ESSAY

Week 1

I Watched a Man Die Today

by Mike, CLF Member incarcerated in Kentucky

I watched a man die today. This day, like all others, he awoke, ate breakfast, and thought gloomy thoughts of the dreary day ahead. Infirm with age, he was hobbling along with his cane as he went to the commissary window to buy a few snacks for the long, lonely, hungry hours to come. Maybe he felt an odd premonition at the window, for stepping backward, he bumped directly into Death.

I watched his rheumy blue eyes, wide with surprise, grow lifeless as the purple blanket of eternity spread itself over his face. Then men who care nothing for any of us were inconveniently compelled to do the nearly impossible—to try to restart the worn-out engine of life, now suddenly silent in his chest. They failed.

May his passing out of this life be easy for him, accompanied by visions of happier times. May he be oblivious to his death. May he be reborn into a more favorable life. May the same be true for all of us.

As I contemplate the continual process of change and of impermanence that are marked by a man’s death, it occurs to me that restoration of a heartbeat shouldn’t be more difficult than the restoration of a human heart. People will work tirelessly to restore a heartbeat for a stranger, but shouldn’t we all work just as diligently to restore a “heart” for others? Perhaps even our own heart. Should we not work for restoration of hearts that are broken? Restoration for the lost and lonely and misguided in our world?

If the hearts of all people were restored to a state of compassion and kindness, what would our world look like? Almost everyone feels compassion for a sick child or an injured animal. So why don’t we feel the same way for others who are broken, lost and lonely? Why not for the prisoners, the addicts, the confused teenagers or the other down-trodden people all around us?

I believe that in every human heart, from the bitterest to the softest and most mirthful, there is a capacity for genuine kindness and compassion. Somehow, somewhere, something has buried that innate ability in too many people.

Whether we realize it or not, we all need restoration. Restoration of our heart’s deep compassion. Restoration of our faith in basic human goodness. Restoration of our sense of connection with one another and with all people. We need restoration of our genuine “heart” in order to continue, or even to begin, living our lives with real depth and fulfillment.