This week I heard a story, a story I’d heard before, told by a friend held in solitary confinement. His tiny cell’s overhead light broken, for months he literally lived in darkness; only a beam of light the size of a quarter shone in. His food, shoved in through a slot in a steel door so thick it blocked all outside sounds, was barely enough. Fearful for his mental health, over time he learned how to tie threads—harvested from his underwear—to cockroaches’ torsos and hitch them to an empty milk container, those creatures’ progress, their struggles as entertaining as a 3-D movie. “Does anyone know what I am going through?” he wondered, alone, hungry, in the dark, and completely cut off from all human contact.
Listening to this horrific story again, I heard his plaintive, poignant question anew—and, serendipitously, connected his question to a lament I’ve heard lately. “People need to know,” an immigration-rights activist I know says. Over and over. Until I heard my returning-citizen friend’s story again this week, I’d always heard my Salvadoran friend’s statement as a plea for more information-sharing on today’s immigration issues. (Do you know, for example, what’s going on for TPS holders right now? You’re welcome.)
But what I believe both are asking is: If no one knows what I am going through, what will change? Does my struggle matter? I feel alone; am I alone? Must I always live with my overwhelming sense that most people have no idea what my life has been about? Does my life have meaning? Do I matter?