One of the best Easters I ever enjoyed had nothing to do with the real Sacrifice the holiday is all about. It was 1969, and I was sixteen, and had an intuitive interest in the Almighty, but no interest whatsoever in church. Church, in my eyes, was a ridiculous waste of time. School was a stifling of my spirit for five days a week, and to accept any further stifling during the scarce two days I had free each week (Saturday and Sunday) seemed a stupid suggestion. Fortunately I was a Unitarian, and one good thing about being a Unitarian was that we didn’t have to go to church unless we felt like it, which, as I recall, amounted to a total of ten times, by the time I was sixteen. (I wish my parents were alive, so I could ask them what prompted them to go to church those ten times. It was an odd thing to do, and I recall being somewhat awed by the weirdness of it all).
In any case, I not only had no idea of who Jesus was, or what Easter celebrated, but also I had no idea of the deep thought behind Unitarianism, (which tends to be skeptical and scientific and to doubt miracles are real ). Unitarians failed to educate their youth, in my case, I suppose. The result was I enjoyed a permissiveness and lack of discipline that left me free as a bird.
But, because my brain is bigger than a bird’s, I did a lot of wondering. In school this was a problem and was seen as a failure to pay attention to the blackboard. I daydreamed a lot, knew such thinking was illegal, and became an artful dodger, when it came to avoiding drawing attention to myself. Self-promotion was not a thing I desired, and if I had any talent in that regard it atrophied like an unused muscle, because my main aim in school was to escape punishment by going unnoticed.
My thoughts existed in a sort of Underground. There were a few mean and repressive people in my childhood who I suppose I could blame for stunting my growth, but still it seems odd to me that I was so reclusive. For the most part my life was good, but still I withdrew as if Nazis might come down on me, if I thought out loud. Due to this fearful reaction, (and fear must have been involved, to keep a blabbermouth like myself so silent), I became, at a young age, very aware of what a wasteland the mind can be, without the introduction of ideas outside of your own capacity to “think-up”.
Sometimes my daydreaming would leave me totally dissatisfied. Although I did delight in staying in bed late on Saturday and Sunday mornings, enjoying my slumbering thoughts, by noon the thoughts were becoming irksome. I had to get up. I had to get out. I had to find some other minds.
To some degree I could find the other minds in books. But even books grew irksome after a while, and then I was confronted by the fact I chronically avoided involvement in school. I had few friends. I was the youngest in my grade, in some cases by more than a year, which in some cases put me at a great disadvantage, but in one case was a great blessing.
The blessing occurred because I remained a boy as my classmates became adolescents. This was painfully obvious in the showers after “Gym” class, where I could see I had no pubic hair and nearly everyone else did. It was also obvious at school dances, where I was usually a foot shorter than the girls. This resulted in some situations that seemed tragic at the time, but seem funny to me now. If I digress into the details I will write a short novel, but you should be asking yourself, “How could such a situation be a blessing?”
It was a blessing because I could witness what idiots my peers were becoming as the hormones hit, when I was still free of such madness. It altered my mind, so that when the hormones finally did hit me, only a year later, I rocketed off in a direction all my own.
Only a few years later I was six feet tall, and the fellows who had bullied me backed off. I was still a dreamer, but a big one. I still liked to sleep late, but also was propelled by a strange desire to escape my home town, and escape the school where both teachers and peers didn’t think much of me. One form of escape was to hitchhike.
I should underscore how much safer hitchhiking was back then. Not that I didn’t meet a few perverts, but perverts were far politer back then. Once you explained you were not interested in their particular perversion, they’d be very understanding. I’d apologize for not being perverted and they’d apologize for asking if I was, and they’d drop me off at the place where I wanted. Except, in a few cases, we had to sit together for a while longer, before I got dropped off, and there were awkward silences. I never liked awkward silences, so I’d get an interesting conversation going about perversion, before I got dropped off.
In 1967 I began hitchhiking home from school, and the rides were short and the talks brief, mostly with suburban fathers on their way home from work. But some of the same fathers picked me up over and over. But I wanted adventure, and in 1968 I ventured farther afield, down to Cape Cod and out to Nantucket, and then from a friend’s summerhouse on Mohegan Island in Maine to a family gathering east of Toronto, spending a night in the YMCA in Montreal on the way. I was fifteen years old.
Let me repeat that. I was fifteen years old. That is how safe the world was, back then. I kept careful records of my adventures, and in my diary noted every ride, and what I observed in the kind people who picked me up. I was not a dirty hippy at that time, but a smooth-faced youth with short hair and idealistic eyes. Families driving loaded station-wagons full of children would swerve to the side of interstate highways to pick me up, so I must have looked wholesome and innocent. I did my best to totally charm my benefactors, and I seldom waited long for a ride.
One ironic event was that I got picked up by a reporter for a small town newspaper just as it was getting dark, and, (after he asked his wife permission, and she (and two small children) scanned me from head to toe), I was allowed to sleep on his screened-in front porch. I wrote about him in my diary even as he wrote about me at his typewriter. Because I was quite close to the place in Ontario where the family-gathering I was heading-towards was held, his article was seen and clipped from a paper by a family friend, and I actually eventually had a copy sent to me. What is ironic was that he seemed to envy me for being on an adventure, even as I envied him for having a woman who loved him, (and for getting paid for his writing).
When I got back home there were no articles in my hometown paper admiring and envying me. I was back to being just a nerd in a school of snobs. I loathed school more than ever, but God was kind, as 1968 turned into 1969. That winter saw stupendous snowstorms in February which, along with the February vacation, meant that I only had to go to school something like four days the entire month.
March brought the ordinary routine back, and I swiftly was very sick of it. I wanted to stay in bed and not deal with how shrunken and humiliated high-school made me feel, but rampaging hormones made me also want to flee. I had developed a new habit of impulsively blurting stuff, turning from an introvert into a braggart, and, even though I was (mostly) a quiet introvert at school, when I arrived home I talked big. One afternoon I stated I had to write a Social Studies report (untrue) about “researching America”, (untrue), so I was going to hitchhike down to my grandparents in Florida in order to “gather interviews”. (Largely bullshit; I actually planned to spend Easter Vacation sleeping late.)
My home-life was chaos at that point, as my mother had remarried an old, rich Harvard Law School professor the prior May, and the poor fellow, nearly seventy, got hit by such terrible disrespect, (I am one of six children), that he had a heart attack. I felt slightly guilty as he recovered, though I confess I continued to refer to him as “The fossil”. I just figured he was an old sleaze-bag and my mother was a money-grubber willing to degrade herself and become a “trophy wife”, which may explain part of my desire to leave town, but the old geezer surprised me by actually seeming to care about me. How he survived that first year I’ll never know, but when he died nine years later I knew I’d lost one of those rare friends you don’t deserve, but who sometimes unexpectedly appear in your life right out of the blue.
In any case, I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously when I said I would hitchhike to my grandparents in Florida, in order to get good grades. It was only one idea out of a whole lot of other ideas I blurted out, when I got home from school. I probably also said I’d get to the moon before both the Americans and Russians. It shocked my socks off when my stepfather thought it was a good idea.
In 1969 Easter occurred on April 6, days before “Easter Vacation” actually started. There was no attempt on my stepfather’s part to subject me to church, but he did subject me to some tradition of his own, some egg-hunt his family always held, and which now involved his grandchildren and not his children. I was annoyed, as it was beneath my sixteen-year-old dignity to hunt eggs. How dare this fossil (who was saving my family from poverty) ask me to attend a stupid egg hunt? Did this silly business of hunting eggs end the Vietnam War? Did it end poverty in the inner cities? With the sneering scorn only a sixteen-year-old virgin can glower, I did attend the egg hunt, but I was not helpful.
As I stood disapproving of children hunting Easter eggs, I could not help but eavesdrop on what the “grownups” were discussing. I was taken aback when one topic was “my trip to Florida”. One grownup was saying, “But what if the police think he is running away from home?” My stepfather stated, “My stepson will produce proof of my permission, with a permission slip, written on Harvard Law School stationary.”
To be honest, my response was to silently think, “Oh, shit”.
It is one thing to just blather on and on about political manure, but quite another when you actually have to shovel the shit.
One part of my sixteen-year-old diary makes me chuckle. It admits what I really wanted to do over Easter Vacation was to sleep late, and wonders why on earth I was getting up early the next day to hitchhike to Florida.
I am so glad I did it. It opened my eyes to the sort of Americans who care enough to pull over for a sixteen-year-old kid hanging his thumb out on the side of a highway. All I can say now, a full fifty later, is, “God bless them, bless them, and bless them again.”
It took me some three days and thirty rides to get from Massachusetts to Florida. For some bizarre reason I calculated my miles-per-hour, as a hitchhiker, and it was nearly sixty mph the first day. But back in 1969 Interstate 95 quit in the Carolina’s, and a hitchhiker had to go slower, hitchhiking smaller highways through swamps where Spanish Moss hung from every branch of every tree, and sharecroppers still plowed fields with mules.
My grandmother very much wanted to see my Social Studies report after I wrote it, which was very embarrassing because I’d made the “assignment” up, as an excuse for my wanderlust. She kept asking to see it, even years later. Now I am thinking perhaps I’ll write it, fifty years later. I still have the old diary, with every ride carefully listed.
I have one paragraph completed in my head, a sort of statement I’ve spoken so many times that my kids roll their eyes slightly when they hear me again becoming garrulous. I just say how kind all the people were, and how they advised me to be wary of other people who might be dangerous. I say, “Northerners told me to watch out for southerners, and southerners told me to watch out for northerners. Whites told me to watch out for blacks and blacks told me to watch out for whites. Absolutely everyone told me to watch out for the Georgia police, and the Georgia police told me to watch out for absolutely everyone. And everyone was beautiful and kind.”
Something odd was occurring in 1969 that many recall. It was called “The Summer Of Love”, which seems a bit odd considering there were anti-war riots and drug overdoses and bad trips, and over the years I’ve heard many do their best to belittle the rare mood which flavored pretty much everything. But no amount of denial can completely erase how special it was, even though it is nearly impossible to describe.
In the Bible there is something called a “Jubilee” that occurs every fifty years or so, where all your debts are forgiven. In Hinduism there is something called a “Darshan” where God or a saint reveals divinity to the ignorant and undeserving. Something along those lines occurred in 1969. In the strangest manner I could see God in every person I met. I got a glimpse how beautiful this world could be.
How far we have fallen. I can sink into a dismal mood nowadays, where it seems everyone is whining, and claiming they are a victim, and blaming everyone else. Rather than God I see a jerk in everyone. I yearn to go back to 1969, when everyone shone with a beautiful light.
Another year’s under my belly’s belt
And another spring startles with warm wind.
I wonder if I’ll feel as I once felt,
Or did last winter make me so thick-skinned
That I can’t smile. Bitter men own logic
That pounds its points with harsh effectiveness
Even through healing palms. And so sly, so slick
Is this sick debate that one avoids the mess
By washing ones hands. Why try? And why get
Mixed up with the doomed? I don’t even want
To turn on my radio. No saint breaks a sweat
Striving, for it’s easier to taunt,
Yet my heart knows Christ saved fools who had sinned,
And it’s then spring startles with warm, washing wind.
I fell into a sort of sulk last November, due to shrill Democrats winning the House of Representatives here in the United States, and also because I became aware my blog was being censored in certain search-engines due to the fact I am a “Denier”, regarding Global Warming. I felt a divisive and even fascist power was arising and oddly accusing everyone else of being fascist. It felt totally different from 1969, when people sung, “everyone is beautiful, in their own way.” I just wanted to turn away from it all, but that just made me feel marginalized and alone.
It was then I discovered the #WalkAway videos on YouTube. Apparently I was not the only one who felt as I felt. Although the videos are political, (in that they are people who are “walking away” from the Democrat party), they also had the feel of a support-group, wherein one becomes aware one is not alone. It is a relief to see others feel the way you feel, even when they are from very different backgrounds, of different religions and nationalities and age-groups. Men and woman, whites and blacks and Asians and Latinos, young and old, all disliked the division. None liked being told they should hate fellow Americans. All preferred a unity, and felt “all men are created equal”.
It gave me the strange feeling I was sixteen and hitchhiking again, and a stranger’s car had stopped to pick me up, and that for a short while I sat beside a new and interesting friend.