Oprah’s book club selection for this summer is a really excellent book, inspiring and yet it’s a tough read: The Sun Does Shine, by Anthony Ray Hinton. “A powerful, revealing story of hope, love, justice and the gift by a man who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.” My blog this week is on the sun shining, times when the sun doesn’t shine, and amazing summer thoughts from a school teacher on how to have your best summer ever.
“Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices, and that knowledge rocked me. … I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or to hang on. Hope was a choice. Faith was a choice. And more than anything else, love was a choice. Compassion was a choice.”
“I missed my family. But sometimes you have to make family where you find family, or you die in isolation. I wasn’t ready to die. I wasn’t going to make it that easy on them. I was going to find another way to do my time. Whatever time I had left.
Everything, I realized, is a choice. And spending your days waiting to die is no way to live.” — Anthony Ray Hinton
I saw Oprah interview Anthony Ray Hinton this past Sunday on OWN. The interview had me smiling at times and at times I wiped tears from my eyes. His journey has been truly incredible. The Super Soul podcast of Oprah’s interview can be accessed here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/oprahs-supersoul-conversations/id1264843400. It is a wonderful way to start your summer and see that the sun does shine. When you have a dark day and wonder whether or not the sun will shine again, think about Anthony Ray Hinton’s 30 years on death row, watching 54 men and one woman inmates walk past his cell to be executed and wondering if he will be executed too.
The book reads like a novel but it is a true story of faith, courage, friendship and hardship. Mr. Hinton has a friend named Lester, they’ve been friends since Mr. Hinton was four years old, who visited him every week that he was imprisoned for those 30 years. That is friendship. I wonder if any of us have a friend who would do that. The reason Mr. Hinton was released is because of Bryan Stevenson, an advocate with an organization who worked on Mr. Hinton’s case, taking it all the way to the Supreme Court, resulting in the overturning of his conviction.
Truly amazing book. One of the things that finally helped Mr. Hinton to survive is that he began to live through his mind. Now, here is where his book intersects with summer in my mind. I think summer is a great time to let your mind imagine and wander. To help him survive where he was, he began to imagine many scenarios. So, if you’re imagining things, you may as well imagine big things. Mr. Hinton imagined himself flying to London and visiting the Queen of England. They had tea, played croquet, she showed him around the castle and the gardens and secret rooms in the palace. He was completely of sound mind but this imagining kept him from feeling confined.
Mr. Hinton read books, many books. He read books by James Baldwin and Maya Angelou and he started a book club.
“Not everyone has my imagination. All day, every day, guys are drowning in fear and death. Imagine knowing the day you’re going to die. How could you think about anything else? These guys have to find a way to think about life.”
Mr. Hinton married Halle Barry in his imagination. He is sane, don’t go thinking he had lost it. Just remember, this man was on death row not knowing whether he would ever make it out of that prison alive. In his interview with Oprah, he says that it was not a sexual thing, that it was an inspirational situation to cope through difficult times. He was married to Halle for 15 years then dropped her for Sandra Bullock because Sandra could drive a truck to help him get away from the prison. You will enjoy hearing him talk about it in the podcast.
In his book, he intersperses reminiscing about his imagination with the petition filings being done on his behalf, the execution dates that were set for fellow inmates, security guards mistreating them, and the experience of his mother’s death that nearly broke his spirit. You do get what it is like to be on death row but you understand how he learned to survive it by believing in something bigger than the prison system.
I think you will smile, cry, laugh a bit, cringe a bit, but ultimately just like Mr. Hinton, you will believe that the sun does shine. Put it on your summer reading list. But, even if you don’t take the time to read the book, listen to the podcast and I hope you will feel inspired. An excerpt from the Super Soul Sunday broadcast can be accessed here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/anthony-ray-hinton-time-doesnt-exist-on-death-row
The past week has seen some dark days for those who admire Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, with their decisions to end their lives. Their suicides are certain tragic and my thoughts are with their families, friends and colleagues. I am reminded too of the many veterans who don’t recover from the mental anguish and emotional wounds they suffered while in the military. Statistics show that on average about 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the US. The headlines don’t talk about them and we didn’t mourn for them as loudly as we did for Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain but we probably should have. We live in a society that puts a lot of attention on the celebrity at the expense of the ordinary tragedies, that actually are more extraordinary, going unnoticed.
Three weeks ago nearly two billion around the world celebrated the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It was a beautiful occasion. I got up myself early on that Saturday morning and totally watched it. I loved it all.
But neither Prince Harry nor Duchess Meghan are just about the royal life. Just this week, Prince Harry brought attention to suicides of veterans: https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/wellness/prince-harry-pleads-with-soldiers-to-not-commit-suicide/ar-AAyuA2h I hope that others in the US will do more to prevent suicides of the veterans and the vulnerable, not just focus on the celebrities. When the sun doesn’t shine, we need to be there for those having a tough time, let them know they are not alone.
Lastly, I read an article about a parent asking a teacher for a summer package for her child. I remember those days when teachers would give our children things to do over the summer. This teacher’s response to the parent was awesome, you can read the entire article here: https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/whats-hot/teacher-doesn’t-give-students-summer-homework-but-what-she-assigns-instead-is-amazing/ar-AAyjhzI?ocid=spartanntp
The teacher has some fabulous summer thoughts that are simple yet in these times they might be revolutionary:
encourages the families of her students to spend time together by having dinner together – how many of us are so busy with our schedules that having dinner together has gotten lost in the process
have the students have regular bedtimes – occasional nights without a bedtime are okay but generally having a routine is good for children (Butch and I followed this with our kids, we extended the time during the summer but there was still a regular bedtime. The teacher gives some rationale for this in the article.)
find a pen pal – what a great idea. Maybe an aunt or uncle in another state or a grandparent. Teaching the art of communication or writing without the student realizing that is what they are learning. It’s a wonderful way to disconnect from social media too.
put the phone away – yes, that means all of us actually putting the phone down for a certain time period and playing some games together or talking or just being with each other. Wow, what a concept.
relax – really. seriously. chill. (you can do it!)
As the summer gets under way, I am looking forward to the sun shining, to long days of beauty, and evenings of imagination. For those without a chance to feel the sun on their face, I hope to find a way to bring some sun into their lives with some volunteering to provide some meals for kids out of school for the summer and continued talking of suicide prevention tools. As lazy days of summer come, I will take some moments when I don’t check social media and I will relax and set the phone aside, sip some sweet tea and open good books to read. I hope you will have some moments to let the sun shine on your face too.