Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Bread of Life

I decided that it would be a good idea to accompany my son Ramsey (18) to his first out of town music gig. He was performing in a coffee shop in Port Townsend. I probably wouldn’t have gone (don’t want to be the hovering father) but he had to take the ferry to get there, then the last ferry back would have already left well before his performance was done. In other words he would be forced to spend the night on the other side of the sound. Knowing him, he would probably have slept in the car on the street. So I thought I would go for not only moral support but to him . . . I guess I mean us . . . find a place to sleep.

We decided to camp. I used to like camping a lot. I was about to say that I haven’t camped in a long time, but I guess backpacking through the Himalayas for almost three weeks this past November counts.

We found the state park and set up our “tents” before the concert. I put the word tents in quotes because, while I let Ramsey use my good mountaineering tent, I decided to sleep outside in my bivac bag. I did so to give Ramsey more room but also I wanted to try the bag out in cold, wet weather. I had slept in it twice before but never in the rain. Not only was it cold last night (with temps into the upper 30s) but they were predicting rain.

We left the coffee shop about 10:30 PM and made our way back to the state park in the dark. Ramsey retired to his tent and I to my bag.

If you are not familiar with a bivac bag, it is simply that, a bag. But it is water proof, and to avoid condensation on the inside, it is made of Gore-Tex.

I started the night out fine. It is rather nice sleeping outside, but inside a mummy sleeping bag inside a water-proof outer bag because you can lie on your pillow and look at the stars (while your head is exposed) up between the massive, old-growth cedars. It was about 3 A.M. that I was first awakened. It wasn’t the rain, yet, but the constant sound in the deep dark woods of . . . what sounded like a heard of . . . hot air balloons with their burners firing up and turning off. One came in that direction, then one in the other. Each burn lasted about 3 minutes. I was confused at first. Then I realized that it was coming from these huge RVs parked throughout the woods and apparently their propane furnaces kicking in with the cold coming in off the sea. How annoying. But, with my tendency for insomnia, I laid awake for a while.

Next came the opportunity for my great experiment . . . it started to drizzle. I felt a tiny, cold drop on my nose . . . then one on my chin. I waited. Then spat, spat, spat . . . I heard it coming through the woods like a covey of Mexican jumping beans.

I zipped up my bivac bag over my head. There I was fully inside. If you wonder what that is like, simply get a Glad leaf and lawn plastic bag, get inside, and have someone tie up the end with a wire twist. As I breathed inside the bag, the humidity built and staled with time. But, I thought, that it must be the way to sleep because that’s how the bag is designed . . . with a zipper across the entire top.

None the less when the big rains, fresh off the cold Pacific, came in, it sounded like I was inside a snare drum and someone was dropping marbles . . . from about 50 feet next to my ears. So in short (between the near suffocating feeling and the rattle of the rain) I continued lying awake for the next couple of hours.

In boredom, I reached for my so-called “smart” phone, which I had tossed inside the bag just before I got in. I fiddled around in the pitch dark of the bag’s interior and I bumped it and it lit up in that green glow like E.T.’s finger. I dialed up my music section and put my ear phones in. It reminded me of the nights in Asia when I was still suffering from jet lag and I would lie in my tent listening to music in the middle of the Nepalese night.

I selected a few songs, hoping I would be asleep before the playlist had expired. However, my “smart phone” (and this is why I use quotes here) instead of playing the song “If” by Bread, played the entire Best of Bread album.

It is a known fact that the sense of olfactory (smell) is the one most closely tied into the temporal areas of the brain where memories are processed. But I have a hunch that second on that list would be music. How many times I’ve listened to a song and immediate had a déjà vu feeling, or more like a flash back.

As I’ve alluded to before, in the middle of the night I think that we are in our most raw forms. Many of my best and worse ideas have come in the middle of the night. I think it is because the part of the brain responsible for dysinhibition (or what Freud would call the Super-ego) is still sleeping.

So, as I laid awake, trying to not suffocate, listening to the entire album of Bread, I was taken back in almost a virtual reality of my past. It was when I was a senior in high school and I had just bought my 8-track, The Best of Bread. I drove a red Plymouth Duster with my 8 track beneath my seat, where I could switch tapes while driving. These were, in many ways, my “wonder years.” I had nostalgia for that eternal hope that I carried then, but a hope that I can never go back to.

I had just become a Christian the previous year. I was on book six of a twelve book Navigator discipleship program. I was seeing myself change and was looking forward to being godly, when I would be a really nice guy and my problems would go away. I had this deep sense of security because I had found this new utopian sub-culture where we all loved each other, only looked out for the best interest of each other. It seemed light-years away from the cruel halls of high school that I had known.

I also had this great security in my future. I had been taught that if you prayed and believed, only good would come. That neither I nor anyone I loved would get sick or suffer accidents. We would all live happily until Jesus came back, and His ETA was about four years away.

I was seeing myself changing and I knew that God, who had always hated me before like He did all bad people, was starting to like me more . . . but not completely. I had given up girls for Him. He liked that. I was working on giving up the Devil’s music for Him . . . that would be any music with non-Christian references in the lyrics, swearing, music with a beat (which Bill Gothard had told was all sexual), or electric guitars. Bread was my one last holdout.

I had discovered Larry Norman, who had Christian lyrics although he was known to have a beat and strum an electric guitar. I was trying to switch over from Bread to a new-Bread-sounding Christian group, Love Song. They only spoke of happy, godly things, not worldly things like romantic love.

I think this wonderful feeling was built on a foundation of sand, but it was good while it lasted. By the late 80s the disillusionment had drowned out all of that original hope just like the heavy Pacific rain drowning out the propane furnaces in the darks woods or how the music of Bread drowned out both.

When I was a senior in high school, the two people I admired most (sounds like the lyrics of a Don Mclean song) were Tom and Don. Tom had led me to the Lord and away from girls. Don had led me away from the Devil's music to good Christian music. The were the most godly guys I had ever known and I wanted to emulate them.

As an example of this dis-enchantment (over the issue of becoming godly), Tom's wife left him about 7 years ago, and I have a feeling that she had a reason. Don was arrested about 5 years ago on child porn charges. I don't share this in a spirit of being judgmental (although I do have an especially hard time with someone hurting a child) but as a commentary on this whole paradigm of being good and godliness.

I did fall back to sleep after the album was over. In the daylight of this morning, and I unzipped my bag and stuck my head out for a deep breath of fresh sea air, I noticed a label on the inside of my bivac with red writing, “Never zip up the bag entirely as it could cause suffocation.” My first thought was, “Why in the hell do they make a zipper that closes completely if it could kill you using it?

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