Last night a childhood friend from the old neighborhood happened to find me on Facebook, and we had a wonderful online conversation. But soon we both got tired of typing, and I agreed to contact her by phone where the conversation continued.
It was so good to hear her voice again, to hear a familiar accent from home. We talked about our lives since we left the old neighborhood. We congratulated each other for having gotten out. We talked about our triumphs as well as our failures. In fact, the conversation was going on quite smoothly until I asked about her brother. Then she just broke down. Leave it to me to ruin a perfectly good conversation.
But how was I to know that he had been incarcerated since 1985? How was I to know that soon after I left, he became so addicted to drugs that his own family could not recognize the person he had become? How was I to know that he was said to have shot and killed a state trooper while fleeing from a botched robbery attempt in Mississippi no less? That he was so high during the robbery and the subsequent chase that he did not even know if he was the actual trigger man or not? That he did not even remember the actual robbery? How was I to know that he ended up getting life in prison with no chance for parole?
After I hung up the phone, I sat and pondered that for a moment. Life. Without any chance of seeing the outside. Ever. And he was the same age as I.
I thought about all I have done since 1985. Since that time I have gotten married, divorced, and remarried. Since that time I have done a stint in the military and completed college and grad school. Since that time I have traveled all over the world. Since that time I have watched one set of children grow to adulthood, another set of children reach their teens, and buried another child. Since that time, my life has been a mixture of both highs and lows, but the highs have vastly outnumbered the lows.
But he will not get to experience any of that. He will spend the rest of his life paying for the actions he took during one moment in time. That is a hard price to pay.
And then I realized how blessed I really was. I realized how easily it could have been me and not him. And at once I am thankful. I am thankful for the good as well as the bad. I am thankful for growing up in a home with both my parents. I am thankful for the care and input of my extended family—my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and a host of relatives who were not kin by blood, but who saw to it during my childhood that I walked the straight and narrow.
To that end, I would like to leave you with a poem I wrote when I was a freshman in college. I am by no means a poet, but somehow I won some prize for it. I don’t remember what contest or even what I won. But please share in my thanksgiving despite its many flaws.
Simply Because I’m Blessed
By Max Reddick
I got up early this morning. Perhaps too early.
I was tired; it seems I just don’t have enough time to rest
But I did wake up
And I smiled
Because I was blessed
And as usual, my old car didn’t want to start this morning
The air is out. The radio don’t work, I can go only so fast
But I’m riding when I could be walking
So I have to smile
Because I am blessed
I worked my ass off all day today
Too hard, for too little pay
My boss cussed me out before I could get clocked in good,
And my co-workers talked about me like a dog behind my back
But, you know, at least I was working
So, beside it all, I smiled
Because I’m blessed
I pulled into the driveway and took a good look at my home
It weren’t no mansion
Looked like I could count the blades of grass in the yard
And if you looked real hard
It looked like the whole thing was leaning to one side
But inside it was toasty and warm
And there were people there who loved me,
And I loved them
And I could be sleeping somewhere under a freeway in a cardboard box
So I had to smile
Because I’m blessed
Before I lay down to sleep
I stood before the mirror
And looked at the image looking back at me
My hair wasn’t as thick as it used to be
I could even spot a gray hair here and there
My stomach hung way over my belt
And I looked way too old for my years.
I wasn’t the rich young tycoon of my dreams
But I was here. I was alive. And I was happy
I was sane, and I wasn’t in nobody’s jail
I had all my senses still intact
So I just had to smile
Simply because I’m blessed