Diane’s house by John Wehrheim
“The great challenge of adulthood is holding on to your idealism after you lose your innocence.” —Bruce Springsteen
“If we keep our little flame alive, our first feeling of enthusiasm of who we are, without the influence or intervention of others, we will prevail.” —Patti Smith
One morning I walked into my local, non-corporate coffeehouse, deep in thought, fully intending to hunker down and work on my book. A mix of millennials and Boomers were hunched over their laptops doing status updates. Then I saw a friend focusing on his project in the prime window space. After I settled into a spot in the other room, this character came over. The conversation led to the Big Question, and my recent apostasy from a 25 year church membership pushed into that unresolvable riddle: The meaning of life, of my life and the world. We are similar in age and like me, he has forged a new mission after a traditional job/career. He works daily on a mathematical formula that explains the laws of the universe. We engaged in an hour-long conversation on his theories. Then I asked him point blank, “Joe, what is your purpose in writing this paper?” He flubbed around and finally said, “I need to do it.”
Believing that there are no accidents and each path offers value if we can see it, I realized that our conversation led to my dominant question those days: “How do we find meaning in life and sustain a vision, after we have experienced fifty or sixty years and the inevitable disappointments and reality checks?” The topic had been taunting me for a couple weeks. It rose to the surface again a few weeks later, when the manager of a B & B in Maui where I was staying mentioned a recent documentary film about Taylor Camp, a ‘back to nature’ commune in Kauai, Hawaii in the ’70’s. Memories of my first time in Hawaii came forward, it was a time when the hippie culture’s idealism offered quick solutions to life’s basic issues of work, community, war and freedom were sought at Taylor Camp.
In 1976, I accidentally found Taylor Camp while driving around Kauai in a rented camper with my girlfriend. We had escaped to paradise. In love and free of jobs, school, and home—we found heaven on earth. One day a young guy of my tribe knocked on the door of the camper and offered to sell some marijuana. Ahh… total satisfaction. I bought a bag and he invited me to the camp that evening.
The communards welcomed us to their feast and celebration, even though we were complete strangers. We were of the ‘tribe’—young people looking for an alternative to the disillusion and hypocrisy of the post-hippie, post-Vietnam 1970’s America. They shared home-grown dinner, lilikoi and vodka punch, and cannabis (or as we used to say ‘grass’). The evening evolved into a big campfire celebration complete with singing, guitar playing, and drumming. Always a documenter, I made an audio recording of the free-form sing-along, and drum circle. When it ended, I purchased a large quantity of their home grown herbal products. I played that cassette once at home, but then it disappeared forever. Unfortunately, I also lost/forgot that joyous night of spontaneous celebration of life and community.
Fast forward about 35 years to the B & B on Maui. The proprietor’s comment woke up something in me, like a zombie, I opened the doors to this recovered memory. Slowly, I stumbled on an understanding of what my young spirit could teach me for this time of life. Today, I am as free as I was at 25, perhaps freer because the economics of the next month or year or decade are handled. I reflected on that moment at Taylor Camp and felt a deep, hidden yearning I have carried all these years. On the surface it may be seen as nostalgia for youthful freedom from responsibility or perhaps the urge for community or belonging. But for me, it also represented a call to adventure of the unknown, the fresh, the novel and the uninhibited.
Many threads weave through this long-ago experience but for me they all point to the ultimate question, the one that most people have at some time in their lives and the one that my mathematician friend at the coffeehouse is tackling. What is this life all about? How can I revive my sense of purpose in life? And how do I ride its roller-coaster?
The answer is always personal. Eventually, we form our own opinions and solutions to the Question. It may be in religion, work, pleasure, or family. After sixty, it seems more pressing since the above ‘have tos’ are eliminated and the time left is more limited. My mathematician friend asserted he finds meaning when “the inner self no long feels separate from its experience.” A moment in time at Taylor Camp back in the day was like a floodlight shining on a glimpse of meaning for me . . . free expression in community.
Recall a time when you happened upon a fun and exciting event. Did you jump in and participate? Or did you leave?
What is your opinion about living simply in community? Does it repel or attract?
Retrace your ‘lost’ youth, and go to a place where you experienced a lot of fun, community, and expression.
[Ed.s’ Note: RW Klarin’s memoir/ self-help book—Living the Dream Deferred (2015)
is wide ranging as he visits (and, in many cases, re-visits) places and people that were part of an era that is too important to forget – enjoy his journey!]