Death Row

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Vanguard Comics
I began work on this in early Dec 2019, but I was not satisfied with where it was going. My childhood best friend died unexpectedly on Dec 29th and I few to Georgia for his funeral that was held on Jan 1, 2020. Although I was extremely saddened by the event, it helped me to rethink the idea. I dedicate this short essay to Rodney Chris Shannon. You will be missed by a lot of people my friend. God Bless.

Submitted: January 02, 2020

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Submitted: January 02, 2020

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I sit alone and watch the sun sink low in the sky. Tall pines reaching high above the horizon block its warmth. The shade cools the air and forces me to wrap my coat tighter around me. The air is still and mute. The building to my right is silent and dark, the music reticent and the people gone.

My heart is heavy. It is not for my position on death row, but for the freshly turned earth to my left. Delicate arrangements atop the grave capture the beauty of life and the sorrow of death. The roses and the lilies speak of the love held for the one buried beneath them. Alive I sit beside him, condemned to death row, dead he lies beneath the earth, free of death row. My friend found the key to the door holding him on death row. Can I?

Despite being my constant companion, death row doesn’t care about me or about my worries, fears or regrets. It cares nothing for anyone sitting and waiting to die. It is cold and impartial. It envelops its victims in a shroud of patience, waiting and watching every move. It doesn’t judge, for that is not its purpose. With time as its ally, it simply waits.

You would think I could get used to death row always hovering over my shoulder. You would think it would eventually fade into the background, forgotten. But once the reality of death row sets in, it constantly hovers over you like a carrion bird. It never removes its cold talons from your soul. It is a constant lonely companion.

Time is quickly running out for me. I have heard that time slows down when a man is in my position. It becomes the enemy and thrusts boredom upon him. That isn’t true; oh, boredom can come, but it is not because of time. Time is as impartial a companion as death row itself. It slips by one allotment at a time, day after day. The difference comes by being aware of death row. Once you acknowledge it, you become conscious of it slipping by. Before I knew I was on death row, whole years passed me by in silence. Now, every tick of the clock resounds through my mind.

For me, I wish those minutes would slow down. I would embrace any boredom they would bring. Perhaps, that is the curse, time is uncompromising. It does not punish those on death row, and it does not embrace those on death row either. Each minute slips through our fingers like water. Any attempt to hold onto the drops, only results in them splashing to the floor, lost forever. Also, our hands are not refilled by an endless fountain. Each drop is a wasted opportunity and we can do nothing to stop them from slipping away.

My memories, or lack of memories, are as weapons for death row. Each one pierces me cleanly through and leaves me bleeding. If one could truly see me, they would see I cannot staunch the flow. They would see death row’s weapons piercing my skin from all directions. Hundreds, thousands of sharp-edged echoes that my mind can barely discern. There is no going back, and each wound is permanent. Each moment lasts forever, yet my mind struggles to view them.

This wound is the time I missed my son’s performance in his school band. Here I missed my son’s basketball games. This one is the Christmas I failed to visit my wife’s family with her and the kids. Oh, I’ve seen the pictures; they are all full of joy and laughter. This wound is the time the whole family trick or treated without me. The cousins, all dressed as sweets, enjoyed each other’s company long into the night. Sweetmeats filled their bags high before the end. At the time I thought moments like these were insignificant. They came and went with years of opportunity for them to repeat. Even the smallest moments, the least among them, have created the biggest of wounds. From them, the blood flows freely to pool at my feet. I can only stare into the pool of regret as it grows ever larger.

I would think the big moments would matter the most to someone sitting on death row. After all, they have the biggest impact on our lives. They are much fewer in number but take up much more of our time. Instead of that promotion at work I slaved long hours to achieve lingering in my mind now, it is her simple smile I seek. A simple Christmas gift once revealed a set of small earrings we could not rightfully afford. They lit up her eyes in a way that a king’s crown jewels could never do. They sparkled brighter than the tiny gems she held. At the moment, I embraced the joy, but now all I can remember is how I missed the very next Christmas for work. Now, I long for the image of that smile. I would use it as a shield to protect me from all the many wounds draining my faith away.

Even though the small moments create the largest wounds, they remain lost forever. There is no going back. It doesn’t matter why I missed each one. Perhaps it was work, perhaps it was anger, it really doesn’t matter. Death row doesn’t care either, it takes each of us by the hand and with each tick of the clock, it leads us closer to our fate.

I await my outcome alone, and no one can help me. Looking about my life, I find it more empty than expected. Oh, there are personal belongings and mementos, but I can’t take any of them with me when my time comes. I will go out of this world as empty handed as I came into it, and I grow ever more aware of that moment as it grows ever closer.

My choices brought me to this point. It starts with one simple choice, not really a bad decision but one that separates us from what is important. Regardless of how we face that first opportunity, more follow it. Each one is just one more step in the wrong direction. Some like to call that first choice, even the second, a mistake. We fool ourselves into believing we are good. In reality we replace good with self-righteousness. Most of us do not openly embrace evil, at least not at first. Yet, it remains there, hidden behind innocent decisions. It lures us away from the right path and guides us into the darkness one minor judgment at a time. Through our sins we condemn ourselves to death row.

I consider blaming someone else for my position. I live with the illusion I have successfully shifted blame in the past. I have hidden my sins from those around me. Some of those are still waiting to catch up with me. Although, any success would be only temporary. In the end, that success would only serve to reinforce the door holding me on death row.

There is no way to truly shift the blame. Even if I could find a way to delay it, the truth would always linger about me. Have you ever tried to remember a lie? You can’t, eventually you will slip up. The smaller the lie, the harder it is to remember it and to maintain it. You will forget what you said, how you said it, and even why you said it. The truth will stand as gospel regardless of my perspective of it or of my ability to remember it.

Is there a point in our lives when we realize we are on death row?

I do not believe it comes with age. I once saw the faith of a child uplift the spirits of an entire room. I have seen the desperation of a dying man grasp for any hope of survival, even as he denied the truth.

Release does not come with wisdom. A man in the remotest reaches of the world can find the key that releases him from death row. A man deemed the wisest among us can witness the truth firsthand and outright reject it.

Even as we watch other condemned marched off to their fate, we fail to open our own eyes. Who among us has not seen the failure of someone close to us? Fear of speaking the truth forces us to deny their condemnation. Doing so threatens to condemn others we love, including ourselves.

There are those who realize they are on death row early in life. You can see it in them, but more importantly you can see it in the effect their lives have on those around them. Their actions ripple outward to reach others far removed from them. Service to our fellow man is training for service in God's realm. There is no greater example of service than our effect on someone still residing on death row.

Earlier today, a room filled quickly, and it filled to the brim. The mood turned sorrowful as sobs floated upon the air. Music soothed our torn souls and revealed the glory that was my friend’s life. Some graced us with tales of his exploits, of his joys, of his music; of the ripples of his life. My thoughts turned to the gathered throng and I marveled at how far his ripples reached. I marveled at the souls his songs touched, of the hearts his love embraced, of the depth his fishing line reached. The revelation humbled me.

His ripples granted those gathered to say goodbye a glimpse of his shiny metal key. The sparkle of his key, though brief, threatened to blind us all. We quickly lost sight of it as without warning he thrust it into the lock and opened his door. He did not even pause to look back as he unexpectedly exited death row. His ripples held the door open, but only for the briefest of moments. It granted us a clear view of the Key. He stood with his arms opened wide in greeting. His smile held the beauty of the heavens. He shown with the light of the sun. The sound of my friend’s singing burst upon the heavens, signaling the glory of his greeter. Before we could call out to my friend to express our love or to fully understand, the door slammed shut behind him. In stunned silence, we found ourselves still on death row; only now without my friend.

Even now as I sit alone by his grave, my numb mind is sluggish to understand. Did I truly glimpse what I think I saw? Was it a trick of the light? Is the key really that simple to find? Can I find my own key? After experiencing the glory that was my friend, why do I even question it?

On reflex my hand clinches and the sound of crinkling paper punches through the haze. I glance down and behold a memory of my friend. I turn the picture over. To my disappointment, the answer is not scrawled across the back of the paper. It was not there the first time I looked either.

My friend made the right choices. He attended all the right meetings. He sang all the right songs. He spread his love to all the right people. I believe my friend escaped death row. Can I escape it too before my time runs out?

We are all born to death row. I knew that even before my friend’s sudden departure. Yet, knowledge does not always equal faith. My lack of faith continues to hold my door fast, but there is a key. It is a bright and shiny key. It outshines the stars in the sky. It outlasts the mountains. It runs deeper than the ocean. It is wider than the universe itself. Yet, it is simple enough to hold in our hearts and express in our voice. Without Him there is only death, with Him there is an eternity to move beyond the choices we make in this world. He is the only key to our cell. Death row holds us all but there is escape. If we believe, He frees us from death row.


© Copyright 2020 Kindel Daniels. All rights reserved.

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