My commute to and from the prison includes a twenty minute ferry crossing plus however long I get to sit in line to wait to board. It’s a good time to reflect on the night at Monroe, to record first impressions and document those moments that are resonating with me the most before I have a chance to filter them or make them academic. I’ll post these thoughts from the ferry each time I go to Monroe.

Tonight we talked about resurrection, the stage of the hero’s journey when the hero is on the road back home, about to return to the ordinary world that he left so long ago (or perhaps not so long ago — not all journeys are long, right?). At this stage in the journey the hero must both shed the parts of himself that no longer fit who he has become AND he must figure out how to go back to a world to which he, in many ways, no longer belongs.

 

The guys get this stage. They understand going away and returning and not recognizing themselves amongst their surroundings. They understand having changed, having grown, havng left behind old selves, but returning to a world that does not understand the journey they were on. A world that does not understand the dangers the hero has faced. A world that was perhaps hoping that the hero hasn’t changed much at all. I know my fellow MFA students can relate to this. We go away to our residencies in Boston, ten intensive days of being writers surrounded by writers, and when we return who really knows what we have gone through? How can we describe it? Does anyone really want to listen? Most of us discover that the journey was personal. It was shared only by those who were there with us and not those we left behind and so we must set aside our ego and even our enthusiasm and return to “normal” life. But we are changed aren’t we. We are walking amongst “normal” but we are changed. Now imagine going away for years, to prison, and then returning. One man wrote tonight about lives that have passed while he was “down” (locked up) and lives that have begun. One man talked about realizing that upon his release this time he won’t be able to return home. He has changed that much. There is no going back — not if he wants to keep from going back to prison. He has to give up the dream of his family, the desire for reunification. His journey forces him to let go of his dream of having what he’s never been able to hold on to, nurture, care for and face a new reality of having to go his own way. He’s scared. Shitless. Wouldn’t we all be?

 

Don’t we go on journeys hoping to be celebrated upon our return? How often does that happen anymore? Not often. Instead we go on journeys and perhaps people barely notice our absence. Or they are confused, frustrated, even angry that we are no longer the person that they knew and loved before.

 

I think about my journey with cancer. Am I just now in the stage of resurrecting a new life out of that whole experience? I think so. It can take a long time. I’ve been “down” for a year and a half and I’m well on my road back, but not everyone recognizes me and many who once knew me don’t know me anymore. So there is loss. There is grief. But at the same time there is rebirth. It’s a messy stage. A messy, beautiful stage. And if you can just keep from jumping off the path altogether (which is really impossible I think, if you are true to the journey — how can you deny that you have changed) then there is a new life, amongst the old life, to be created.

 

My therapist says, you can’t always expect folks to show up and give you a parade every time you make a significant change in your life. People may not cheer when you return. But you know. You know where you have been and what it has meant and you just have to hold on to that. Hold on tight. 

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