Friday, June 1, 2012

Seas of leaving

Our elders were too busy, preoccupied with their shock of having survived a world war, having lived with a cold war, being saddled with more than they’d bargained for, bewildered by having as offspring the very people they’d warned their children to keep clear of—yes, too distracted to catch us as we fell.

The wind blew so strongly against their tents, they had to make sure their tent pegs were firmly planted in the earth. The sand blew so steadily in their faces they couldn’t see the sun anymore. They thought we were all safe inside like good children weathering it out. They never thought to look for us in the gradually growing dunes as we drifted away.

Singers wooed us. We were courted and cajoled to abandon our fathers’ tents, to come away with them to some other place, a paradise where we would be appreciated for who we really were or thought ourselves to be. They sang of a garden, invoking ancient memories we shared even with our elders, though they never spoke of them to us. So we listened to other voices.

Shall I go off and away to bright Andromeda?
Shall I sail my wooden ships to the sea?
Or stay in a cage of those in Amerika??
Or shall I be on the knee?
Wave goodbye to Amerika
Say hello to the garden…

So I see, I see the way you feel
And I know that your life is real
Pioneer, searcher, refugee
I follow you, and you follow me
Let's go together
Let's go together
Let's go together right now…

(Let’s Go Together, by Paul Kantner)

This was the time when the world was young, from our point of view, just as we were, and like bees who see nothing but flowers, we ignored whatever world around us that held no nectar, that was colored black and white, that belittled what we felt, thought and desired. We sought to escape, dreaming again of leaving.

Wooden ships on the water, very free and easy,
Easy, you know the way it's supposed to be,
Silver people on the shoreline, let us be,
We are leaving… you don't need us.

Horror grips us as we watch you die,
All we can do is echo your anguished cries,
Stare as all human feelings die,
We are leaving… you don't need us.

Go, take your sister then, by the hand,
lead her away from this foreign land,
Far away, where we might laugh again,
We are leaving… you don't need us.

(Wooden Ships, by David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Paul Kantner)

For me, it was leaving sleepless, sub-tropical summers and futureless, sub-arctic winters in rural Illinois, parents intent on tearing apart the vestiges of any childhood gladness I might have saved, a boring, dangerous and thankless job maintaining assembly line machinery in a prison-like factory.

So I set my face to the north and west, waved goodbye to my tearful mother who loved me too much for her own good, and migrated to a commune in Canada which, little could I have known, would collapse under the weight of personality disorders in a matter of months, leaving me stranded and almost friendless, a stranger in a strange land.

Still, I hadn’t learned my lesson, but still ached for paradise and crooned songs that sounded ancient and fed the witless dreams of a boy unable to grow up, groping for light, truth, peace and, yes, even love, in all the worst places, all the wrong ways. Sand of a different sort blinded my eyes, as it had blinded my elders.

Seasons they change, while cold blood is raining,
I have been waiting beyond the years,
Now over the sky line I see you are travelling,
Brothers from all times, gathering here.

Come let us build the ship of the future
In an ancient pattern that journeys far,
Come let us set sail for the always islands
Through seas of leaving to the summer stars…

(The Circle is Unbroken, by Robin Williamson)

Mesmerized, decapitated by songs such as these, with mystic beginnings and haunting refrains, still the glimmerings of truth were there, but how to sort them and separate them from the lies? We were still no closer than before to the garden or to the island.
Did such a place exist after all, whatever we called it?

A whole generation, abandoned in the sands of time, no better than its forefathers, and among them I, a nomad like all my ancestors.

I was a young man treading westward, always west. I left my home at age twenty-one and travelled north and west to Alberta, mimicking my grandfather who had left his home at the same age, taking ship at Hamburg and sailing west for America over a hundred years ago.
Neither of us ever looking back.

West, always west, unsuspecting that the world is round, and that the farthest West is the uttermost East. Seeking the paradise in the West, instead, the garden in the East appeared. And the wooden ships, well, only one was ever really necessary, as I finally found out.
It was the ark.

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