When I was in my twenties, I bought a poetry suitcase. My plan was to travel around the country with a portable typewriter and give readings, teach workshops, stay with friends of friends in the various political movements I was connected to, living on a shoestring and a song. The particular song that ran through my mind at the time was Back By Fall by Wendy Waldman. It was the anthem for my vision of a journeying poet with a vocation for social justice art.
There’s crying in the cities
all the people are sad.
I heard it from the mountain
where I was living.
No food for the children.
Oh the times they are so bad.
What ever happened to giving?
Oh, Mama mend the hole in my coat.
Take my guitar from the wall.
I got to go see what I can do,
and I hope I’ll be back by fall.
Over the years I’ve had to surrender a lot of things I loved. My body won’t take me hiking on the Appalachian Trail anymore. I don’t do well in winter, no matter how I love the blue shadows on a field of snow or the light glancing off icicles. Going somewhere just overnight requires as much gear as a back-country camping trip—only a lot more medical. I can’t travel light. In fact I can’t do conventional travel at all.
But I also have a track record of expecting miracles and getting them. I got into college without finishing high school, and into a doctoral program without a B.A. In the fall of 2008 I decided I was going to go to Cuba and get socialist rehab following a stroke, and the next summer I went, and got two and a half months of treatment that got me out of a wheelchair and walking the streets of Havana.
Then I came back, got massively exposed to toxic mold, and started getting bad pains in my legs that might or might not be due to tick borne diseases, and I was back in my wheelchair.
First steps in Cuba, June, 2009.
My mother had been telling me about an astounding book called Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, by Ellen J. Langer, about how expectation and belief influence the ways our bodies function, and heal, and age, and I was right in the middle of reviewing my beliefs about what I could and couldn’t do when I took a break to watch Eat, Pray, Love, the gorgeous personal quest travel movie starring Julia Roberts. It’s the part near the end, where the main character says that if you set out seeking truth, and you treat everything that happens to you as a message, and every person you meet as a teacher, then truth will not be withheld from you.
And that’s when the buried hitch-hiker in me awoke. Because although it’s a perspective I try to hold, to see a universe full of messages and teachers, when I was a young traveler, standing by highways with my thumb out, open to what chance would bring, I could feel the trembling nearness of revelation so easily.
And then I realized that what I want is not to just build my safe home and park it somewhere, but to pack up my 26 foot long poet’s suitcase, take my metaphoric guitar from the wall, and go see what I can do.
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