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,
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.
Thank you, Cletis.