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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sleeping on Concrete

The flu hits like a heavyweight.

One second, I'm cleaning up after dinner and the next I'm curled up in bed, shivering. Wishing for death. I may as well put my thumb in my mouth. My pillowcase is soaked, the sheets are a swamp. And I'm freezing.

I can call off sick, work from home. My back aches from inflammation. My sinuses are leaking brain fluid. Oh, why me, why me? WHY ME?

Somewhere in North Korea there's a labor camp where someone has the flu. They're curled up on patch of concrete. No sheet, no blanket. If they're lucky, if they're big enough, strong enough, high enough in the pecking order, they sleep next to the heat vent.

If not, the concrete is cold, too.

There's no doctor. No Tamiflu. No sick days.

When dawn breaks, they report to work in the snow, in the rain, wearing the same clothes they've worn for two years. The pants are stiff with sweat and grime. The shoes have holes. If they are slow, they are beaten. If they fall down, they are beaten. If they pass out, they are beaten. They eat watered down cabbage soup. Not enough to replace the calories they burn. They are always hungry.

And they work like this until the day ends. If not, they are beaten.

The Nazi concentration camps lasted two years. North Korean labor camps have existed for 50. Some people are born there. They will die there. They have only known concrete.

I have a bed. A house. I have very minor problems. And, sometimes, I lay awake at night, wondering how it could be better.

Shin Dong-hyuk is the only known person to escape Camp 14, one of the fiercest labor camps in North Korea. He didn't go to hell. He was born there. And it didn't happen a long, long time ago. It was five years ago.

We should all know his story.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Light Beneath a Gray Sky

Educator of the Year.

This year, Trident Technical College awarded me that title. I'm not sure how many teachers work at the college, but we have over 17,000 students. So we have a few.

Awards are nice. I don't know anyone that hates them. I mean, hates for real. Modesty might gloss over the excitement, but no one actually hates being BLANK of the Year. Unless it's Asshole. But even that's kind of cool.

This recognition means more to me than something like this normally would, but probably not for the reasons you might think.

My 20s were rough. I was depressed. I didn't know I was depressed, I just knew that every day was like dragging dead weight. Heaviness was in me. I had trouble in crowds. Words were cold in my mouth. Each morning, I stepped into shoes wet with fear beneath a gray sky.

A gray sky with no end.

There was no reason for it.

Alcohol wasn't a problem. No drugs. I had wonderful family. I was never cold. Never hungry. I was 23, just married to a beautiful woman yet life was looking impossibly long. None of this would make sense to others. "What's wrong with you?" they would ask.

I don't know.

There were many years of work ahead of me. But some good therapists and a Zen practice helped me right the ship. It didn't happen all of sudden. There are days, even now, I have to pay attention. For some, mental health requires a delicate grip.

So I'm here. Still here. And I've got this award.

It means more than you think.