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Chapter 1: To All Finite Things, There Are Beginnings

So, I don’t remember the first trip I took on a train or an airplane, as most of us don’t remember our infancy very well. I was 6 months old. It was the early 80’s and, if I remember my mother’s telling of it correctly, it would’ve been a train from Southern Illinois to St. Louis, followed by a flight from Lambert International Airport in St. Louis to Philadelphia International Airport… where, no doubt, one of her 6 siblings would have picked her and me up and drove us to their house or to her parents’ house to be around family on our travels.

By the time I was 6 years old, I was boarding a flight on my own from San Francisco International Airport to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis to get greeted directly at the gate (as it was back then) by my grandparents on my father’s side, and by my cousins and my aunt and uncle.

That one I remember.

I was all dressed in a small thrift-store suit and had my backpack as a carry-on. I helped the nice flight attendants retrieve passenger’s trash, like cups and cans and empty pretzel bags, before landing; and earned a few dollars in tips along the way and a few compliments on my ‘get-up’, in the process. I remember stepping off the plane and walking that cramped little tunnel that leads to the terminal gate, amidst the flowing herd of other passengers; eagerly looking ahead to the large congregation of awaiting strangers, for a glimpse of a familiar face.

There, towards the back of the crowd that was amassed watching and waiting for their loved ones or clients or whatnot, I rather quickly caught sight of them a little further towards the back: my cousins had made a large sign that had my name on it in crayon; and they were all there together, each adorned with a loving smile…

In these types of regards, I had a tremendous, little early childhood – but all in all, I still recognize that getting up to and into adulthood was a rather difficult journey for me and surviving myself and life, in general, to the age of 18 felt to me like it would only happen as an unlikely, pleasant surprise… if it were to happen at all.

In my mind, during my mid-adolescence, I didn’t feel like I was gonna make it to 18. I wasn’t afflicted with a terminal illness, unless my ‘illness’ were to somehow circumstantially play a notable role in the occasion of my death...

Mine was a diagnosis of bipolar at the ripe early age of 14 after I got arrested rather cordially at school, being relatively drunk. After a little low-key drama at the cop-shop, I ultimately earned myself a week’s stay about an hour away at a facility for young-folks with psycho-emotional or behavioral ‘issues’.

After a week there, rather than being sent home to go back to school, like was happening for basically all my fellow patients; instead, I found myself on an 11-hour ambulance ride to a much larger psych-facility in Kansas, which was said to be the best in the country.

My parents weren’t altogether poor by any real stretch, though money wasn’t often around in any great disposable abundance either; I suspect that those couple of months I spent locked up outside Topeka probably set them into debt pretty good for a few years, minimum.

Now the bipolar diagnosis, which was made with very shallow and quick appraisal, has always been an odd one for me to work with, in part, because my 1st-person experience seemed to be most simply summarized, at that time, that I was often more in touch with the emotional intensity of the moment than others my age, or that is how it often seemed. The world felt heavier and darker, yet simultaneously also more laden with elation and extasy than I felt like most folks my age were yet aware of.

Everyone experiences joy and sadness at different moments in their life, but it seemed that these emotions would grip me harder and arguably more often than the average kid whom I would encounter in my journey coming up.

My late childhood was more of a depressed time than an elated one.

Simultaneous to any direct depressions or ‘sufferings’ about my own life that I was experiencing – I had an early propensity for vicarious compassionate suffering. The tragedies, atrocities, and personal miseries or ‘sufferings’ of others were rather emotionally taxing to my adolescent experience.

In those days, aside from any more personalized struggles, my heart seemed to break more and more by the day as the scope of humanity’s tremendous history and the almost-compulsive tendencies for struggles in late 20th century life (both micro and macro) were coming all-the-more into focus for me in my path of learning more about the world through a young-adult perspective.

Simultaneously, the common stigmas at the time were even more ill-informed about mental wellness or illness than they might be today, and I would come to find out that many folks with the same diagnosis were immediately viewed as though they are basically wildly-adorned with red flags of potential danger, branded as ‘potentially dangerous’… In all the decades of my own living thus far, I can definitely agree that my mind doesn’t commonly operate quite like the ‘average’/’nuero-typical’ individual, but my heart has always been steered strongly by good intentions, my will has always been guided by the pursuit of ‘good’, as I understand it, and though the results were often far from perfect, my aim was always whatever seemed best, overall, under the circumstance.

After my stay there in the facility, I got to spend a week in outpatient treatment, staying at a charity communal house for non-local outpatient youths. My parents and I had a room in this communal house for the week, and on the very first day that I was released, I caught a ride with my mom into town and we came across a little coffee shop in a strip mall and she agreed to let me go there and hang out for an hour or so while she shopped elsewhere… she may just have stayed there in the parking lot and read a book, for that matter, but nevertheless I was walking into a coffee shop on a sunny day after several weeks locked-up.

I was headed towards the front door of the coffee shop, when a teenage girl, perhaps a little older than me, complimented my jeans which were all ‘tatted-up’ with other patient’s signatures and doodles and whatnot in various different-colored ink and marker. We talked for a short minute, and I went in to get my coffee. When I came back out, she invited me to sit with her and her friends.

We all talked about music, first and foremost.

All my life, I have had respect for a wide array of music – all music, truly. I’m not at all into bigoted lyrics or other such fringe niches like that, but I can respect all music for what it is…an audible expression of some aspect of the human experience. Some recorded music or live performances may be more or less to my personal liking or enjoyment at any given occasion, but especially at that time, I was into a fairly-wide array of music considering my age and the finite means by which music moved across the land, back in those decades… So, while I was into some bands or musicians that they hadn’t gotten into yet, most of the names they threw out there were ones I was at least a bit of a fan of already. It was the 90’s and there was still this thing where musicians had to hustle fairly mercilessly and be rather consistently excellent and also sign on a dotted line somewhere to gain truly widespread notoriety… this was still the era of CDs, cassettes, radio, MTV, and live performances – selling merch to afford to continue the tour and such; and previous to all the mp3s and music streaming services and the like, I find that in a great many regards, that era was basically the gestational time for this current New Renaissance that we are in the earliest grip of now.

Ironically, after exchanging a fair number of names that were current at the time… We all gladly found common ground on legends of yesteryear like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan and The Doors.

The girl, who I hope can forgive me for not remembering her name (all these decades later), wrote a fresh set of lyrics on my jeans in blue pen:

“I seen the morning light.

I seen the morning light.

Well, it’s not because I’m an early riser;

I didn’t get to sleep last night.”

She said it was her favorite Bob Dylan lyric and as much of a fan as I felt like I was at the time, I wasn’t altogether shocked tha

t I didn’t recognize it. Bob Dylan has, after all, written and/or recorded an astonishing amount of music over the years and decades and I was still fairly-fresh in the discovery of his catalog.

The lyric she wrote down was from a song that was on a Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 CD that I didn’t end up coming across until one day in ’99 when a little record store in Kentucky happened to have it whilst I was on my first solo road trip to visit an old family friend - family, for sure…just not by blood or law.

On my return drive, I listened to that whole CD twice in a row in my old ’81 Toyota Celica as the wheels spun swiftly beneath me and the miles between me and home disappeared slowly.

I got back in time for my first Mardi Gras celebration in a historic district in St. Louis known as ‘Soulard’; an annual ruckus celebration that has traditionally been considered ‘third of its kind in the world’ in all considerations of its magnitude and celebratory debauchery; third, only behind Paris and New Orleans. As of this point, Paris hasn’t happened for me yet, but I made it to the downright chaos of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, a few years later. But that was my second trip to New Orleans that I recall, the first being a mission to drive a borrowed vehicle to the house of an artist who lived there in New Orleans and pick up several pieces of fragile artwork, whose sale had been negotiated and paid for at a prior occasion, and then drive them all safely back to the home area to the purchaser.

Through the years, I’ve seen the waves of the Pacific when I lived in the Bay Area out in Cali (and been out that way as well on other trips back) and I’ve had many trips out to the shores of the Atlantic – (seeing how that’s where mom and her siblings grew up; subsequently, so did most of my cousins and now some of their kids as well) – and I have seen a great deal in between.

I don’t have a bucket list goal to visit each state just to say I did it, or anything, but I am an American-born traveler, for sure… aaaaaannnnnndddddd… I kinda wanna see all the sweet places, ya know? But I’m already eternally grateful for the travels I have experienced in this tiny infinity of a life I’ve lived thus far.

Chapter 2: When Thorn Bushes Are In Bloom

One thing that speaks universally is kindness.

I’ve rarely found myself in my travels any place where English wasn’t still the official first-language of the land, but even beyond any understandings that mere words can convey, to see a heart-felt smile or hear it in someone’s voice can be enough to begin to understand across any language barrier.

Music and food also traverse the many anthropological borders that one may face in their travels, but the sharing or providing of food from one person to another goes sometimes far further than any translated conversations or even a song.

On a side note:

It was once said about Zen, that “the sound of the rain requires no translation.”

So, with all of that in mind, let me take you back to one very rainy night, far from the stomping grounds of my adolescence:

By several turns of events combined, sometime in my early-twenties, I found myself hiking the side of a very large and busy interstate for several hours. I was not sticking out my thumb for a ride, but I also eventually was a little taken back at just how many cars could splash on by me, at tremendous speeds, without a single vehicle stopping. Not even some kind of squad car to investigate or anything. For a moment, despite the discomfort of being nearly drenched for so many footsteps in a place I was less-than-familiar with, and just as the time and distance began to grow in my perception, I thought of snowflakes in winter, many years ago, falling into the flames of the old trash barrel in the back yard of the old farmhouse where I did some growing up as a kid.

And then along that interstate, just as the time and distance began to grow in my perception to nearly infinite proportions, I began to feel as if I could walk this road for the rest of my lifetime somehow and that perhaps it might rain throughout the rest of my walk.

And almost at that exact moment, a small vehicle pulled to the side of the road just a few yards in front of me and turned on its ‘hazard lights’.

As I approached the back of the vehicle, the back passenger door came open.

Now, I had, by well-before that point in my life, adopted a certain commitment to living fearlessly until my days in this incarnation are done.

For better, worse, or otherwise: I will choose Love over Fear, always.

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