That year he picked gratitude as the midah* to write about. Because in his walk he felt heavy in his feet, a slog through the mud. Because sometimes he got stuck in Sad.
Last summer on a visit to one of the high security institutions, one of the regulars was missing. Where’s S? I asked. In the hole.
The hole. I had never seen the hole, it’s a twenty four hour lock-up used to contain trouble within the institution.
I asked the chaplain if I could see S in the hole.
He deliberated for a moment, then: Sure, come on. Quick. We walked into the only building within the complex that was surrounded by an extra barrier of wire, the windows wired, we had to be buzzed in again through a metal door as we entered the complex referred to as the hole, a prison within a prison.
It looked like Alcatraz, what I’ve seen from the movies anyway. Two floors, one down one up, big heavy metal unpainted doors with one small window, two guys in a cell, a lot of yelling from behind the doors but I could not see faces until I stood right in front of the cell.
S was on the ground floor, I saw him through the window. He was delighted to see me. A lot of the guys I visit spend a good deal of time in the hole.
We talked through the window, hard to hear, a lot of hand signs and hollering.
I could see S’s work through the window behind him. He draws. He had been drawing. His work was displayed leaning against the bed in his room.
As I was leaving, he pounded on his window before I walked out of earshot. He was mouthing something.
I looked back and stood by the doorway just as the metal door slid open to let me out.
Rabbi, he was mouthing. Rabbi – I’m alive.
*Midah means virtue or value