Ever since I began working at the jail last June, my ability to get lost or disoriented has been the source of many stories, mostly ones I tell on myself. How does one get lost on an elevator anyway? And how many times have I heard a disembodied voice intone, "You can't get there from here"?
That disorientation and lost-ness is a fine template for this Christmas season in jail.
Some of the disorientation is not my own. It is on the face of the puzzled man on the 7th floor who sees me from across his dorm room and just can't figure out what's wrong with this picture. He knows me, he's sure of it, but I am not in the right context for him to put a name to me. Until we talk and I mention the name of that prison where I worked for eleven years--then his face lights up and he says, "It's you!"
For some, there is a profound sense of not being where they intended to be at this time of year. What am I doing in a red jumpsuit and orange sandals, sharing a room with 19 other people? I should be cooking dinner, shopping for presents, decorating the tree. Jerry Springer rules the TV and I'm feeling mad all the time. What have I done with my life?
I should be in the living room, putting the finishing touches on that bike, setting up that new game, breathing in hot cocoa and peppermint. Instead, I'm sleeping on a plastic covered excuse for a mattress after standing in line for three hours for a chance to call home. And no one answered.
It's a time of unsettling poverty. I have to ask for Christmas cards to send home. I can't pick them out. They are nothing too fancy. There's not enough room to write all the things I want to say.
I'm weighed down with worry, guilt, remorse, disappointment.
The commercials that punctuate Jerry Springer's antics only throw bling in my face, taunting me, "Look what you can't have! You don't deserve this! You loser!"
I try to think about that family on the move, leaving their hometown to go to crowded Bethlehem, where no one wanted one more family in the mix, no one had room for one more chore, never mind one more baby.
Those parents, they weren't where they wanted to be, where they might have planned to spend this birthing night. There was all sorts of talk behind them: relatives who had too much to say, neighbors who asked pointed questions. And now there are angels and shepherds who just won't shut up.
"How do we get to the new king's place?" the travelers from the East want to know. They are headed in the right direction, but, like so many others, you can't get there from here, in Herod's court.
There are no Christmas trees at jail, no colored lights (although at least once a day, there is a Code Blue called for some medical emergency), and no holiday muzak to drive us all nuts.
Instead, there is the mess of humanity: stinky, smelly, unwashed, rude, abrupt, short-tempered. All the mess of humanity that God so loved.
There are moments, only a breath here and there, where the sweetness of wonder enfolds us and says, "Yes" to us. That's all. Just "Yes."