“We are all sentenced to solitary confinement in our own skins, for life.”— Tennessee Williams
Because of the legal case we are bogged down in, this never-ending ordeal like something from a Dickens novel, I’ve often felt trapped and frustrated over the years. Yes… years. 13 to be exact.
For a long time, it was impossible for my husband and me to leave the property together. It could not be left unattended because of the threat of squatters moving fence lines or encroaching on our property thereby establishing rights through usage.
Costa Rica’s legal system favors those “in possession of the land” and those camped on it, maintaining it or using it for some purpose, are deemed by the law to have the balance of rights. For years we traveled to visit family in the USA separately, we seldom went to the capital for more than a few days at a time, and most of the time we made sure one of us was here to guard against any incursions. It makes a person tired.
The situation was at its worst before we got a restraining order, but even that doesn’t end the attempts to appropriate our land. We are not alone in this; a friend is dealing with this on the other side of the country. He’s been at it for 20 years and just the other day caught another group of squatters invading his land. He fetched the police, had them removed, and took them to court. At his own expense, I might add. All this to say that a person in this situation can begin to feel a bit constricted in their life.
I was surprised to discover the other day the number of books I’ve read about people in confined situations. Four books in all. Not one after the other, but enough to form a pattern. At first, it felt like an accident of choice but perhaps not. Life has a way of putting what we need most in front of us… if we care to notice.
Some of the characters in these stories are actual people. One writes fiction shorts and one wrote a powerful memoir. Both were convicted of murder—one legitimately, one falsely. They live in prison cells. In one case, a 5′ X 8′ cage 23 hours a day for 30 years. One is a fictional character declared a non-person by the State and banished to a hotel. He can stay there the rest of his life but should he leave, he is informed, he’ll be shot. Another is a British woman confined to bed with a mysterious disease for an extended period, her only diversion a picture window and a small snail in an aquarium.
What can all these characters teach us? Confinement, it turns out, is only in our minds. It only bothers us if we want to be somewhere we’re not. So many kinds of confinement; It’s possible to be free to travel but not have enough money to do so, for example. That’s restrictive in its own right. Confinement just means you’re being held and you can’t physically move freely. It doesn’t mean you cannot create worlds and explore the place where you find yourself, either inside your head, in the case of one death row inmate, or, in the case of the non-person and the invalid, discover vast realms of interest within the confines of our current location.
So, do we make our prisons? Quarantine ourselves from all that is in front of us while pining for something that isn’t?
I think the Dalai Lama would have something to say about this.
Books and I recommend all of them:
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey
The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton and Lara Love Hardin
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles