Saturday, November 24, 2012

Remembering Charles Doss


















Surely we all have stories inside of us, waiting to be told. Some of them need to be told, some of them will never be told and some are still waiting their turn. This morning, I knew it was time for me to tell you about a man named Charles Doss, someone with whom I shared a connection many years ago, beginning in the late 1970's. I never had the privilege of meeting him in person, exchanging emails, nor speaking with him on the phone. It arrived through letters and a shared love of poetry. My oldest sister sent one of his books of poetry to me and in a desire to tell him how much his words meant to me, a correspondence began. His address: Box B - 32823, Florence, AZ. 85232, a federal penitentiary where he spent several years, waiting on death row. Some of those years were spent in solitary confinement, awaiting appeals, where he began to write.

Did I spend a lot of time researching his case? No, I did not. That was not my concern, nor was it my place to judge. The state of his heart and soul was my only concern. And someone whose life had changed so dramatically, as evidenced in his poetry, deserved nothing less. His initial letter stated: "Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you like my book. I agree with you at least 1,000% that  "Divine Love is the true source of all creativity," and I am always grateful for the opportunity to produce a poem or an essay."

It was one particular poem, contained within an essay, that struck me more deeply than the others. The essay was titled, "The Philippines of Our Soul."  I'd like to share a few excerpts from that essay along with the poem:


One of the many things that perplex me is the striking fact that I am happy...How can such a man be happy? I feel serenely confident that I can provide an answer. Let me commence by giving you a poem I wrote the other morning in the deep hours. It is called "Zamboanga."


There is an island in the Philippines,
or perhaps it is a province,
called Zamboanga.
I know nothing but its name, 
do not wish to know more.
It is pronounced with four syllables,
Zam bo AHNG ah,
and the sound to my ears is beautiful.

I don't know why it calls me so.
But I shall sojourn there one day,
and when I do I shall not be gray and old.
I shall be lean and hard, laughing and gay,
Filled with hope for the whole human race.
We should all have a Zamboanga,
lush, exotic, and beckoning,
Anchored brightly in the Philippines
                                   of our soul.



...there can be no walls in this universe high enough, no prisons tight enough, to prevent my journeys to Zamboanga. I need only to shut my eyes and make a slight wish, and there is no power on earth that can keep me from sailing away. Therefore it has communion, either in person or through the mails, with other souls that understand mystical islands that lie in perpetual tropics... What are we doing, you and I, when we speak searchingly of this magic island that shimmers in the non-existent sunlight? Where is the hemisphere that contains this place of such crucial significance in all our lives?
Can we not say simply that Zamboanga is love? 

I do not know the answer. I am simply a man who struggled to keep his sanity in a universe suddenly gone mad and tumultuous, and who was fortunate and blessed enough to discover his version of Zamboanga, which indeed was love - or shall we say Love?


Eventually, Charles Doss won a reprieve of sorts, his death sentence was commuted, and he returned to the main prison population, serving out the remaining years of his life. I'm sorry to say, my correspondence with him did not last that entire time. My life moved in new directions and our correspondence trailed off until it was no longer. In the last sentence of his last letter he wrote: "Good luck, my dear. I hope life is good to you," and then signed it, "Best love, Charles."

Even from inside those prison walls he knew that Love is the answer.

So, why did I decide to write about Charles today?  While looking at the stats for my blog this morning, I noticed that an unusual visitor arrived at almost the exact same time I got out of bed: 4:36. This visitor was from Zamboanga, Philippines.








Addendum: http://paper.li/TheJoyOTL/1306015089    
Thank you, Cletis.

26 comments:

  1. OOoh wow!!! Not only did I love the essay/poem, but talk about a coincidence...!!! It is true..there are no coincidences...

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    1. I was waiting for a sign as to when to write this story and that's how I view it.... whatever else was happening, and I believe something else was at work, it's all good, and the timing was perfect for reasons I don't even fully know yet....

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  2. OMG! How could you not write about him today?! That gave me a chill. A good chill. :)

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  3. Yes, I got a little chill, too. I love the outlook he developed, and I think it's wonderful that you corresponded with him for a while. I'm taken with the notion that when you travel in your mind, you can arrive healthy, young, strong. Have a great day!

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    1. Thank you, Nancy! Hope your Sunday is off to a good start.

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  4. Teresa -- From my view I would call this a serendipitous event. But one never knows when events like this happen. It sure made my mind stop for a few seconds. good post -- barbara

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    1. It's been quite wonderful for me... It's good to pay attention and listen to those nudges....

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  5. There was no choice - you did what had to be done. Another story right up with the best of them.

    I was going to look up Zamboanga but didn't even begin. I'll take the romanticism instead.

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    1. Some things are better left as they are without a lot of questions that take away from the experience.
      Thanks, One Fly!

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  6. How trippy!
    I find it reassuring to hear stories like this about people who have every reason in the world to feel bitter but somehow rise above it. And what a beautiful name for a place. It would make a rather nice mantra.

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  7. Ah, Teresa, what a moment to have and to listen to your heart as you are having it. All this time, all those letters, you, biding time until the time was right. A mellow moment. Sometimes, often, we just need to watch and wait and listen.

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  8. That you would reach out to this wonderful writer says a lot about who you are. Curious, someone who appreciates good writing, and most of all kind. I found this story chilling. It somehow leads to a serene view of a world unknown to me. This was really, really good writing on your part Teresa. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Bill, for your very generous words.

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  9. There are no coincidences. What an amazing story.

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    1. No, there aren't, and it makes life flow better when we respond to them as called. Thank you, Galen.

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  10. The invisibility of human soul becomes visible at the hands tribulation.

    Every thing matures at its own time in this universe. I guess the prompting to write this comes from a hidden thought, patiently awaited this moment of maturity. Nice.

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    1. I am so happy to hear from you again. I've missed your thoughtful and insightful comments.

      Yes, that patient waiting.... and then the maturity of thought that brings things forth. Wonderful moments.

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  11. Does anyone know why Charles Doss was imprisoned? I remember seeing him years ago in Columbus, Ohio and he had sang a song called, "Oh River of God". I just happened to mention him -- now decades later -- to a friend, and then Googled him to see if he was still alive. I read of his time in prison and how he disputed whatever charges were against him. What happened????

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    1. I would want to be certain we're talking about the same Charles Doss... I "met" him through letters from prison in the late 1970's.

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  12. Charles Doss's book changed my life a little, and I've been fascinated by him ever since. His idea about being "on the other hand" of God is quite moving to me.

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    1. Scott, I'm so glad you left a comment. I will respond to your email soon...

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  13. Appears that Charles Doss dies August 12, 2001.

    http://www.azcorrections.gov/inmate_datasearch/results_Minh.aspx?InmateNumber=032823&LastName=DOSS&FNMI=C&SearchType=Search

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    1. Yes. Thank you for checking ... I knew he had passed, but didn't know for certain when ...

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