I almost immediately set about writing the piece below, only to find that my musings had stirred deep emotions, both in myself and in the people I wrote about.
I love my family. They have, one and all, faced their own obstacles and conquered their own summits. Any fault of finding oneself out in the cold lies solely at my own feet, for they have so many times opened the door. Below you will find the answer to why, even in the arms of family, there are those of us who can never go home again.
This piece is dedicated with love to my wonderful family:Gilbert and Joyce Gray, Marty, Diana, Mallarie and Mathea Breeden, as well as to the answer to my own personal prayer, Cindy Bender.
Against the Darkness
And ever after, comes the Darkness.
The Fallow ground at the end of all the words, the silence when the last violin has fallen to whispers, the last flicker of epiphany ground slowly to a chilling halt. Inspiration cools, the fingers stumble, the “Delete” key more and more frequently in use, entire paragraphs purged after long minutes of crafted debate with the Muse.
Silence within, as the city thumps and roars beyond the window, Cindy sitting patiently reading in the sunlight reflected from distant roofs to the book perched cat-like in her lap.
A message from my father, leaving me to understand, once again, that to communicate this darkness at my heart, to try and shape the passage through Night into words and images is to wound those who have tried so desperately to give harbor to a ship which has no choice but to sail. We are too much alike, father and son, stubborn men who think too much and feel too much, logical men ruled by our hearts and trying, too late, to make sense of senseless actions.
There has never, with one or two rare exceptions, been any question of an open hearth and home for the prodigal son. My mother has too often bridged the divide and has never once failed to make welcome either her rebellious son or any guest or friend of his, no matter how tenuous the recollection or connection. She has held onto the faith that passes all understanding, and has given me to strength and the courage, time and again, to humble myself before Eternity and beg forgiveness, to draw another breath and rise up, secure in the belief that I am never alone in the night, no matter how dark.
My sister’s life has filled with LIFE and I can think of no one better to find joy in a family, in the country, with a strong, funny, intelligent husband and two amazing, completely unique daughters to call her own. I can think of no time that their hearth and home has not been open to strangers in need, even the one she calls “Michael”.
It is not a question of welcome, nor one of opportunity, nor occasion. Again, there is no blame, simply a tragic history of almost unavoidable conflicts between strong-willed and opinionated people of intelligence, and I have inherited too much of my family‘s own spirit of always needing to know “Why?” rather than accept a pat answer, the inborn need of any curious creature to stretch beyond its own horizons.
I have followed a Path Less Traveled from time to time, blending back and forth into the mainstream, the trail branching and circling back upon itself. My basic failure to develop enough adult responsibility to plan a career, start a family, save for the future or own a home of my own, coupled with the wandering genes of my mother‘s Irish heritage, reinforced by a life of wanderlust answered, has led to an irreparable separation of perspectives.
I am not narcissistic enough to call it enlightenment.
But I am a Rover. We are a scattered tribe unbound by blood, known by a secret cant of solitude; strangers in a room of friends, alone in the midst of our own family. We seem lost in thought because some part of us is caught forever in the past or future, unable to settle on and in this present moment and simply be present.
I left the bright shining Valley in which I was finally settled and raised to find something beyond the simple country life and perspectives that I had always known, even the more liberal opinions and habits of my peers.
Like Oliver, I simply wanted “More, please!”
But I left with a broken heart, and the wound colored all that I did or said for the next two years. I saw wonders of world renown and discovered secrets to rival their beauty that had been seen by few if any in the last hundred years.
I found a new home and filled it with longing for a world and a love I had left behind. I plunged into a darkly-shining new world of late nights and loud music, huge buildings, freeway traffic, metropolitan living, brutal heat and glaring desert sun. Crowded stadiums, the smell of smoke and powerful electronics, hours of shouting and climbing, contorting ourselves through the gridwork and steel of huge buildings to rig anchors for massive lifting motors, creating the web that would levitate a complex structure of lights and lasers, speakers and special effects over a stage of musicians, wandering through the thronging mass hours later, drained, distant, the entire world pulsing to the gut-deep thump of bass as you inhale the ripe smell of crack and meth cooking in a broken antenna tube, the rich undertone of marijuana and the taste of loneliness in the midst of ten thousand people.
And still the promise of light called to me in the darkness, the forest lessons given by loving parents to their children so long ago a light on the distant shore, beckoning the tiring swimmer.
Sedona’s rainbow walls, stretching crimson faces forever into the sky.
Granite Mountain’s remote beauty and stellar granite climbing.
Ringtails peeking from the edges of boulders as I sit, sweating, taped wrists and chalked fingers and a ten-thousand yard stare across Devil’s Canyon to the distant granite promise of Top of the World.
Chalking on a thin volcanic hold, feet smeared on nubbins as the rope sways back down a committing, some might say suicidal first ascent below me, to the uncertain hands of a stagehand who had never seen a Gri-gri until an hour before.
Memories of moments when I felt connected. Memories of the sun, shining so clear, all questions at bay, all issues resolved if only for a single moment in the perfect flow of my self against the world.
For memories and faith are all I have, all any of us have, come the darkness. Faith is the belief in another sunrise.
And memories are the seeds of hope we plant in fallow ground, in faith.
No memory proves proof against regret, in a life so filled with regrettable behavior. From worthy deeds in the north country, my thoughts flow downstream to the turmoil and contention of the City. The people I knew there were good people, for the most part, and many of them were amazing climbers. In the strain of swimming in that furious current, in the tearing tension between my country soul and the chrome nightmare in which I found myself drowning in excess, I stumbled. With love reborn and the promise of a family and a career, I fell.
Self-doubt and petty grudges became a Cause, sleep deprivation and simmering adolescent disillusionment sparked to anger at a simple departure of opinions. The resultant conflagration destroyed any chance I had at finding new friends or keeping the old ones. Had I the chance, I would humbly beg forgiveness from them to this day. Most put up with far too much of my rage, my obsessions and my pointless stoner pomposity to have been justified by any support I ever gave to their routes or ideas. They were simply too gracious to tell me to get lost until Rich LeMal one day offered to do just that.
I failed time and again to prove worthy of the friendships I took for granted, as the shattered prisms of an inner absence distorted the high, clear desert sunlight into something malignant and fey. My soul grew twisted in the long steel shadows; moving at the speed of sound, fed on poisons and the music of sirens and concrete and sweat-slicked flesh. Brief collisions that could not be called connections, urgent answer to the fire in the blood and then the long, regret-filled grind up from the depths of sleep into a morning of mistake’s recognition. Good-bye presumed before the first hello.
In the end not even a family was enough to quench the blazing, self-righteous, self-destructive fury of my course. In an instant they rise before my inner eye, against the backdrop of Phoenix, Joshua Tree, and the Pacific Coast Highway; a tossing head of unmanageable red-gold curls and a pair of mischievous blue eyes, face like a Botticelli, will like a force of nature and the body of a water sprite, a soul like the fall of clear water into unseen depths, and there, between us, another, echoing the beauty of his mother, tiny fist curled around my smallest finger. A flickering image, against the burgeoning flame.
Grains of precious sand, slipping away again and again between the grasping fingers of memory, the stains of tears slowly drying beneath the desert sun, so swiftly setting.
A year of slow dissolution, the caustic flame of self-hate poured on every trace of self-worth, diving headlong into the sins of the flesh to hide from the memories of something clean and pure and true. Climbing new routes with complete amateurs holding my lifeline in their hands, uncaring of the possibility of injury or death, secretly hungering of the final bright flare of agony and regret before the long fall into night. Scars and the suppurating wounds they concealed were carried festering into the beauty of the back country, long hours staring at the rising ramparts of the Rockies, searching for answers I would not hear amid the secret wilderness of the Wind Rivers and the Tetons; poisons that seeped out into new friendships, into family visits, driving me ever and again into the forest, where the whisper of the winds and the kiss of stone on flesh could for a time drive away the haunting shapes of a lost future and broken friendships.
But in the end every trail, no matter how cruel or long, became only an escape, brought me to a place where I could curse the Beast inside me, with only myself and the obdurate stone as a target for my seemingly endless rage.
Silence, and again, the darkness, a brief dip in the bitter water of that inner shore, where the ruins of all our dream castles slowly crumble before the unceasing tides of reflection. Searing kiss of the merciless razor of introspection to cast judgment’s glare in pure shades of black and white.
And still we carry the traces of that blessed scar that is love, written on our skin, to water the seeds of hope, planted against the promise of rain, memory of a river of fallen tears.
The past moves away. And so swiftly the turns taken on those distant paths less traveled fade from memory, and the way back to what we once were is lost.
You can never go home again.
But you can move forward, and make of the future, of every dawning moment of possibility, your new home.
And with the new day, again, the darkness ends. Morning lifts the promise of life from ground once fallow. We draw breathe, raise ever-hopeful eyes to the horizon and the endlessly fulfilled promise of the sunrise, as the last stars fold themselves into the dawn. Distant birdsong lifts us into the sky, beckons us to dream anew, backs straightening once again beneath the load of existence and the burden of memory and the day-to-day responsibilities we carry, legacy, a varied harvest of the seeds we have sown.
In the midst of turmoil, peace, In the midst of frustration and confusion, sanctuary.
A wise soul, behind deep woodland eyes. A strong hand, worn with the work and cares of motherhood. Ready laughter and serious regard, charming innocence and seductive candor. Patient, curious, intelligent, nurturing, irreverent and bright.
In the midst of another conflagration, I suddenly turned to see the long-abandoned possibility, an answer to my prayers, walking through the door. In seconds I felt the attraction, in days the beginnings and in the weeks that followed the inevitable conclusion. Mutual resistance was pointless… it was bigger than the both of us. Despite a thousand obstacles and detours, after countless near-misses of decades, orbits conjoining, in perfect balance.
So now I strike out, once more, against the current, into the dawning day, with opportunities won and lost, with the single, simple promise to do my best, in the fallow fields, to sow the seeds, and to reap the future with open arms. To share the journey, its triumphs and inevitable defeats, for as long as the song and the story run true. Our time beneath this sun is brief, but we walk this path hand-in-hand.
Do not think that I mourn for myself. If my thoughts run a darker vein, they are simply an exploration of the journey I have taken, and the battle that still challenges my days, in different season.
Come share with me in this adventure, living in full knowledge of your own journey.
Let us make of each day something worthy of remembering.
Until that final Evening comes, and we lay down the burden of all these follies and failures and few petty triumphs, listening with a faint smile to the fading echoes of our meager wisdom as we put aside this frail vessel and set sail for the endless Sea.