I stayed up the other night with Inside Out,* a spiritual manual for prison life. Reading it, I felt compassion for those on the inside, then for myself, prisoner of myself.
There are many prisons — illness, poverty, insanity. Life itself. We create our own realities; if we bleed for one another, so must we laugh. But it’s no less the prison for our having laid the brick.
“If you think you’re free,” says Ram Dass, “there’s no escape possible.” Yet how we insist on our freedom, our independence from family, nation, history, nature, God. Political freedom. Sexual freedom. Now, Carter and Ford arguing over who can make us more free.
How much more free I was before I was a parent. Free to measure myself against the highway and the night, instead of a diaper to be changed. Who understands but a parent, asked my parents, and theirs before them, and shall my daughter not judge me, when I say it, for a fool?
And if my wife knows me for a bigger fool, what shall I do, where shall I go? One room to the next? Is marriage a truth a fool can understand? We bite as hard as we kiss. Is that the price of freedom? The freedom to love is awesome, after all. There is no escape from it. Pacing the cell, or striding across the cosmos, we never leave ourselves behind.
I thought I’d left America behind. Shall I say foolishly, I’ve returned? That politics, and all the wrinkles and rot and foul atmospheres of State, are less damnable? That Carter, for all his sharp edge and false sweet, is my man?
Great, clumsy bird of a nation. Irresistible eagle. Small town vulture. Wings lumpy from ten thousand mendings. Beak scarred from pecking at the thought of self. Time a worm. Space the suit you wear, in the cage and out — am I married the less to you? Is there an escape from our destiny? A height beyond this?
I believe in the air once promised. Space itself the banner, and hope the pole. Run it up, my President. My Killer. My Wife. I get discouraged, and need a sign. Married to these pages, the cycles of deadline, and hustle, and exasperation — a living, barely; a life, on and off. Being my own boss is a kind of freedom — but it’s 4 a.m. and if I weren’t so free, I’d be sleeping.
Suffering our freedom is the summons. When cells assert their freedom, declare their independence from the body as a whole, we call it cancer. It kills one of every three of us; there is no escape. Foreign travel. Affairs. The New Spirituality. A patch of sky through the window. Fingering the bars, thinking love’s no bargain, even if it’s free. Who can afford not to?
*Inside Out, A Spiritual Manual for Prison Life, Hanuman Foundation, 276 Riverside Drive, N.Y. 10025, 1976.