I believe in the Road.
When I was a sophomore at Brown University, I returned home for spring break and asked my father to read some of my own poems and others by Rilke. My father, a pioneer in the study of the biochemical basis of mental illness, told me that my poems and those of Rilke revealed schizophrenia. I left home within the hour, on foot, never to truly return again. Before my father died, I had forgiven him and loved him as a father should be loved. Now, I am grateful to him. Grateful for endowing me with the same passion with which he lived his life, however imperfectly. My own life has been no less imperfect. That night, as I walked down a dark highway, singing to myself the Woody Guthrie song “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” I vowed never to allow another person’s assessment of me to determine how I felt about myself, my ideas or my poetry. I did not then return to Brown. When I did, I was married and a father.
That first long night on the road lead to two years of aimless but purposeful hitchhiking. There were others on that road. One bad man, the owner of an art gallery in Austin, Texas, lured me out to his ranch and tried to force me to have sex with him. I refused. Quietly but definitely. His hired man pulled out a knife. I said, “I will not.” Quietly but definitely. I was not afraid. He did not touch me. In that precarious moment, I knew myself. It was as if life had asked me a question and I had answered.
Since that time, I have found myself in other precarious situations, as I do even today. I will not chronicle these critical moments here except to say they put the integrity of my life in question. Each of these situations required of me an answer beyond any philosophy I had ever read. Philosophy does indeed ask essential questions, but it is only with our actual lives that we answer those questions. Such philosophical questions as Do we have free will? What is truth? Or Justice? are all too often illusions like the paradoxes propounded by Zeno. The illusion comes when we mistake the arena in which these questions are to be answered. What is truth? Observe how I live, not what I say. I necessarily live out my answers to what is true and good. I am my philosophy and all that I have suffered I own.
I am always on the road, aimless but purposeful, knowing that the road is where my true self is revealed. For me the literal and metaphorical road have become one. I know I have at least one great road trip still in me. We may pass by each other in the East Mountains or between here and there. Know all is well even if I look sad, ragged and tired. Pass on. All is well.