An Hasidic high school student in Brooklyn, New York wrote a clever verse that made its way behind These Stone Walls. The worst day ever is a matter of perspective.
In the United States, the first Monday of September is Labor Day, the last long weekend of summer. It’s a time for picnics, barbecues, and visits to the ocean, and best of all it’s a Monday holiday from work. In a United States prison, however, Labor Day is more like “Labored Day” – three of them in a row and sometimes stretching into four.
During “Labored Day” weekend in prison, everything and anything that would get us out of these tomb-like cells is closed. No classes, no library, no work, no recreation or chapel programs, just day after day locked in. The prison ball field, the sole chance to get outdoors that I wrote about in “At Play in the Field of the Lord” is reduced to a locked door in the prison wall that I can only stare at with longing through a barred cell window.
And to make matters worse, there’s been a steamy heat wave nagging at the Northeast for several weeks with high humidity and temperatures rising into the 90s. There is no air conditioning in most American prisons, but we can purchase a small, 8-inch fan at grossly inflated prices to push the hot air around. This cell, on the ground floor of a bare, cinder block prison building, faces due west so we are in direct sun from noon until after 6:00 PM. We cannot cover the cell window at all so there is a greenhouse effect. By mid-afternoon, our abode is baking
These cells also each have only one electrical outlet with two plugs per person. So typing anything means unplugging my fan. It’s unplugged right now, and after this one page I am already dripping onto the keys. That’s probably more information than you wanted, but you get the point. It’s hot in here.
At the end of my recent post, “For Divine Mercy, Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make,” a reader posted a comment alluding that I have “some health issues that are not being dealt with.” This sparked messages and letters from readers who want to know what this is about. It’s really nothing. Over the last few months, I’ve had a few bouts of biliary colic caused by gall stones lodged in my biliary duct. Those who have had such attacks know how painful they are. The severe pain is actually a good sign. It means that the muscles around the gallbladder and liver are trying to propel the stone through the duct into the small intestine. So the excruciating pain is actually just evidence that my system isn’t taking this assault lying down.
Each attack has lasted three days, and at one point during the last one, I actually thought my gallbladder might burst. Being sick in prison is a matter of timing. This prison has sick call for 1,500 prisoners at 7:00 AM on Monday through Friday. Each of my three attacks began on a Friday after sick call so I had to wait until Monday to get medical attention – unless there is an emergency and gall stones do not qualify as one. Besides, I have a high pain tolerance and have a hard time looking as though I’m in agony even when I am. I almost just wrote that it’s “a guy thing,” but that would be really stupid.
After days of sleepless suffering, I endured one long, awful wave of pain very early Monday morning – and then nothing. No pain at all. Just gone! So by the time I got to sick call, then stood for two hours waiting to be seen, the crisis had passed until the next assault.
Even though I could not stand or sit upright for three days, I actually wrote a TSW post during the last and worst attack. I won’t tell you which post it was because then you might want to go read it again to see if I write any differently when I’m in pain. I’m afraid you’ll tell me that the post was better than my usual.
OBAMACARE AND KLINGONS
After this last attack, I was told that I would be sent some medication that might help. I awaited it all day, then that evening I was called to pick up meds: a small vial of “Tums.” It seems Obamacare has found its way into U.S. prisons!
The Tums didn’t help, of course. I was, however, given an appointment to see a nurse practitioner later that same day. I showed up to learn that it was cancelled and postponed to two weeks later. Then it was cancelled again, postponed to a month later, then postponed again, then again. Then finally the consult took place on August 14, the Feast of St Maximilian Kolbe, for my follow-up visit to a sick call visit that took place on August 29. Then the paperwork was finally filed for an ultrasound which might be weeks or months away. I can’t say I look forward to it. I wrote of the last time I was taken out of the prison for a medical procedure in “Naked in the Public Square” which is sort of funny, and worth a visit.
When I related all this to a friend, she told me that her own experience with medical care in the free world it was not a whole lot better, or faster. So enough whining already! The “health issue” isn’t even worthy of a blog post. I am otherwise in good heath given 21 years in prison, and I can still count on one hand the number of times I’ve attended sick call. I usually wait until I see a light at the end of a tunnel and find myself walking toward it before I seek medical attention here.
After last week’s remarks about aliens in “Are We Alone?” there is a slight possibility I might be beamed aboard a Klingon Battle Cruiser to explain myself. Barring that, I have no plan to leave this planet anytime soon. So no worries! I’m still sticking with my admittedly pessimistic view on alien visitors that might have saved Yuri Milner $100 million dollars had he heard it and heeded it:
“The real proof of intelligent life in the universe is that they don’t come here!”
I’m sorry to sound so pessimistic, but it’s hot, and I’m cranky and I don’t want to write this post. But while typing this lament to bad days and tummy pains, our friend Robert Sturk handed me a sheet of paper with a remarkable piece of writing.
Ms. Chanie Gorkin is a member of the Hasidic Community of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York and an 11th grade student at the Lubavitch Beth Rivka High School. For an assignment Chanie wrote a verse entitled “Worst Day Ever?” She posted it at Poetry Nation, then it appeared on the wall of a London tavern, from where it made its way onto Twitter. Then it traversed the globe. It’s an ode to pessimism, but like its author, and maybe even like this post, there’s more to it than meets the eye:
“Worst Day Ever?” by Chanie Gorkin
Today was the absolute worst day ever
And don’t try to convince me that
There’s something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
The world is a pretty evil place.
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and Happiness don’t last.
And it’s not true that
It’s all in the mind and heart
True happiness can be attained
Only if one’s surroundings are good
It’s not true that good exists
I’m sure that you can agree that
It’s all beyond my control.
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say
Today was a very good day.
Now read it again, but this time read it from the bottom up.
Thank you, Chanie, for helping us see that the worst days ever are a matter of perspective. And for you readers who endure our “worst days ever” with us, both Pornchai Maximilian and I offer this coming weekend locked in for you, and for that reason alone we no longer dread it.
These days will not be spent in vain. I am working on These Stone Walls Fifth Annual Stuck Inside Literary Award for posting here next week, and I think it may be somewhat of a surprise.
Meanwhile, thanks for laboring with us. If you share this post, also please do me the favor of sharing “Mercy to the Max” again as well. Some very important things are at work in the background of our lives – some we can see and some we cannot yet see, but only dream of. I know that we are traveling toward a destiny, toward the Best Day Ever! Divine Mercy is ever between the lines, and in the details of our dreams.