So, what is it?
What is it that makes you get out of bed in the morning? What gives you the drive to keep going and what helps you get up even when you think that you can’t stand?
What is it?
See, I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been thinking about this thing we call drive and the way it somehow pushes me, even when I want to quit. I might scream and I might complain or bellyache but in the end, I get up and I go. I do this everyday.
Perhaps I have shared the story about the inmate from Alcatraz with you before. And if I have, please allow me to share this story again for the both of us.
One of the oldest surviving inmates from Alcatraz spoke about his time in “The Hole.” They called this place “The Hole” because there was literally a hole in the floor. The hole in the floor is where people relieved themselves so; of course, the smell in this room was unimaginable and ungodly. The cells were dark and pitch black. There was no light and no concept of sound or time. This was solitary confinement to the worst degree—and yet, somehow, you had to endure. You had to find a way to manage the timelessness of time. You had to manage and keep it together in the worst place with the worst smells, roaches, rats and only God knows what else was in there.
The inmate would describe his time and how he would occupy his mind. He explained that upon entry, he would sink to his knees. Then he would remove one of the shirt buttons on his prison uniform and place it on his thumbnail. Next, the inmate would toss the button up in the air and wait for it to fall. After this, the inmate would crawl through the unknown filth and muck on the floor. He would scour the floor with his hands, feeling through rat shit and slop until he found his button—and then once he found it; the inmate would repeat the process. Perhaps I am paraphrasing but the inmate explained, “They took my time. They took my space. They even took light away and they took my freedom from me but I would not let them take my mind.”
His way to endure was to keep his mind active. He found a focus, which did not cure him of his surroundings. This did not take away the stench of the hole in his cell nor did his search for the button relieve him of the physical discomforts—but no matter how dark, tragic or painfully disgusting; still, he would not give away his mind because this was his only sense of freedom.
I am someone who is under the authority of others. I have supervisors. I have bosses. I have figureheads and people to answer to. I have people who will play the game but they won’t play fairly. I have to endure sometimes. I have to grin and bear it. There are days when it seems the opposition is simply too much. I fall and I hurt. And most of all; I am human, I am a person. I am a part of this world and yet, even still, no matter what happens to me in this life; I have to find a way to crawl through the filth and the muck. I cannot give my mind away because this is my freedom.
There was a time when I was in a bunkhouse. The alarm would ring before sunrise and the entire bunk had 20 seconds to jump out of bed, make their bunk and be off to their first job in the morning. There was no time to think or complain. There was no snooze button nor was there any tolerance for slow-risers. Each morning, it was “Get up, and go!” Otherwise, there was a dorm leader shouting at you to, “Move! Move! Move!”
This was not the military nor was this an environment of a typical bunkhouse. This was a farm that I lived on, years ago. This is also a place that I hope to recreate someday; only, the rules would be different. Back then, there was no time to think or consider anything else. There was only movement. There was no choice—and, if for some reason the bunks were late, there was no breakfast. Not even coffee. This meant there was no food until lunch.
Whether this theory was positive or negative; I made sure to get out of my bunk in the morning and be at breakfast on time. My motivation was clear. I did not like waking up early. I did not like the bunk manager chasing after me to “Move! Move! Move!” but still, there was motivation to achieve—or else, I’d have to deal with the bunkhouse and how the rest of us would miss out on breakfast because I moved too slowly.
So what was my prime motivator?
Was it the fear of shame? Was it the fear of retaliation?
Was it the fear of an entire bunkhouse looking to tear my head off because I made them all miss breakfast? Meanwhile, the day was still ahead of us. This meant empty stomach or not; the work was not going to be easy. The barn boss was not going to be gentle just because we had a bad morning—so, if I started a bad day for the others, was it this fear that motivated me to get up and get moving?
The answer is yes to all of the above.
To avoid this dilemma, I jumped down from the top bunk, every morning. I had my bed made within 20 seconds. I rushed off to my first morning job before taking a shower that could not go longer than two minutes. That’s right, two minute showers. “It should take you no longer than two minutes to wash your body, be out of the shower and dried off within two minutes!” “Now, hurry up in there! Move! Move! Move!”
So what is it now?
Well, I don’t live in a bunkhouse anymore. I still wake up before the sunrise. There are times when I move slowly, but yet, there is no dorm leader screaming at me to get out of bed or “Move! Move! Move!” I do not always enjoy my surroundings. I do not always like the people I meet throughout the day. I have my share of complications and daily challenges. And figuratively speaking, I have my doubts and fears and my insecurities, which is no different from my personal isolation or solitary confinement.
My goals in life has to be simplified to this:
My job is to find my button.
My job is to maintain my mind to the best of my ability because there will be days when I lose time. There will be times when I lose space and there will be times when I am in the dark. God knows that there are places that will not smell pretty. We all know there are people who do not smell pretty either. But through the muck and filth; and through the hardships and travesties, no matter what happens, I cannot forfeit my mind.
Maybe the reason I keep going is because I was told that I would never make it. Maybe I get up because I was told that I was only meant to fail. Maybe this is because I was called stupid. Maybe I keep going because I was given labels and to dispute them, I get out of bed because there are people who told me that I would always quit or that I would die alone. There are people who told me I would never be anything more than the so-called animal I used to be. And who even knows if I was an animal?
Maybe I get up because I do not want to be the person I believed I was. Or, maybe I want to taste the victory of surpassing my own limitations. Maybe this is more than proving people wrong about me. Maybe this is my only way to find my button and somehow, like the inmate in “The Hole,” I understand that regardless of my pain or my surroundings, I have to keep my mind intact . . .
So I can be free.
Maybe this is why I keep writing to you. Maybe this is the only way I can keep us alive, you and me, and so I write.
I take notes. I reach out to you ever morning around this same time because this is my button. This is all I have and yet, this is everything to me. You are everything to me. And I can’t give this up (or you) because if I do, then what?
To be honest, I’m afraid of the dark, which is why I close my eyes.
This way, I can still see you . . .
. . . and know that will be okay.
So why do I do it?
I do it because of you.
Dear Mr. Mirror;
Thank you for showing me who I am.