I walked along one of the country roads today thinking about how the stress slips away for awhile when I’m out there. It isn’t being “present” as seems to be the hip way to call “aware.” I’ve always been so in country roads throughout the world; I am rarely more in the moment than when I’m walking somewhere. But I’m also thinking about the times I’ve screwed up, the times I’ve made things work, the differences between the two which seems to be an ultrathin line as it turns out.
I’ve had a half dozen moments in the past five years I’d give anything to have back, to rethink how I approached it, how I’d do it differently. It is entirely possible—as was the case with me—to “do the right thing” in a situation yet completely fuck it up. That’s been me for a decade or so.
I’m quite tired of it. Indeed, I’ve absolutely had enough. I keep thinking of that traditional song, which I know because of James Taylor’s rendition: “If I had stopped to listen once or twice; if I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes. If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart. I’d not be on this road tonight.” Damn straight.
But here I am, nonetheless, confident I made the right decision at the time, confused as to how doing so could lead me to such places as I’ve found myself this half-decade. But I digress, which I’m apt to do from time to time. One paper once called what I do “Digressive Writing.” Okay, I like that, but it’s like trying to have a conversation with a radio, so I’ll get back to my point of the moment—the country road today.
When I was young there was a road which led from the main country road back to stables on the fringe of both a country club and a state park. My friend Eddie and I spent many days walking this road lined with tall pines. It ran behind the deli and the post office but branched off quickly so that nothing sat on either side of the road but woods. Eventually, stables, but until then the peace of nothingness, as if Eddie and I walked alone in the world, some Cormac McCarthy world but only in a good way instead of an everybody’s-probably-going-to-die way.
And we’d sing. Chapin, CCR. CSN. All the initialed ones. One time, and ever since then when I’m on a road like this, we both started singing “The Long and Winding Road,” at the same time. Instead of either of us stopping or both of us laughing, we kept singing, quietly, never looking at each other, never missing a word.
I needed that moment today and I found it right near my home, on another road which runs along the river, spotted by houses set back, but mostly road, trees, and quiet. No concerns about falling down or fucking up. No concerns about what to do next—it is next, there is no next, only a long string of both impossible and beautiful nows.
Just my feet on gravel. Some wind. A house wren, an osprey. No water as it was quite still today on the river. No neighbors, no cars, no dogs in the distance. Just my feet on the gravel or the grass and the light breeze.
Many times I’ve been alone
And many times I’ve cried
Anyway, you’ll never know
The many ways I’ve tried
I’m not sure what happened next. I was engulfed by all things that have gone wrong; I had a clarity of every path, every diversion, every digression. I stood for a long time and thought of Eddie, of the stables, of a road I used to walk in Pennsylvania and another in New England. There have always been country roads for me. I suppose even my brief time in Brooklyn after college I could consider President’s Street a country road for all of the time my mind was wandering.
When else is a person to think about things?
My brother pointed out to me that someone—Einstein, maybe?—said the definition of insanity is following the same course of action hoping to reach a different result. Geez—lock me up now. Guilty. You know why? No, me neither, and that’s the problem. Sometimes it takes the right convergence of circumstance to cut short a dangerous cycle.
Which brings me to the past week or so. This is my convergence; these are my circumstances: I was in Utah and hiked and laughed and remembered and hoped. I was in Utah and pushed myself harder than I have had to in a long time and found out I could. And the sun set across a field of salt, and that moment is forever; that moment was thirty-five years old and thirty-five years from now. So, I came home and continued to hike, albeit mercifully at sea level. And I let go of my mistakes, my bad decisions. Sure, I still have some bluffs to call, some baggage to burn, and I just hope to high heaven those around me have a little more patience while I find my way back. But I came back and hiked, and today I walked that road down past the house of the late Walter Cronkite, and all the way to the dock and the pier sticking into the Rappahannock River, and I walked to the end of the road lined with pines and let my feet dangle, let my past week just hang out there, let my soul just float out there, and knew that everything we go through, everything, even the depths of bad decisions, brings us back to this moment now, and I took a long breath, let it out, watched a boat head out to the bay, and quietly sang, Eddie’s voice up in the clouds somewhere,
The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to your door
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