Recently I read a book that inspired me so deeply that I’ve been telling everyone I know about it. The book I can’t stop talking about is The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton.
This is a true story. Ray, as he is known, is a 29-year-old black man living with his mom and earning an honest living to pay the bills when he is suddenly arrested for a series of crimes he did not commit. Worse, he is sent to death row.
It is thirty years before he walks out of that cell, a free man. He is nearly in his sixth decade of life.
Trapped in a 5′ X 7′ cell, Ray resolves to find his freedom right where he is. After three years of defiant silence, isolation, and murderous thoughts toward Judge McGregor who is responsible for his fate, Ray realizes that there is a better way.
It is the heart-wrenching sounds of a man crying in an adjoining cell that serves as Ray’s wake-up call. The epiphany arrives. It is about choices.
“What if this man killed himself tonight and I did nothing? Wouldn’t that be a choice? I was on death row not by my own choice, but I had made the choice to spend the last three years thinking about killing McGregor and thinking about killing myself. Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices, and that knowledge rocked me…I could choose to give up or hang on. Hope was a choice. Faith was a choice. And more than anything, love was a choice. Compassion was a choice.”
In that moment he decides to reach out to the sobbing man and learns that the man just got word that his mom died.
“I can’t describe exactly what it is to have your heart break open, but in that moment my heart broke wide open and i wasn’t a convicted killer on death row; I was Anthony Ray Hinton from Praco. I was my mama’s son…I didn’t have to think about people all around the world sitting on the edge of their beds and crying when there were almost two hundred men all around me who didn’t sleep, just like me. Who were in fear just like me. Who wept just like all of us. Who felt alone and afraid and without hope…it was a revelation to realize that I wasn’t the only man on death row. I was born with the same gift from God we are all born with — the impulse to reach out and lessen the suffering of another human being. It was a gift, and we each had a choice whether to use this gift or not.”
There are so many wonderful takeaways from his words:
- Even though it feels like we’re the only ones with this giant grief that is ripping our hearts open, the truth is that there are people all over the world right this minute losing sons, daughters, wives, husbands, moms, dads, friends and siblings. All of them feel the same loneliness and they ache. This thought alone should make us feel a little less alone and a little more connected to our global family.
- No matter what is going on in our lives, we have a choice in how to respond. If a man on death row can cling to hope and faith and use them as survival tools to get through his days, we can find so many more reasons to be grateful. Grief and faith can create miracles.
- Although we may be suffering, we have the opportunity to use our gifts to lessen another’s load. Whether we choose to use it or not is what we control.
What’s an inspiring book you’ve read lately?