Thursday, October 15, 2009
Bridgekeeper: Stop. What... is your name?
Galahad: Sir Galahad of Camelot.
Bridgekeeper: What... is your quest?
Galahad: I seek the Grail.
Bridgekeeper: What... is your favourite colour?
Galahad: Blue. No, yel...
Last month I spent a wonderfully refreshing week at my parent's place in Maine. I did a little running, a little swimming, even some kayaking. I also spent some time up in the loft, plowing through some of the boxes I have stashed up there, looking for evidence of my past accomplishments. In particular I was looking for some videos from my foray into stand-up comedy, including a feature about me that appeared on CNN.
It was my fifteen minutes of fame, even though it only lasted about two minutes.
I actually found more than I was looking for. Besides the CNN tape and some brief bits I did for an early Comedy Central experiment called Stand-Up To Go, I also found some rare video of couple of gigs I played when I was going through my folk-singer phase.
It was fascinating to look back after all these years and see this pale, skinny kid with a full head of hair getting up in front of crowds of people and acting like he actually knew what he was doing. If I didn't know any better, I would think this kid was fearless and confident. But I happen to know that he was, in fact, terrified and filled with doubt. And yet, the amazing thing is, you really can't tell. Regardless of the quality of the performance, the overall effect is that the performer seems to believe in himself.
And that really is half the battle.
After a few days in Maine, my folks and I went down to Connecticut to attend my niece's wedding -- which was awesome. We stayed around my sister's house for a while, bulking up on leftover wedding food, before driving to my parent's condo in Florida. I went along as a kind of 'go-to' driver, to take the wheel whenever my Mom needed a break. She did a heck of a lot of driving, though. My Dad doesn't really drive anymore, but he's probably logged more miles than any of us, commuting to work for forty years or so. He spent much of the trip chilling out in the back seat listening to NPR downloads on his iPod.
When we got to Florida, I had a few days to relax before flying home to LA. I did some more swimming, went on a few walks with my Dad, and one particularly hot day, I climbed up into the attic to plow through several more boxes of my so-called archives. This time, however the object was not to find items of interest, but to get rid of as much as possible. And I did manage to drag down a couple boxes of books which my Mom can donate to the local library. But I also found a few more treasures from my long lost past, including two novels, a pile of short stories, a ton of song lyrics and a whole box filled with photographs.
Most of the photos were from the mid to late eighties when I lived in Washington DC -- a period of my life I have been attempting to suppress for many years. A lot of good things happened during this time, but they were all pretty much overshadowed by the disastrous ending of a major relationship. So, when I ignominiously left DC for good, I crammed all of the mementos from that time into a bunch of banker boxes and stashed them at my parent's house in Connecticut. And when my parents moved to Florida, my boxes moved with them. The next time my parents move, they are hoping they won't have to haul a bunch of my boxes with them. Hence the sweaty day spent in the attic, trying to decide what to keep and what to trash.
Surprisingly, instead of ignoring the box of photos, I found myself looking through it, and occasionally even smiling. There were some photos of my old rock band The Charismatics, some pics of family get-togethers, shots of my old housemates from DC, and of course many pictures of me with my girlfriend, Sue, who later became my ex-girlfriend, Sue, and eventually "She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." There were pictures of the two if us in DC, hiking in Virginia, travelling in Europe and Egypt, at the beach, with my family, and even a few from a trip we took to Northern California when I was working as a paralegal on a big case in San Francisco.
I was spending several weeks at a time at a temporary trial office in San Francisco, so Sue decided to fly out and join me for my birthday. We took off one Friday afternoon and drove up north to see the redwood groves in Humboldt County. We spent all day Saturday hiking through the incredible Redwoods State Park, marvelling at the majestic trees and drinking in the beauty of the unspoiled groves. On the way back, the night before my birthday, we found a cozy little seaside inn with rustic cabins overlooking the Pacific. The cabins had little more than a bed, a bathroom and a wood stove. No electricity. No phone. Just the fire and the ocean and the two of us.
It was pretty romantic.
The next morning, on my birthday, Sue snapped a photo of me standing in the doorway of our cabin, named "Albion House." And when I looked at that photo in my parent's attic, so many years later, I was amazed. Amazed at how happy I was. Amazed at how young I was. But especially, amazed at how good it made me feel. Instead of making me even more depressed about all that has been lost, all I did wrong, all I wish had been, and all I wish had never been, it felt good to remember that morning, that beautiful perfect morning by the sea, on my birthday, deeply in love, with all of life and nature in harmony.
In one of the Grail legends, young Percival finds the Grail Castle, meets the Fisher King and actually sees the Grail. But, failing to ask the magical question that would heal the ailing King, Percival finds himself back on the outside, with no castle in sight and only a dim memory of the glory he once beheld. He vows to find the Castle again, and in his later years, he does accompany Galahad to finally complete the mission.
When I look at the picture of me in the doorway of the Albion House, named for the very British Isles where the Grail quest took place, I see a young Percival -- about to cross the threshold out of the Grail Castle, without a clue that he has failed to accomplish his task and will not be able to return to the Grail Castle for many years, or maybe ever.
But, for that one shining moment, he is in the presence of the divine, filled with the grace of God, and ready to take on the whole world.
I have since tried to find the Albion House, but I'm afraid that, like the Grail Castle, it has vanished -- replaced by upscale luxury seaside cottages complete with hot tubs, cable TV and Wi-Fi. But I will continue my search for the Grail Castle. And maybe I can take a lesson from that pale skinny kid with the full head of hair, who had no idea what he was doing and was filled beyond reason with doubt and terror -- but at least he was out there trying.
And this time, if I find the Grail Castle again, I will know what question to ask. I will heal the Fisher King. I will bring peace and joy back unto the Kingdom. Because, although I am still terrified, now I actually do know what I'm doing.