No Direction

August 31, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography

Conducting workshops at peace and justice conferences is becoming a warm weather routine.  Heading into a conference in Virginia this last spring, a series of events unfolded in a fashion different from what I had expected.

Good environmentalists that we are, Marcia and I share an old Echo.  The Echo has over 100,000 miles, so we rent cars to go any distance.  One of my greatest joys, a pleasure I inherited from my father, is to drive convertibles long distances to exalt in the long-haul high.  I picked up Budget’s default convertible, the Eclipse, and headed out.  It was a brand new car.  Marcia couldn’t join me, so I was on my own.

At the time, we were in the middle of a stressful, massive, 21-network, 800-organization PJEP upgrade (see pjep.org) that was experiencing upgrade hiccups.  My father’s wife, Marcie, was dying.  It was unclear how long she would stay with us.  It was not great timing to be taking a trip.  So it goes.

It was too cold to take the top down.  I tore across country, departing Evanston around 11:00 a.m. after the last of the handouts came out of our printer.  The drive took longer than I thought.  Evidently, I had miscalculated the miles.  Late that night, nearing Virginia, I heard a strange cracking noise, then a high pitch, then another cracking.  It seemed to be coming from the dashboard.

I arrived at midnight Eastern Time and climbed into bed.  I fell asleep.  At 12:30 a.m. Chicago time my phone rang.  Marcia told me my father had just called.  His wife, Marcie, had passed away.

Before falling asleep a second time, I resolved to briefly set up my booth, pile up the handouts and notify the conference organizers that I would not be able to conduct the workshop.  That next morning, that is what I did, lingering a while before climbing back into the Eclipse for the drive back home.  I asked the registration person how many they expected for the conference.  She told me 110 were registered.  I counted up the number of presenters and workshop leaders in the catalog.  There were 110.  There were as many as 11 workshops running concurrently.  Often 4 speaker and panel presentations with well known speakers were being conducted at the same time.  I overheard a conversation between frustrated presenters noting that they’d been booked to conduct two different workshops at two different places at the same time.  As conferences go, this one was looking like an occasion that would disappoint.  It seemed a conference with no direction.  Evidently, it had evolved to become a vehicle through which peace and justice leaders and authors could talk with one another.  There is preaching to the choir and then there is the choir singing to themselves.

I had funeral music on my mind.  I got back into the car, took the top down and headed home.  Services for Marcie would be the next day.

Trucks have difficulty climbing the mountains of West Virginia.  Long lines of cars crept along behind them as they geared slowly up the hills.  Hours later, I’d only made it as far as Charleston.  I tried going toward Kentucky.  This route worked far better until construction became the custom instead of the occasion.  After a few hours of construction, an accident backed up traffic for miles.  After maybe an hour of stop and go, I crawled up to an exit.  The map suggested I could cut through back country to Paris and over.  I headed north along one-lane roads.

It was horse country.  It looked like photographs of Europe with black wood fences, rock walls, old overhanging trees and astonishing attention to detail mile after mile.  Foals trotted on both sides of the road as the sun prepared to issue sunset colors.

…….

I remembered horse country in Connecticut in May, 1989, when I was driving with my friend Rick through back roads.  Topping a hill, I noted a horse leaping a fence, jumping onto the roadway to be struck by a car in the oncoming lane.  The mare was knocked down on its side, yet she quickly pushed herself up and continued sprinting directly in front of Rick and me as we approached the scene.  The horse was trailing streamers of flesh like kite tails.

A girl, perhaps 12 or 13, jumped the fence, yelling a name, and she ran across the road after the horse in front of our car.  The driver of the car in the collision, now stopped, opened his door, walked to the front of the car and inspected the damage.  All of this happened in perhaps 10 seconds.  As we passed the car, I observed the driver cursing and waving his fist above his head.

“Rick, did you see that?”

Rick replied, “Did I see the horse?  Of course, I saw the horse.  There are horses everywhere around here.”

“Did you see that car hit that horse?”

“What are you talking about?  I saw the horse.  Is that why that car was stopped?”

I wondered how Rick could not have noticed.

About five minutes later, we pulled into Rick’s driveway.  His wife sprung out the door, meeting me as I got out of the car and told me to call home right away.  Ok, I thought.  Someone died.  I called my wife.  My father’s mother, Myrla, had passed away.

How odd, I thought.  Myrla died right before my Dad and Marcie’s wedding.

……..

Arriving in Paris, Kentucky, I looked for the junction that would take me westward to Hwy 75.  I was confused.  Headed eastward for a ways, I realized I was going in the wrong direction.  Arriving back in town, I followed what I thought was the right road.  Again, after a few miles, I realized I was headed south.  I turned around.  Back in Paris a third time, I asked for directions.  Finally, headed west into a sunset, black fences on both sides of me, I was headed home.

It started raining.  Watching raindrop patterns, I noticed that the windshield was cracked.  There was a fissure through the glass coming up from beneath the dashboard, about a third of the way up the glass, and then arcing around toward the driver.  How could I have not noticed?  This crack must have been the source of the screeching, cracking noise from late the night before.

Before departing, I had calculated a 1300-mile journey over five days.  I ended up driving close to 1800 miles in two.  I felt like Odysseus returning from Troy, having had experiences I couldn’t quite put into words.  I felt confused.  At the open casket, I watched my father cry for the first time I could remember, perhaps for the first time in my life.  Driving from the graveside to the gathering of friends and relatives, I ended up driving in an incorrect direction.  Turning around, again I was off headed the wrong way.  This route was mere miles from where I grew up.  My directional sense seemed to have completely gone.  Whether it was Paris or home, I seemed not to be able to find my way.

Then, waking up the next morning, the grief.


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