It happened many years ago. I wasn’t a man yet, maybe I’m still not, in the spiritual sense; and I believe that is what matters most, regarding our growth and development as beings alive in the world for what is, after all, a very short time.
So, whatever time I may have left, even if it’s just this present moment, I must use to set that right.
I’ve had plenty of time and even opportunity. I may even have been offered the very important gift of a mentor, or guide, early on who could have helped me understand what happened that night.
If I had had some sense of how important it was that there should be such people among us, to help young people find their way I might have been more likely to take hold of the gift of them for dear life and found my path.
But I didn’t. I let them go unrecognized. I didn’t have a clue. I was a fool. But then I wasn’t born and raised in a culture that understood the importance of such things, I might say, by way of excuse.
And sadly, tragically, that’s still true for yet another generation of young people in our world.
And we wonder why so many are so desperately lost that they are throwing their lives away in vain pursuits of one sort or another, sometimes with terrible consequences for many others; or just throwing their lives away, period. What a terrible waste.
So far as I can recall these many years later there wasn’t anything unusual about that Saturday evening. I think I was 15, maybe 16, alone with my music and snacks after a day of work at my part-time job as a supermarket, grocery shelf-stocker. I may even have watched part of Hockey Night in Canada and my beloved “leafs.”
I had just finished reading a novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café, by Carson McCullers, and that may have inspired the hot, deep-south atmosphere conjured up somehow by my imagination. But otherwise, it just started to happen seemingly for no particular reason. It was like I started to watch a movie being projected in my head:
I saw a dusty, dirt road in a rural area on a hot sunny day – oppressively hot, so much so that everything had stopped moving, except for one thing: far down the road I saw bits and pieces of something, just coming into view. But it had no form, so I couldn’t see what it was. Just as the scattered fragments of shape and colour seemed to be gathering themselves together, they would fall apart again and again in the waves of heat rising off the road.
But after a while they finally took definite shape and I could see it was a man; but a very strange looking one. He was a small man, with exceptionally big feet, or perhaps the old, leather work boots he was wearing were too big for him. But his bare hands were also disproportionately large. He wore a peaked, red cap that put most of his face in shadow under the blazing hot, midday sun. His pants had been repaired numerous times with patches of many different colours. He wore a faded, green, plaid shirt buttoned up tight at both wrists, and around his sinewy neck. Over one shoulder he carried a burlap sack, and that was all. It was empty, except for a tin cup. Somehow I knew that.
He looked like he had been walking for a very long time. I knew what was in his heart. By that I mean I knew where he was going: he was walking to the mountains, the snow-capped mountains that finally after walking so long through the world he was just beginning to see on the distant horizon. Or was it his imagination? He wasn’t sure. He wanted so much to be there, and he hoped his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him.
After going down many roads, and suffering many trials and tribulations in the world he had finally come to believe the mountains were his true home. There he would find streams of pure, clean water flowing on beds of polished rock and glacial ice. He would feel the cool, mountain breezes on his face, and look up into the bright, blue sky with a heart full of joy.
He had to keep going. He was almost there. But he was so tired, and very thirsty.
He had not seen any water for a long time. But here ahead of him now was a homestead, of sorts. He could see there was junk scattered around the house which looked dirty and in disrepair. He saw a barn, a pile of manure near it; and then he saw the well-pump, down a slope from there. Not a good sign, he thought to himself. But he was so thirsty. He told himself he would turn into the driveway and ask for a drink, but take just a little, just enough to wet his parched lips.
At first he thought no one was home. Because he was so thirsty he decided to help himself. Normally he would not be so bold. But surely they wouldn’t mind. What happened then was the most wonderful thing he had ever experienced.
As he worked the old, rusty pump handle up and down water soon began to flow. He cupped some of it in the palm of one of his big hands and was astonished to see how wonderfully clear and clean it looked. He touched the water to his lips and was amazed how pure and cool it tasted, and how refreshed it made him feel throughout his whole body. He put his cup under the spout and filled it to overflowing. The sun’s light sparkled on the water as he lifted the cup to his lips.
But before he could drink the cup was suddenly knocked from his hands. He watched in stunned silence as the water soaked into the dirt, leaving only a shadow where it had been.
And then the air was full of mocking laughter. Here of all places, where I have finally found the pure river of the water of life, he thought, as a million voices poured contempt on him.
And he could not contain his anger.
Later, in another time and another place, the same man was walking down another dusty road. But now his burden was much heavier. As he plodded along the dust rose in a cloud from around his feet, out over the fields and into the sky where it slowly dissipated.
When a boy at the next farm saw him coming he knew right away this was someone he wanted to meet. What stories the stranger could tell of shining cities, of foreign lands, and distant seas, he just knew.
So the curious boy quickly went to the nearby well and pumped a big bottle of water to take down to the road so the man could have good, fresh water to drink and take with him on his journey. He looked very tired and thirsty, and the big, burlap bag he carried over his shoulder was surely too full and heavy. It looked like a terrible burden; and it was.
“I thought you might like a drink, sir,” the boy said, as the man came along. He held out the bottle of water.
But the man walked right past, and didn’t even look at him.
The boy followed.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be a bother. You just look like you know lots of things, and have been lots of places. I bet you’ve been in the big city, and across the seas. What’s it like, out there, in the world?”
The man ignored him.
“My folks say I ask too many questions. I don’t mean to be a bother. Someday I’m going to go out into the world myself. I may climb to the top of the highest mountain. Have you done that?”
The man stopped and let out a big sigh. He motioned the boy over to the shade of some trees near the road.
He told the boy everything, as best he could in the time they had.
I saw the boy standing on the road for a long afterwards until he could no longer see the man, or the cloud of dust rising into the sky. He could tell from the late afternoon shadows they would be wondering up at the house where he was. It must be dinner time. And then there were chores to do.
He looked down the road one last time and wished he could take the man’s heavy burden on his own shoulders, to give him rest.
Then I saw the boy turn and walk back home down the road. As he walked his boots stirred up the dust off the road. A freshening breeze picked the dust up and took it out over the fields and then up into the sky, where the first stars of evening were preparing to shine. He would look out his window later at them as he always did; only this time he would see them in a much different light.
That, dear blog-reader, is the abridged version. After a while, I ran to my room to write down what I was seeing. It was a gift, if only because of the experience of pure ecstasy. Time did not exist.
There are cultures in the world that know how to help young people understand when things like that happen, tell them how it’s the spiritual energy we all have in us, reaching out, seeking its path to make a bigger spiritual connection.
First Nation people have that spiritual tradition. That my non-First Nation culture tried to destroy that along with everything else in First Nation culture is the height of ignorance. We could have learned so much, so much that we need so desperately now.