by Neil Crabtree
I assume you’re reading this to learn something about me, maybe gain some insight into my character, a better understanding of my behavior. That’s terrific, it really is. And certainly I can do the same for you some day. You could write something for me to read, something that tells me a little about you, how you came to be the person you are.
Tell the truth, if you can. It’s hard, harder than you think. You might want to practice with a post card or a short letter. The important thing is to understand, I will not judge you. Say anything you feel like saying. Let yourself go. Try not to think you are writing to a stranger. Think of me as just another person, not so different from yourself.
The exchange of ideas is what’s important. Do you know Cardinal Berkeley actually taught that we are all but ideas in the mind of God? Imagine that. Our lives are efforts to shake off this mortal coil and return to God, become One with that most perfect idea. How attached we become to worldly things determines the success or failure of our struggle.
Isn’t it interesting how this is similar to Eastern philosophy as well? We can see in Hindu and Buddhist writings this disenchantment with the material world, and a universal longing to return to Godhead, the Atman to some, Nothingness to others. Ideas are like souls, we might say, or are the expression of the spirit. And now you and I share ideas through this simple communiqué.
I could tell you my life story but I’m sure you are starting to cringe just reading this suggestion. A life story tells us so little about a person, don’t you think? He was born on this day, went to school, graduated, entered the military, achieved honors, went to war. This might be the life story of General Robert E. Lee, but it will not tell us why he ordered Pickett to lead his troops across an open field against a fortified Union position where they were so mercilessly slaughtered. Lee’s life story takes up several volumes, but nowhere do we learn what inspired the blunder that lost the Battle of Gettysburg. I doubt Lee himself ever knew. It just seemed like a good idea at the time: maybe God put it into his head.
Already I have given you clues to my character. I am well-read, for example. Born on such a day, went to school at such a place, etc. But that won’t tell you why I (censored). My behavior speaks volumes, in other words, while my biography does not offer the clear line from point A to point B to point X.
Our histories are actually a prolonged series of isolated incidents, you see. We are the ideas that bind the incidents together. Today I am a (censored), but for sixty years before that I never did anything of the sort. The isolated incident of the (censored) now defines me to you. Not to me, though. To me, I am the Idea begun years ago, still developing itself every waking moment. To me, the (censored) is fifteen minutes out of thousands and thousands of minutes, an experience that brought its own truth, and consequences, but finished nothing. The Idea of Me is strong and well, undiminished.
I go on, in different living circumstances, but not really that much worse off than before. I am more haunted by harsh words to my mother forty years ago than I am by my defining moment. I did not need to hurt the dear woman’s feelings; my vanity got the best of me. (Censored) had to be done, and many knew it beside myself. I only acted when no one else stepped forward.
That’s how it is. There are always plenty of people rushing to do the wrong thing. When it comes to doing the right thing, though, it will always come down to you and you alone. Look around, and everybody’s gone. Your history brings you to the moment when the Idea of You is tested against every instinct that you have. Your connection to the Material world is severed; your choice is the Ideal.
Your bodily comfort you disregard as inconsequential. Safety has no value to you. The integrity of the physical bodies of Others comes under your terrible judgment, that no good ideas dwell there. You ask God to guide your hand that you might be successful. Then, after the deed is done, there is nothing more to fear ever again.
Now, in the perfect scenario, I should have been killed in the end, and God knows I commended my soul to my maker, as you hear so often. I did, I really did. To awaken in the hospital was actually a disappointment. The police, the questions, the trial. No, your honor, I am not sorry for what I have done. I am only sorry someone else didn’t do it sooner. Life imprisonment, of course, life imprisonment. Is there any circumstance where my life would not feel like an imprisonment? I joined Atman for a moment; there is no other freedom now.
What was it like, you wonder, to die for a moment? It was like not having a form, not having a mind. The only way to understand the burden a body puts on a soul is to be shed of it for one brief instant. The only relief from reason and logic is to feel Logos itself. But this tells you nothing. Nothing. Someday you will understand Nothing as I understand it and in that moment you will know me. We will share an idea that precedes us both. For now, you must trust me, and educate yourself as best you can.
In the meantime, read my words and form an opinion. Is this man evil? Is he insane? Or is he a good man pushed to action by relentless circumstance? I have read the stories. We read all the time here in the Detention Center. I work in the Law Library, processing Mitigation of Sentence pleas for uneducated black men who protect me from the Aryan Brotherhood.
I’m called Pops, and the name suits me, a new identity for a new environment. We play chess in our free time. There are some very strong players here, you’d be surprised. Drop a pawn and you are dead meat, is the saying. Of course, that attitude makes players chase piece advantages when they should be watching out for mating attacks. My favorite openings are the Benoni, and the Sicilian, the Dragon Variation with both bishops fianchettoed. These offer relief from the boring Pawn to King Four openings the men have played for years.
The library here is decent. From my little office I send out requests for donations to the campus libraries around the state. Each week a new box arrives. The guards help themselves first but we still get the majority.
I appreciate your interest. Write me when you can. Please, drop this crusade. I received a fair and just punishment. We work our whole lives to arrive at this point, where there are no bills to pay, no car to drive, no job to go to, no house to paint. No decisions to be made. I have no responsibility now, even for myself.
Sometimes it bothers me to be here safe and protected while others less fortunate are still out there in the hard, cruel world. There are plenty of folks out there who would benefit from a secure and regimented environment, not just bad guys.
Let me know if you want to continue this dialogue. I will understand if things in your own life prevent our exchange of ideas. In the meantime, I am thankful for your effort, and for the opportunity to reconnect with the world. If you have any extra books, send them here care of The Law Library. Tell your friends to do the same.
Copyright © 2008 by Neil Crabtree