by Troy Chapman
It’s a Sunday morning and the prison is quiet. Even the gulls, which are usually staging riots outside my window at this time of day, seem to be off somewhere else — seagull church, maybe. It’s rare to hear nothing here, even for short periods of time.
Me and my bunkie Steve just had BBQ tuna crackers for breakfast. This is a recipe from our neighbor, Scott. A pouch of tuna, salad dressing, BBQ sauce, crushed BBQ corn chips (which are so hot you can’t eat them any other way) and maybe some pickle all chopped up in a bowl together and served on crackers. Mmm, mmm, as Grandpa Jones would say. Actually, it’s not too bad and the whole thing only costs about two dollars and feeds two (lightly).
Seagulls are probably not the first thing you think of when you think about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but, at least in this area, we have tons of them. They’re ringbills from the nearby lakes. During the spring/summer/fall months we have huge flocks of them here at the prison. They come for the garbage (and the guys who can’t resist feeding them even though it’s against the rules). They’re loud and obnoxious but I don’t mind them. Some people hate them because they’re so loud, which always makes me smile, considering how much a group of them squawking sounds like one of our overcrowded dayrooms, especially on sports night.
Anyway, they disappear in winter but I think I read that they don’t migrate south. They just go to islands in the lakes — although I don’t know why that would be better than here. Maybe it’s just too much trouble to fly to the prison in winter because most of the food is buried in snow. I need to read up on them to find out what they’re up to. They might be plotting to overthrow the human government for all I know and probably ought to be looked into.
“It is every man’s duty to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” —Albert Einstein.
What a powerful sentiment. At first, it looks like a simple calculation — instead of thinking solely about what we can get, we ought to think about giving something back. But that’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying we have the duty to put back at least the equivalent of what we take.
What have I taken from the world? Here’s another way to ask that question: What did I bring here with me? Since that answer to that is “nothing,” the answer to the question of what I’ve taken out must be “everything.”
The very flesh and bone that comprises my body belongs not to me but to the earth. The web of my thoughts and my consciousness is woven by electrical impulses that I have “taken from the world.” The electricity doesn’t belong to me. In fact, if I want to so much as scratch my own foot, I have to draw on this same electricity to send a signal from my brain to my arm. Did I bring this electricity with me into the world?
When we really get a handle on how little we own or have truly earned here, we get a sense of how much we really owe back for the gift of being here. We see that the duty Einstein speaks of is a duty to put all of ourselves back into the world. The only real question is whether we’re willing to accept this duty.
I’m trying to understand that I owe my self to the world.