Friday, May 13, 2011

Bob and God and me. The Golden Bird, Part 3, Lightning Amen



Bob and God and me.

or

From Street Legal to Slow Train.

Just as I was getting this post ready to publish, a message from Dylan himself appeared on his website, urging, tongue-half-in-cheek I suppose, everyone who has not yet written a book about him to "get in on the action and scribble their own book." 
Check! Already done! 

The following essay introduces the the opening chapter of Part 3 of my book, in which, following in Bob's footsteps, I begin my own "gospel phase."



In the summer of 1978, while Bob Dylan was on the middle leg of his year-long “Vegas” tour, “alimony” tour, “big band” tour, “Street Legal” tour — take your pick of labels — I was a new high school graduate on the loose in England. As detailed in my last post, and in the first chapter of my memoir, The Golden Bird, I caught Bob at his hastily arranged, massive outdoor show in Surrey, at the Blackbushe aerodrome. The concert was a triumph for Dylan and a critical turning point in my own life. I fell under the singer’s “dancing spell” and my head cracked wide open. I met a lover that day and uncovered a new experience of nature, and a new intuition of the energy that animates nature.



Dylan was 37, freshly divorced, and although his creative powers were undiminished, they had become unmoored from any tether, a combustible zeppelin. This was clear in the powerful yet poorly recorded songs on the new album, Street Legal, twisted tales from a raw heart delivered through a wall of Styrofoam. This was clear in the dramatically reworked versions of older songs that he offered in concert: “Tangled Up in Blue” as a torch ballad. Fans were discombobulated, sometimes angry — a reoccurring motif in Dylan’s career, and nearly always a sign of advancement, or at the least, freedom. It was as if the listeners thought that they owned the songs instead of the composer, as if the version burned into vinyl and burned into their minds was the one truth, somehow sacred. Dylan, however, was gestating other ideas of sacred. The singer’s new intensity, different from the old intensity, was evident in his stage manner, cavalier, wanton, civilization’s most aggressively intellectual and creative gigolo. Or perhaps a carnival barker. Pleasures and freak-outs of the mind on sale, terms non-negotiable. Back-up singers complimentary.



I could smell danger at Blackbushe, on the wind that evening, in the smoke of the campfires. But I was inexperienced and I couldn’t name it. Four months later, when Dylan’s tour arrived on the west coast of America, the odor had become unmistakable, even to my innocent nose. My second Bob Dylan concert was on the evening of November 9, 1978, at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. Here’s how I describe it in Part 2 of The Golden Bird, in a section called The Silver Cross:

Dylan looked awful. I couldn’t tell just how bad until mid-
set, when Dave and I charged to the stage with hundreds of
others. I stood twenty feet away. Make-up, mascara, and sweat
flew from his face, in black poisonous drops. His eyes stared
desperately at the lights above our heads. He sang with a mix
of vehemence, pain and weariness, as if the songs were being
forced out of him. He seemed trapped, like a wolf in a leg-
clamp. 
His band was the same one that had played with him in
Europe. They made a tremendous din — saxophone scream-
ing, guitars flaring, violin weaving, and back-up singers chant-
ing. The bass and drums circled and thumped overhead like
helicopters.
What was he looking for in the lights? Dylan sang a track
off Street Legal called, “Where are You Tonight? (Journey
Through Dark Heat),” which portrays a man in disintegration
and despair, preyed upon by lions and demons. Several women
live in the song. One is “drifting like a satellite,” one is “in a
rage,” and another is “waiting, putting flowers on the shelf.”
Over and over, in the refrain, Dylan wails, “Oh, if I could just
find you tonight.” Is he looking for one of these women, or
beyond them — for something else?
I was convinced that Dylan’s poems contained clues about
experience in the world and even about my own future. Every-
thing I desired was contained in Marie, in her and me together,
in our inevitable and fated union. But in these songs — layered
with images from the tarot — nothing was so simple. A dan-
gerous, enigmatical force had overtaken the singer’s belief in
romantic love. I was troubled and intrigued by the darkness. It
seemed to promise both bliss and the implosion of bliss.  
Near the end of the concert, Bob introduced his band. He
presented his three back-up singers as “my ex-girlfriend, my
current girlfriend, and my fiancĂ©.”


I couldn’t conceive of why he acted this way. I was thrilled by my physical proximity to the artist that night and untroubled, in fact fascinated, by the new renditions of his best-known songs, but I was worried for Dylan’s very sanity. Or more truly, for the fraying edges of my own. Dylan never claimed to be an anchor for anyone and he actually represented the opposite in my life — the opposite of weight — but still, I looked to him for. . . something . . . a path unsoiled by bullshit, a window to cosmic joy. I had recently experienced these things and I wanted more. It wasn’t on offer that night in Portland. Instead, Dylan generated something else entirely, a rent in the fabric separating heaven from hell. An opportunity to hang out in the shadowy borderlands and consider one’s options.



The rest, as they say, is . . . a matter of public record. Nine days later, Dylan picked up a cross from the stage and ran into a fellow named Jesus in his hotel room.



I returned to college in Eugene. I wouldn’t see Bob again in concert for a long time, but over the next couple of years I felt bizarrely linked to his newest changes. In the late spring of 1979, while Bob was taking Bible study classes in southern California, I flew back to Britain to reconnect with the love I had met at Blackbushe — an older, married, half-pagan, half-Catholic woman. Who also happened to be pregnant. Details are recounted in The Golden Bird. The upshot, however, is that the autumn of 1979 found me disillusioned and  heartbroken in a London squat, where for the first time I heard Slow Train Coming. Before that point, like most others, I had no idea that Bob had gone Christian.



Although I had not a trace of born-again fervor in my own heart, the record appealed tremendously. I was delighted that the disintegration of hope that Dylan had suffered in the previous year had transformed to an expression of faith. As I huddled by the space heater in my friend’s room, I was suffering the same crisis of self-respect, the same craziness that Dylan had shown a year earlier in Portland. To me, the judgment that others heard in the record, that I read about in some of the negative press, seemed squarely directed at the singer’s own failures. I could relate, due to the terrible vanity of my own desire. All of the moral ambiguities that had mystified me a year earlier had shattered on my head.



Hearing Slow Train Coming changed everything. The wreckage of my decision-making was a mess but no longer a threat. The “Christian” nature of Dylan’s message, however, had less resonance than the need to transcend, to “change my way of thinking,” to offer my will to a higher love. I’d been raised as an Episcopalian, so I had some sympathy I suppose, with the vehicle of Christ, but as much skepticism as anyone with the institution of the church. I did, however, have a natural leaning toward metaphysical thinking, a belief in fate and powers from an unseen world.



While I loitered in my friend Theresa’s squat, off the Kilburn High Road in north London, listening to “I Believe in You,” Dylan was performing his soon-to-be-legendary residence at the Warfield in San Francisco, playing only his new songs of redemption, forsaking all others. The bootlegs reveal a strong connection of the artist to his material, and plenty of soul. Most of the audience responded in kind, but the critics were unmoved. One step behind and ten degrees too cold, they held tightly to an image of themselves that, ironically, they had learned from an earlier Bob. They expected him to glorify that one moment in time, when they had been so cool, like him. Instead, the singer had gone deeper into the very themes he had explored from the beginning: authenticity and the quest of the heart, the quest of the soul. 

(To this day, the powers that be at Rolling Stone are condemned to endlessly relive the sixties. The current issue of the magazine picks 9 of Dylan’s 10 “greatest songs” from that decade, completely ignoring the mature depth and beauty of Bob's output in the last 20 years. The editors are absurdly proud to be at the vanguard of a conceptual decade, an idea of a thing, something that exists now only as a marketing tool.)



But truly, back in the day, I too would rather have believed in “cool.” I too thought sixties Dylan was the paramount of hip, even as I was enthralled by the late seventies version. Early in 1980, back in Eugene at the University of Oregon, I intellectualized Bob’s Christian conversion with my sophisticated college friends and found it lacking in style and savoir faire. Regret over my own romantic illusions and missteps had faded and I just wanted to get back in the game. I might have jeered with the worst of them, had I been in one of the college crowds that Bob famously told off in his Bible raps from the stage. But I missed those shows.



And then I met Jesus myself. Turns out a church is about the last place you would find the guy back then. For Dylan it was a hotel, for me it was the bathroom of a college auditorium. He was having a pee I suppose, just before I walked in to do the same.



All of the above is introduction to the following excerpt from my memoir, The Golden Bird. Here’s the first chapter of Part 3, called Lightning Amen. In which I meet the Lord and go nuts. Like Bob. It might make more sense if you have read Parts 1 and 2, but I think you will get the drift. As I said in my last post, if you want a copy of my book, just let me know in the guestbook. Apologies for the lack of paragraph indentations. The text doesn't make the leap from my book PDF to the blog cleanly.

PART THREE
LIGHTNING AMEN

Chapter 8

In late May of 1980, I completed the second quarter of
my sophomore year at the University of Oregon. I had no aca-
demic direction. College was only a place to be, where I didn’t
need to worry about working and where I could chase my only
ambitions: romance and an elusive ecstatic ideal. 
All winter, I’d lived in a tiny lofted bedroom in a shared rent-
al on one of Eugene’s busiest arterials. The house stood smack
in the center of a parking lot. Each morning, I left for classes,
squeezing between the cars of students, professors, and office-
workers. In the late afternoon, I’d walk home, put the White
Album on the turntable, and two pots on the stove. While len-
tils and rice bubbled, John and I screamed at each other about
our loneliness in “Yer Blues.” After dinner, I’d scrub the pan
to the Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup,” and dream up a girl who
might want to push and pull with me all night. I was hungry
for anything that offered a beautiful buzz.
Early in the spring, at the end of April, I moved to an equally
small but much more pleasant room in a quiet neighborhood.
I awoke in the mornings to the scents of grass and earth and
birdsong instead of exhaust and screeching brakes. I tucked
away my Guernsey sweater and my Bob Dylan t-shirts in a
chest of drawers and I felt something uncommon, something
resembling a sense of home.
I’d returned from England to Minnesota in the previous
November and had stayed with my folks through the Christ-
mas holidays. They had been disappointed in me, of course,
running off to Europe and missing the fall term at school. My
mom’s blistering words hurt because I knew she cared about
me and my happiness. I couldn’t talk to her though, any more
than I could talk to my father, about my spiritual desires and
how they had become tangled with the love of a pagan woman.
I also found it impossible to express the distance I felt from
everyone in the family. In my teenage years, my older siblings had
moved west, leaving me behind. More recently, my own actions
and ideals had created a psychic distance that surpassed even
the physical miles between us. In Europe, I had walked down
a hidden, winding fork. Mom and Dad saw it as a muddy path
to nowhere.
I had returned to Eugene for winter quarter and despite the
presence of my brothers two hours north in Portland — study-
ing business and working in business — I felt alone.
One warm evening, not long after classes had ended for the
year, I went out with a new friend, Erik. He was someone’s
cousin, visiting from the East, checking out the college. We’d
really hit it off because he liked to talk books — Jack Kerouac
and the I Ching — and he had a bohemian sense of style.
He had long wavy hair like mine and he wore a thin tie and
a slightly frayed black sports coat. For a few more moments,
I cared about such things. He liked to get high too, and that
night we had a joint of exceptional quality to share.
We walked together to campus, our destination an Akira
Kurosawa movie, The Seven Samurai, playing in a lecture hall.
I’d heard it was a classic tale, based on myth and archetypes,
about Japanese warriors — heroes — recruited by villagers to
save them from marauding bandits.
We stopped at an overgrown cemetery to smoke the weed. I
settled myself on the grass, my back to a tombstone, and Erik
sat lotus-style on a crypt. 
I’d been reading spiritual texts of different kinds, mostly
Zen and other Buddhist tracts, with a little of the Christian
mystics thrown in. Their descriptions of an enlightened state
matched my own brief experiences of transcendence. I wasn’t
disciplined enough, however, to devote myself to the required
meditation of the Buddhists or the solitary self-denials of the
Christians. I was too full of energy and desire.
I wasn’t even listening to Dylan anymore, not his new stuff
anyway. He’d followed Slow Train Coming with another Chris-
tian album, called Saved. In England the previous October,
while hanging around at Theresa’s, I’d been impressed by
Dylan’s new convictions. They had given me hope at a mo-
ment when hope seemed futile. More recently, back in the vast
New World, I’d been influenced by my college buddies. They
thought Dylan had lost his mind, trading creative thought for
the dictates and dogma of a narrow creed. My friends dispar-
aged these records as uncool and impossible to relate to. Logi-
cally, I also couldn’t see how the artist’s focus on Jesus, on one
single religion, could lead to any higher awareness.
I listened to other titles in my collection instead. When I
wasn’t in class or at a bookstore, I spent my time in the record
shops flipping through the racks of vinyl. I owned many clas-
sics of the sixties and seventies: the Byrds, Cream, and all of
Lennon’s solo albums. Most often, I felt closer to these musi-
cians, through their work, than I did to any real live humans.
That May evening, in the cemetery, a familiar quiet descend-
ed — a feeling that had nothing to do with logic. I’d first ex-
perienced it as a small child, staring at my hand — a sensation
that my flesh might be translucent. The same awe-struck vision
had descended in the days after my accident at Blackbushe; I’d
found a golden bird tangled in the roots of a silver birch. T.S.
Eliot had described this consciousness in Four Quartets as “the
still point of the turning world.” The Buddhists called it kensho.
Now, for the first time in months, the sublime bird appeared
again, strutting toward me through the graveyard. I stood out-
side nature and nearly outside myself, as everything around
— the trees and the architecture of stones — glowed with an
intensified light. Erik saw it too. 
“This is some wondrous herb, Steven. I swear to God that
lilac bush is burning.”
“I don’t know if I can move my body, Erik. I feel like it’s not
even a part of me. Is it the pot? Or is it the truth?”
“Of course it’s the pot, man. I suppose it could be the truth
too. But that’s dangerous shit, man.”
“What, the smoke?”
“No, man, your brain! The only one who can walk through a
wall is a ghost. Stay grounded, brother.”
I pulled myself off the cool earth. Erik leapt the monuments
and swung on a branch.
At the auditorium, I veered to the bathroom, while Erik
went ahead into the movie. I never saw him again.
Outside the bathroom door, I met Jesus. He stood by a water
fountain. He was arrayed in white, with a full, reddish beard,
and bare feet. He said nothing. He just looked at me with
bright blue eyes.
The rest of the world fell away.
I could only articulate the obvious: “You’re Jesus.”
He smiled. “I have something to tell you. Will you come
outside?”
I followed him, and it occurred to me that I had died. Noth-
ing else made sense. There must have been an accident. Some-
thing had killed me fast, and it hadn’t hurt at all. My body,
gleaming and immaterial, wasn’t my body at all. It was some-
thing different, something changed.
At the door of a yellow school bus, he asked me to remove
my shoes and socks. Inside, a circle of figures in white sat on a
carpeted floor. When my eyes adjusted to the candle-lit dusk, I
saw men with long hair and full beards and women with white
scarves covering their heads.  
Jesus invited me into the circle, and, surprisingly, offered me
a hand-rolled cigarette.
“Umm…no, thanks.”
“Go ahead. It can’t hurt you.”
Jesus was offering me a cigarette. I took it.
“Am I still alive?”
“You are alive, brother. Yes, you are.”
“Who am I?”
“You are the same as me. How do you see me?”
He paused, only for a moment, while I silently considered
his question.
Then he said, “My name is Micah though, not Jesus. But
Jesus is on Earth. He’s come back, as he said he would. He’s
taken a new name: Lightning Amen. He’s out in the wind,
gathering angels. Come with us, and meet him.” 
“Just like that, come with you?”
“Just like that! Lightning wants you! We’ve waited until you
are ready. Now the time has come.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are three keys to heaven: no killing, no sex, and no
materialism.”
“Three keys?”
“No killing, including the animals. We are complete vegetar-
ians. No animal products and no leather. To create the peace of
God, we make peace with all men and all creatures.”
I could see that — of course.
“No materialism. Jesus says love your brother as yourself. He
said this two thousand years ago and He says it now. People
love their things more than they love each other. The few
things we need, we share. We don’t struggle to live. God pro-
vides everything.”
“That must be true.”
“No sex. Sex is separation.”
“Man, that’s been my problem. I believe you.”
These tenets seemed no less than the answers to everything.
They summed up, with a tidy precision, the central dilemmas
of my life and the appropriate responses.
The first key, the injunction against killing, had been an in-
tuitive realization I’d had in England two years earlier, one that
had been encouraged by Marie. That recognition — that a cul-
ture of violence could be dropped from your life like a stone
from your hand — had stimulated my early leap of conscious-
ness. Now the idea was extended to its fair conclusion. To be-
come a fully spiritual being, no longer of the body at all, there
was no need to nourish one’s true self — the soul — on flesh.
The second key also fit my life. My father’s pursuit of wealth
and security had bought me freedom but I had never under-
stood what to do with this luxury. I had used his money only to
chase love. I was deeply alienated from him and thus from any
appreciation of the ‘straight’ world and its rewards or opportu-
nities. I had long desired a benevolent father who cared only
about my inner self and nothing for worldly achievements.
Who else could answer this need but God?
The third tenet was more difficult because of my desire —
the natural desire of a young man — but it cut to my heart and
sealed the day. The enduring relationship I had craved with
Marie had been denied. Striving for mortal bliss was a vain
dream. Hadn’t Susanne shown that as well by her own dissatis-
faction, by her need to slake her longings with a confused boy?
The sensual world offered only transient pleasures, usually at
someone’s expense. As I considered this in the candlelight, in
a world released from time, half a dozen women’s faces looked
into my own, saying with their smiles that I could stop such
charades.
Smoke billowed above our heads like absurd halos. I puffed
shallowly on my bitter cigarette and wiped loose flakes of to-
bacco from my lip. Each pair of eyes around the circle invited
me to stay. I felt helpless to God, unwilling to turn away, unable
to believe any experience outside this ring had ever been real.
In a single moment, my brief life had been rendered, strained
of impurities, and recast in a new form. Christ had come as
promised in stories from childhood: “like a thief in the night.”
Why not smoke? The physical world had been revealed as
nothing more than a burning mirage.
“Yes, I’m ready. I believe you. It all makes sense.
I've been waiting for you. I see that now.”
Every smile grew wide. Later I would see that each brother
and sister relived their own conversion at these moments, their
own release from care and their own belief in happy endings.
The society of men that we had never really recognized, that
had always seemed so strange and brutal and confusing, could
be abandoned. We’d been right, in our hearts, all along.
Micah seized me again with his eyes.
“We need to release you from all the strings of the world.
We should get rid of anything that might pull you back.”
It was impossible that I’d be tempted by my small collec-
tion of belongings, but I quickly agreed to dispose of them.
To begin, we left my shoes and socks where I’d shed them on
the pavement outside the bus door. My feet, like the feet of
the others, would remain bare. Micah piloted the bus to the
quiet street where I’d lived for such a small moment. We flew
through the door into an empty house; I had no chance to see
if my roommates might share my shock and delight at this
change in the very structure of the world.
We filled trash bags with the contents of my room. I threw
in the Blackbushe t-shirt that had once sopped the blood from
my cracked head. I threw in my Guernsey sweater.
Micah said, “Your glasses, too.”
“But I can’t see without them.”
“You can, brother. You have new eyes.”
I tossed them into the sack.
I unclasped the silver cross from around my neck. It was
small and discreet. I had never worn it outside my shirt. I
looked at Micah and he motioned at the bag.
“Why does Lightning Amen need a token of the death He
has overcome? That debt was paid two thousand years ago. It’s
done. He’s back.”
The cross bound me to Marie, as a symbol of longing more
than faith — a token of misplaced hope. I dropped the silver
trinket into the black plastic bag with all the other adornments
of my brief life on Earth.
My LP’s were too heavy to haul away; I was glad to leave
them for my roommates. The only things I’d ever cared to buy
were books, a few articles of clothing, and records. Maybe the
music would be useful to someone else, someone who wasn’t
ready to abandon the world. Like Dylan, I didn’t need the old
songs anymore. I’d read that he only played gospel tunes at
shows these days. It all made sense now. I’d also heard that
he’d seen a vision of Jesus in a Tucson hotel room. It must have
been Lightning Amen.
We piled the bags into the bus and drove until we found an
anonymous alley dumpster. We pitched my stuff and contin-
ued on to a suburban street of office blocks, where we parked
for the night. Sleeping bags covered the floor of the bus. The
sisters produced a newly sewn robe and I slipped it on. The
only thing that remained from my previous life was my un-
derwear.
Sleeping in the bus was like being at a slumber party of
strangely quiet children. We lay in our bags and smoked —
first pot and then more cigarettes. The brand of tobacco was
Buglar, a cheap, dry blend sold in paper pouches and round
tins. The packaging pictured a soldier, blowing reveille. It was
the chosen smoke of the returned King.
Micah spoke of our purpose.
“All we do is walk, brother, and share the keys. In the sum-
mer, we stay in the north, but as the weather cools, we travel
south, to California, Arizona, and Florida. We have a few ve-
hicles, like this bus, but mostly we walk. We meet the ones
we’re supposed to meet. One day, not too long from now, we
leave the Earth altogether, with Lightning.”
“Tell me more about him.”
“He’s just like you and me, brother. Just like us — in the
wind. Sometimes he drives a dune-buggy in the desert.”
The name “Lightning Amen” seemed perfect. It might sound
ridiculous to skeptics, but for the family, his new name was
part of an extensive inside language. It was amusing and pro-
found. No one who believed would doubt the thunder-struck
aptness of the first name and the plain closure of the second.
I was taken to my knees by a bolt from a clear sky. So be it.
Brothers and sisters also just called him Jesus. He embodied
continuity between epochs — the Rock of Ages.
In the morning, I felt just as high as I had the night before.
The Christ Family was my own. I was in love and, for the first
time since childhood, my love held no ambiguities. I had done
the only possible thing.
We left town that afternoon, motoring slowly through the
valley west of Eugene and then into the foothills of the coast
range. We parked at a wayside rest stop. The brothers on the
bus deferred to Micah’s leadership. He was the driver.
The Family performed chores according to traditional sex
roles. The brothers busied themselves examining workings un-
der the hood and the sisters set up camp stoves on the park’s
picnic tables. They placed large pots of rice and beans over the
flames. One sister sat close to me on a bench, mixing bread
batter in an iron skillet. I was too shy to initiate a conversation,
unsure of what constituted acceptable small talk among angels.
The sisters fascinated me but I could barely tell them apart.
With my blurry vision, I couldn’t see any detail more than three
feet away. In white head-coverings and loosely fitted robes,
faces became the only distinguishing features. This suited me
fine. I’d grown weary of attempting to understand a woman by
her body and her style. Here I had nothing to go on but the
eyes and the mouth.
Nothing was asked of me. I lay around, listening to conver-
sations, smoking whenever a Buglar or a joint was passed my
way. Dialogue was completely focused on God and Lightning
Amen, with contemporary language and references and none
of the biblical speech I’d heard in churches. A brother with a
thick black beard sat down beside me on the grass.
“We’re Jedi Knights, brother. Father wants us to cut through
the lies and deceptions of the empire with our light sabers. Re-
member, Luke Skywalker didn’t know his lineage, or his des-
tiny, or his mission until Yoda revealed it. Then he needed to
be trained. Just like you and me. We’ve discovered who we are
but we need to learn to use the Force. Walk with a brother and
you will learn all the powers of Lightning Amen. What you’ve
felt so far is just the beginning.”
These days, in the new century, Star Wars just seems like a
comic book franchise, like Spiderman or The Fantastic Four.
But in May of 1980, the second film, The Empire Strikes Back,
had just been released, as a follow-up to the 1977 original. Star
Wars seemed to contain, if not a vision of the near future, an
expansive and nearly magical vision of the now. It was a com-
mon cultural dialect for teenagers of the 1970’s, like Led Zep-
pelin and dime bags of seedy Colombian marijuana. In the
Christ Family, the metaphoric value of Star Wars was more
real than old stories from the Dead Sea.
At the evening meal, more than a dozen of us came together
in a large circle. Each individual had a bowl and a spoon but
every other bite was fed to a neighbor. The food was simple:
rice, beans, a vegetable and pan-baked bread. No one spoke
very much. I noticed that others looked directly at me, so I
returned the gazes. Most of the faces were young but several of
the men had longer beards, flecked with silver, and a couple of
the women had extra creases in their smiles.
After the meal had been cleared — by the women again,
although some of the brothers set to washing the pots — tiny
cups of thick coffee appeared. Then the sisters rolled smokes,
quickly and efficiently. We passed the cigarettes around the
circle and lit one from another. Some of the group sprawled
on one arm, while others sat up attentively. A joint followed
the Buglars. I wanted for nothing. Now Micah began to speak.
“Father loves us so much. We have given up everything for
Him. We no longer belong to the world and we are free to
inhabit the air. Lightning knows we only want to be with Him.”
As Micah’s words drifted over me, I continued to appraise
my companions. They were beautiful and calm. I looked above
the brothers and sisters to a row of cottonwoods bordering
the highway rest stop. A warm spring gust sent a storm of
fuzzy seedpods weaving and jumping in the air. This was how
I wanted to live: floating, light as pollen. 
In the morning, Micah presented me with a sleeping bag,
sewn with a shoulder strap and a rolled-up army blanket.
“Today, we walk. Sister Laura will come with us.”
I guessed it was time for my training to begin. We departed
after lunch, with few words and no plans for the future.
Micah simply shouted back at the bus, “See you in the wind.”
“In the wind, brothers, sister.”
Micah, Laura and I walked along the highway side, never
looking behind at cars, and never thumbing for a ride. Mi-
cah said that if someone was meant to pick us up, they would.
We’d hardly gone a mile before my feet burned. With each
step, gravel pierced the tender soles. I walked so slowly that
Micah and Laura couldn’t help but pull far ahead. Once in a
while, they’d stop and wait. I’d hobble up to them and we’d sit
together on our sleeping bags.
Giant firs lined the roadside. I had some idea of how bizarre
it was to be out here. I wasn’t floating and I wasn’t very high
anymore. I was rooted in my body by the sores on my feet,
but I also reveled in the strangeness. I had no sense of leav-
ing anything meaningful behind. I was simply glad. I had re-
moved my shoes and removed myself from the manufactured
world. I touched the earth, and whatever harsh surfaces men
had spread on the earth. I cared nothing for survival. To live
without shoes made no sense if you wanted only to survive.
Micah and Laura looked at me sympathetically and proudly.
They must have remembered days when their own feet had
bled. Their companionship and our shared conviction was all
I needed to continue. We had slipped outside of time. I would
never go back to the world. There was nothing to go back to.
It was over.