Positive Outliers Resilient Hope

The Sun Does Shine

When the video of George Floyd’s death went viral, sparking protests, marches and the BLM movement across the West, my dear friend, Jamie Lee, recommended a book by Anthony Ray Hinton, called The Sun Does Shine. It tells the story of a young man in Alabama who was wrongfully arrested and convicted of a series of murders, and who then spent the next 28 years on death row in a small cell until the trial was fundamentally questioned and he was released.

I’m grateful to Jamie for recommending this book because in reading it, the book moved me from dwelling on the brutality in that Floyd atrocity, or react to the subsequent violence, where we all seemed to have to take one side or another.

Hinton’s example in the teeth of overwhelming injustice was astonishing and strangely wonderful. Clearly and powerfully written, it tells the story, not merely of survival but of the transcendence of one human over institutional and tribal injustice. Now, I too recommend that book to my family and friends.

Writing in Prison

As I read it, I couldn’t but recall other great literature like this, written in the most extreme contexts of human deprivation and torture. I think of Viktor Frankl’s experiences in Auschwitz.

Paul of Tarsus’s soaring letter of encouragement to his friends in Phillipi writing from a hole in the ground in the deranged emperor Nero’s prison comes to mind. Or Nelson Mandela’s account of his decades-long incarceration on Robben Island is up there in this genre. What about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress written in Bedford prison? Or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s account of The Gulag Archipelago? Then there is Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, of how her family in wartime Rotterdam were shopped for protecting Jews and were themselves sent to concentration camps. And Richard Wurmbrand’s Sermons from Solitary Confinement, which he tapped out in morse code while spending two of his 14 years in solitary during Romanian communism.

On and on it goes, but in these places where there was apparently no freedom, comes powerfully transcendent insights into living in true inner freedom.

These heroic stories are timely and important for us all when we think we have it hard; when we think we are unreasonably constrained, captive even during Covid-19 restrictions. We learn to appreciate what we have within us.

Mostly, these works call us to hope in spite of our circumstances. These stories call us from the immaturity of young children complaining that they are hungry or can’t go out to play, to become mature and fulfilled, wherever we are, whatever we can or can’t do.


Stunned by Choice

In the early nineties, unfamiliar with American culture, I was in a mall in Chicago one lunchtime, ordering a ham and cheese sandwich at a deli. It was a simple request. Being British, I assumed they would assume, and fill in the blanks.

How wrong I was.

The guy who served me didn’t. What followed next, whilst familiar to North Americans, reduced me to stunned confusion:

Do you want that on a bagel?
White or rye?
Which cheese?
Butter or spread?
Do you want fries with that?

And I’m sure I’ve forgotten most of the options fired at me. I felt quite assaulted with this interrogation. It seemed like I was confronted with a multiple-choice decision tree, all of which was between me and my sandwich. 

Then I became conscious of the other patrons around me chuckling at this poor, stupid Brit blubbering through the available options. I just wanted to get out of there, preferably with that sandwich!

With hindsight I realise two things:

  1. It was lunchtime, one of the busiest times of the day for this man. He wanted to move the queue along and needed to narrow down the options for me. It was tedious for him as most of his patrons had been schooled is being specific.
  2. I was part of a culture where I had been born during a time of post-war rationing, where cleaning your plate was a moral duty, and where you were taught to be grateful for anything.

I was surprised and distressed by choice, a phenomenon that has emerged with the name decision fatigue, where one gets exhausted and angry with making decisions.

But should we not celebrate options? After all, freedom is essentially defined by one’s ability to exercise choice.

So now I choose… and remind myself to delight in the choosing.

I choose who to vote for, what to wear, and what to believe.

… and I choose not to go to that deli again!

Freedom is something we need to learn to exercise and handle.

This is particularly important when handling our own choices, how we plan our day, our week, our month, our project, our quarter, our year, and so on. And if we don’t plan it, someone else will. We surrender our freedom. I have an explanation here of how I use a bullet journal, a paper notebook to do my daily, weekly and monthly planning. Check it out here.

May you live a free and abundant 2020. Happy New Year!

Photo by Cenk Batuhan Özaltun on Unsplash