In the summer of 1991, I left home and ended up staying with a group of hippies. Some of them lived on a discarded school bus that was painted blue with rainbows and other drawings or phrases. Most of those folks earned a living selling hand-made jewelry on the streets downtown and at the music festivals. I wanted an escape and a hiding place, so I quietly blended into the fold of these people.
The previous year had been rather traumatic and there was not a lot of stability at home due to a variety of reasons. So, I found myself in the middle of this free-spirited group of folks who had been living life their way and embracing a diverse group of people from all walks of life. I mostly stayed in a tiny studio apartment in an old Victorian home situated in the middle of the downtown area. I kept to myself more often than not in that little studio and I passed the time dancing to old records on an old record player. Steve Miller Band, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, CSN, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix were just some of the many musicians who kept me company when I was alone in that room. I burned incense and soaked in an old, claw-foot tub while singing the blues to the saddest songs I could find to play. Sometimes I even thumbed my way through a Tom Robbins novel or a giant book on philosophy. I helped sell jewelry on the sidewalks to earn my keep and even spent some time on that old, blue school bus. I didn’t have to worry about anyone messing with me, either, which is what made me want to stick around and hide within the comfort of this mix and match family of people.
A couple of those old hippy guys were like grandpas or the kind of surrogate fatherly figures that come passing through yet never stay. I kept myself within their circle as much as was possible. They shared their stories from living through the 60’s, their brief experiences with war, tactics to avoid the draft, traveling with the Grateful Dead, drug addictions, and then the adventures of creating a cover band of their own. Their idea of church was smoking marijuana, having big banquets of food, and playing jam music. Maybe it wasn’t the most wholesome environment for a fifteen year old, but I had already experienced the kind of nightmare that comes from environments that are much, much worse. Hiding out with this group of people was heaven in comparison.
Most of the time I was very silent and kept myself at a distance as I watched everyone else from the corner. They nicknamed me Casper, saying I was a friendly old soul who had seen much, yet spoke very little. A few of those hippies had lived through Vietnam and, as we sat around one evening, one of them opened up his story. He looked at me and said, “Casper, I know that look. It is the ‘thousand yard stare’. It makes me sad, man. It is like you can’t talk, like something really dark stuffed you up. You don’t have to say anything, man. But, you can’t outrun it, no matter how hard you try. Runnin’ has done nothin’ for me. I tried to outrun Charlie and caught a bullet instead.” Then, he lifted up various parts of his clothes to show us all the scars he had acquired over the years he spent runnin’ and some of those scars included track marks on his arms. He said he started runnin’ in Vietnam and had not stopped.
While I did not listen to him, I never forgot what he said or the different shapes of the scars that were like graffiti on his skin, telling us a story that only he really knew. I eventually went home at the end of that summer and I later left home again at seventeen. A little ways down the road, I got married and made my way across the country. Over the years, I have tried every way possible to run away from the things that I locked up in the deep down. While I have had some adventures and have met all kinds of people from all kinds of back grounds, I always ended up right back where I started.
Runnin’ has never done nothin’ for me, either, and it did almost kill me a few times even if it didn’t come in the form of a bullet or have anything to do with ‘Charlie’.
Whether it is to withdraw, hide myself in busy tasks, exhaust myself by trying to ‘do good’, or dissociate emotionally from my surroundings…I have been facing the temptation to ‘run for cover’.
Sometimes the pity party parade comes marching through the long halls of my mind to blow the sad trombones while the trumpets sound off a melancholic cadence to the tune of, “You’re not worthy! You’re not worthy!” Shame likes to toss the confetti while fear blows up the balloons and prepares the bouquet of strings for my mind to float away on. I can hear my children laughing and saying my name while my husband plants a kiss on my cheek, yet I am so far away from it all that it is like being an observer to a silent movie covered up in a gauzy layer of clouds.
While I was escaping with some time on the elliptical (I am telling you, working out is the best form of therapy I have ever had), I had finally had enough of that pity party parade with the melancholic music and the confetti of shame covering and clinging to everything. I conjured up Moses in my mind and wondered if God could part the clouds of my mind the way the Red Sea split. I pondered over all of the instances in my life when I tried to wrestle myself away from God and out of His hands. And, yes, I have been trying to wrestle myself out of His grip again so I can go back to the familiarity of those dingy hiding places of the soul.
When I read what my husband wrote on this blog, I was astounded at the wisdom contained in those words and I came to a realization: Moses did not do anything in his own power, he was simply willing. He was willing to use his voice when he thought his speech impediment hindered him. He was willing to stand in front of the impossible and allow his stick to strike the ground. The result was freedom.
So, I am standing in front of the gauzy layer of clouds, using my voice, and allowing my stick to strike the ground. I am getting my scissors out to cut away at the balloon strings, I am sweeping up the confetti, and I kicked out the trombones and the trumpets to allow a new song to play.
Through this blog I have been blessed with the budding friendships of so many beautiful souls. There are also some other endeavors outside of my four walls that are bringing about blessings. I look at the faces of my children as my husband’s lips press warm against my cheek and I realize that I want to be present for it all. Through the good, the bad, and the impossible…I want to be here for it. I am tired of runnin’ and all it has given me is a collection of scars whether visible to the eye or not. I am sick of studying the shapes of those stars like graffiti on the heart and I am tired of reading the words to a story only I truly know.
Runnin’ never did nothin’ for me, unless it has involved runnin’ into God directly rather than away from Him.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This post appears in the book: Shattered in Him © 2016 JD Mays