggy beasts darkening the plains. Ride through just one herd. It’ll take you all day to do it.
Watch oak trees shrink into acorns and wildflower seeds return on the wind to their source. Gold-seekers return East and railroads uproot track mile by mile. Ten thousand settlers all leave the newly-opened Oklahoma territory in one day. Greed runs backward and the ravaged New World springs back to newness. Millions of acres of hardwood and white pine take root again. Chestnuts and walnuts burnt for charcoal, chopped up for firewood, and laid in the mud for road beds, again sway in the wind. Golden plovers again fill the skies and passenger pigeons roost in the woods.
Go back to a land of canebrakes, bluegrass, wild grains, and salt licks. West of the Cumberlands, a thousand animals might be glimpsed there in one lucky moment. Push your way back through the mountains, back to the fertile valleys of the Mohican, Western Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Go back to a time when deer browsed on lush meadowlands in unconcerned droves, when the land was a riot of color and sound... when turkeys gobbled and squirrels barked and waterfowl took flight with thunderous wings at the approach of men ... when the skies were darkened for hours with birds and when grapes hung over the banks of rivers.
When men returned home at nightfall, their pant legs and the bellies of their horses were stained red from the scarlet beds of strawberries and ground fruits they had trampled through.
Go all the way back to when Henry Hudson’s crew on the Half Moon were disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore; when others sailing further up the coast occasionally sailed through beds of floating flowers. Verrazano smelled the cedars of the East Coast a hundred leagues out, and Raleigh’s colonists scented what they thought was a garden. The heavy odor of forests and fields greeted all who first came to the New World.
Sail back to Europe, bloodied by its wars and religions. Go back through the years to when Christianity was young. There, most of the early followers were led astray by a spiritless form of the life Yahshua led. Go back to him, the seed, the beginning of it all, the most tender, compassionate, and caring friend you could ever find. Had you been there, you would have loved him. Had you heard him, you would have listened. Had you been in jail, he would have gotten you out.
But men quickly forgot how he was and what he taught. It was too hard and they wanted something easier. So that was what they got: a religion called Jesus and no way to touch his heart. That’s what came over to the New World. It wasn’t his spirit that came. His spirit didn’t hate the Indians, or the wilderness, or the laws of his father. His spirit didn’t lead men to be greedy or selfish. And his spirit didn’t make the New World waste and void.
His spirit would never leave you alone. Or in jail. Or dead. He would give you life and take you home. His people have gone before you and made ready those homes. They are in communes. They are near.