“All who wander are not lost.”
Depending on whom you ask, that’s a JRR Tolkien quote, or the Budda, possibly Chris Thile, Daniel Boone, any number of adventurers, a couple of ex-presidents, or perhaps even me.
I wander. And wander often. I often have no idea where I’ve ended up, but I am only occasionally…lost.
A night run. Just the ticket to find some sanity. Full moon. Cool air. The lonely wail of the big machine I was astride my only company. Slowly we become one…blood, bone, muscle, steel. Wickedly grinning as I pushed her to the limits. Running hard through the corners. Full out on the straights. Feeding on the wind. Tasting the night.
I’d lost track of time…and of space. I ended up somewhere deep into the back roads of Oklahoma. I only knew that because I’d passed a state road sign some time back. It wasn’t a Texas sign.
My kind of ride.
I’d no firm idea where I was…but still I wasn’t lost.
Lost has little to do with physical location for me.
I’m not the only one that wanders though.
Gassing it hard on a straight stretch, I passed him so fast I wasn’t sure he was really there…but I recognized the man nonetheless. I took a deep breath and sighed. I knew approximately where I was now. I’d been here once before, or somewhere very close nearby.
I also knew another thing.
Tonight wasn’t about me any longer.
I chopped the throttle, let some of the triple digit speeds bleed off, and drifted to the shoulder. A quick u-turn and some hunting as I traveled back the other direction and soon I pulled up beside the old man I’d passed a few moments before. He stood there, leaning on a cane, watching me. Thumbing the kill switch silenced the engine while leaving the lights on.
I smiled at the old man, “Hello Mr. Akin.”
“I’m not lost.”
“Yes. I know.”
He grinned at me, grateful. He had to think for a moment. “I just want to see…” he hunted for the words “…the place…that…place again. You know?”
“Yes. I know. Come on,” I patted the rear motorcycle seat, “I’ll take you.”
That place. I knew. I’d met Mr. Akin before, in a very similar situation. A whole lot of people had thought he was lost…wandered away from assisted housing. I’d found him along the road, that time in the dangerous summer heat. I gave him some water, then a ride. We’d gone to see his home, had some ice cream, talked about his wife, his kids, his service in Korea, and then I’d taken him back to the people that were searching for him.
He was not nearly as lost as they thought he was. They didn’t believe me when I told them we’d talked. Seems he hadn’t talked to them in years.
Heh…can’t say I blame him. None of them were listening.
He handed me his cane and climbed on. His knees were giving him trouble and it was difficult for him to mount the passenger position on my machine, but when he took my outstretched hand with one of his, and grabbed my shoulder with the other, his grip was surprisingly strong.
Once he was settled I handed him his cane and fired up the big cruiser. I always relish that smooth, quite rumble when she comes to life.
Suddenly I realized I didn’t really know where to go. The last time I’d picked him up was in the area, but from a different place. He rapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a crossroad with his cane.
Ah. Left then.
After enough twists and turns that I was beginning to think he really was lost, we topped a hill and arrived.
There was just enough light from the moon and stars to see some details. The abandoned farm house was slowly collapsing. Overgrown and not especially different from the thousands just like it that have been abandoned all across the west. The big farms take over, and there’s simply no need for these structures.
We stopped in the track of the old driveway and he slowly got off the machine. He was smiling.
“I met Her there you know…just under that tree. A Sunday picnic.”
I didn’t say anything. He wasn’t looking my way and didn’t seem to need an answer.
“I married Her there too. I was terrified. My daughter met her husband there too.” He laughed. “He was as scared as I was on my day. I truly thought he was going to faint!
His voice changed, I could tell the smile was gone. “I lost Her here too. The year we added the porch. She got sick and just never made it back.”
This time he did turn to me. “I know it’s selfish…but I really wish I’d been the one to go first, you know?”
I thought of my own “Her” and shuddered. Yeah, I knew. I can’t conceive of losing her…my sanity would be gone for some time at the least. Even after all these years her touch makes me shiver. She quiets that darkside within…her presence effortlessly quells a beast that if I’m alone I have to fight tooth and nail to simply contain.
Sanity. Yeah. That’s a bridge I don’t want to cross. I’ve wondered if I would even make it back. Passion has its price I suppose.
Leaving me troubled, he turned back to the house and just stood there…hands clenching on his cane. I sat lightly in the saddle of my machine and pondered serious thoughts. It’s a cruel universe that robs us of our loved ones, yet leaves our love intact. Then it compounds its crime and steals away our health, strength, and capabilities but leaves us with our desires…and our dreams…
Of course, it would be even crueler had it not given us the capability to love and dream in the first place.
Fire and ice. Wind and water. Dreams and failures.
An owl hooted and the crickets hummed.
The stars moved their slow dance around the universe, driving home the point that life goes on no matter what we wish.
It might have been a minute, or could have been an hour that we stood there and wondered.
In a blink I found him standing right beside me.
“Dragon. We need to go.” His words startled me out of my reverie. I had been…in that moment…lost.
I cleared my throat. Tried to speak. Failed. Tried again. “Ah, yes Mr. Akin. You’re ready then?”
He gripped my shoulder. “Yes. We should go. I shouldn’t have brought you here…to this place…to these thoughts. I see them in your eyes Dragon. Shake them off. You shouldn’t have them. These thoughts are not for you. These thoughts are for old men.”
As he mounted the bike behind me I thought of failed dreams, lost friends, lost loves, and lost lives.
They are balanced out by more dreams, new friends, new love, the lives I’ve touched, and the lives that have touched mine.
Shivering, I thumbed the start button on the big machine and my pulse quickened as she came to life.
Steel. Blood. Muscle. Bone. All one. I immediately felt better. Those thoughts weren’t gone…and they never would be…but they needn’t have undue influence either. The world marches on. We all know in the end we won’t survive…but some of us know that it’s not about surviving…it’s about living.
Bridges will be crossed when needed, built when they are missing, and blown clean to smithereens if they cause me or my loved ones any trouble.
I turned my head. “No Mr. Akin. These thoughts are not for old men either.”
As I worked the Dragon through her gears and roared down the road I let the excitement of the ride penetrate through me, carrying away any doubts. Again, I tasted the night, grinned.
Flying. Free. Alive.
I turned my head again, the winds of our passage ripping the words away from my face, “These thoughts are not for men at all Mr. Akin…these thoughts are best left for the winds.”
I was never sure if he heard me.
I rode once more to escort Mr. Akin, mere days ago, yet almost a year after our last meeting. His family wondered about the hot, sweat-soaked, burly biker that tromped in out of the heat to pay his respects. Wondered as I stared at the coffin with haunted eyes. Wondered how I knew his name…and no doubt wondered why I was smiling when I finally turned and walked away.
I couldn’t help it. He is traveling another road now…and She…will be waiting. A smile was the only appropriate reaction. Sadness was out of place here.
“I’m not lost.”
Indeed, you are not, Mr. Akin. Indeed, you are not.
CUAgain Mr. Akin. Tell your wife I said, ‘Hi!’
Life is a road…
July 13, 2009