Reason to Celebrate by Michael Clark

The end of the year. We are finally here! The time when all the holidays fall in sequence as family gatherings, parties, soirees, and more seem to be never-ending. We cheer with people we haven’t seen the year before and keep our spirits merry and warm. Let’s not forget any family tradition we uphold from generation to generation that adds a special note to each household’s particular brand of celebration.

However, this time of year offers a different sort of reflection for some of us. For those incarcerated for holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions, these moments lost a little glimmer over the years. Sadly, for some, these days were looked upon as just another day. Call it a defense mechanism, cold reality, or pragmatism at its extreme, and it forced all of us to get a little numb to our circumstances. This numbness was more than simply a loss of feeling. It was a loss of self. We withheld our jubilee because we did not want it to go away tomorrow. We shunned our celebration, knowing in an hour, we would have to stand in line for count. We neglected our joy because we knew it would be harder to reckon with life, coming off the high that was living in the moment.

I won’t be overly dramatic now. People did celebrate in their way. Obviously, it wasn’t the same both in act and in feel as it was in the free world. Should that neglect of special occasions continue onto the streets, it becomes an acceptance of defeat. You have allowed your circumstances to define you; you have not defined yourself despite your circumstances. This is by no means an easy realization to accept. Quite often, all of us have lived without realizing we were in this trap. Let this holiday season be a moment of release from that trap.

To accept a holiday as “just another day,” life becomes a monotonous cycle. What once was exciting becomes bland, and all things colorful and life-giving seem gray, with nothing to look forward to as days roll by. It is in the way that life becomes a prison. Wake up, stand, eat, walk, sit, sleep, wash, wake up, rinse, repeat. If that is your routine and that is how you do your time, more power to you. But we are not doing time anymore. We are enjoying life. Let us take this holiday season to embrace this new train of thought. Let this be your first act of insurrection against the system! Find your spirit in family gatherings, soirees, and parties.

The same can be said for birthdays as well. During my entire bid, I never told any of my peers it was my birthday, nor did I celebrate while in the dorm. Sure, my family and friends called and wrote to wish me well. However, I never felt it was necessary to divulge that information to others. Blame the whole defense mechanism mindset not to get your hopes up and excited, just to be let down eventually if you want. This mindset cannot continue onto the streets. Think about what is happening and how you are treating yourself. This is your day, the one day of the year to highlight and appreciate all you are and you have done. That is not something to take for granted and undermine. You cannot expect people to show that care for you if you don’t show it for yourself first.

More importantly, think of the unseen repercussions of this mindset. If you cannot see the importance of celebrating yourself, how will you find the importance of celebrating those close to you? You won’t “it is just another day,” right? Are you going to be the person that shows up to your bestie’s birthday without a gift? You are going to give your mother the best time possible on her special day, right? Same for your spouse, child, and any other significant person in your life. If you are one of those who ascribe to that mindset of “it’s just another day,” you have, by that very statement, told the person you hold dear that they are not so special. I would be willing to bet your heart would say otherwise. If you are unable to appreciate your own internal world, how do you expect to share the sentiment with the external world around you?

Maybe you will keep seeing holidays and birthdays as “just another day” Your family and friends won’t know how special they are, and they will celebrate. Those who cherish these days have acknowledged their importance in the world and have found a zest for life that prison has dulled. They never had an ID number, so they never lost their identity or experienced the circumstances that would push them there. They still possess an identity that is uniquely their own, which should be celebrated.

It is not “just another day.” Celebrate life, for god’s sake! This was what you were looking forward to when you were in prison. Why would you still see it as “just another day”? This is what it was all about back then—getting through the struggle so we could one day cherish these holidays, birthdays, random parties, and get-togethers. So, we could live outside of the walls. Don’t let the system win. Live your life. Go in peace and celebrate this year and celebrate all you are and all that you have done. You have given much to this world and still have more to give.