Several months ago I wrote about the All-Inclusive Vacation. The story was meant to be light and written in jest. But in reality going away or doing time is hard. It’s especially hard on the families that serve as a support network for people in jail. I know from first-hand experience as my brother Tony chose a crooked path that sent us on many cross country trips to see him. And they were hardly vacations.
But just because someone made a mistake, you didn’t abandon him. And so off I’d go with my husband or my brother Carmen to visit him “on vacation” — as I explained to my children when they were too young to understand.
I remember one visit in particular; it was right around the time the movie The Bird Man of Alcatraz came out. We had all seen the movie. But we never thought we’d live it when we went to visit Tony on visiting day.
We walked into the visiting room filled with inmates and their families. And it seemed that every inmate had a canary. The funny thing was — not one was chirping. And so I asked Tony why the birds were silent, and he looked at me and smiled and said, “Smart canaries don’t sing.”
Carmen laughed. And I nudged Tony in the ribs, “Stop it, you mocking bird!”
And so we ended our visit by making light of a serious situation thanks to our fine feathered friends. Which reminded me of a poem by Emily Dickinson – “Hope Is The Thing with Feathers.” And she was right about hope, it “sings the tune without the words — and never stops at all.” And so we always had hope and faith that one day things would change.
Faith, Hope, and Love
And the greatest of these is love. Of course my mother always held out hope that her Prodigal son Tony would change his ways and come home to stay. But years would come and go without him at the dinner table. His mother loved him unconditionally and she always had faith that someday he’d surprise her and turn up on her doorstep.
And every once in a while that faith was rewarded with a phone call, he was coming home. Of course she sent me to go and buy the fatted calf at the local butchers — the biggest New York Strip in the shop. And then she would start to cook.
It was so nice to see my mother happy again. She’s sing as she prepared his dinner because she would never know if this would be their last supper together before temptation beckoned and he disappeared again.
One day out of frustration, I asked my mother if she wasn’t angry with my brother and his off again / on again life.
“Louisa,” she said. “I have two choices. I can waste my time being angry or I can spend my time with him in peace and love.”
She chose love.