I was slumming on the net the other night and I found this photo and realized that my best friend and I are in it. I know you’d never find us but we’re there. just below the horizon line on the right. We’re exhausted, excited, stoned, badly sunburned and seventeen, approaching eighteen. We had hitchhiked all the way from Connecticut in the cold, wet spring to get to that spot: The California Jam.
This photograph is taken from stage left looking into the audience. There are approximately 200,000 people in that audience, and facing an audience of that immensity must be a huge high for any performer. It was certainly a huge high for a great many attendees, that’s for sure.
Just take a look at the list of performers. What a day and night that was! I mean, this was 1974 and I was seventeen and all those bands (with the exception of Black Oak Arkansas, who I never cared for much) were just magnificent. The people all around us were great. There was a ‘Bummer Squad’ to take care of people who needed help. Everyone shared what they had, be it food, water, weed, whatever. Everyone smiled. No guns. No fights. No gangs.
The reason I bring this up? Well, it’s all about fear, of course.
When I remembered that trip to California, that remarkable time at the Ontario Motor Speedway where the concert was held and of course what wonderful fun it all was with my best friend, I was overcome by not just the poignancy of the memory but the cutting sense of loss of my friend who had died in 1993. Yet I managed to put aside the sense of loss and concentrate on remembering the experience, recalling the particulars and inwardly chuckling over the silly and the dangerous, the funny and the incredible. It was then that I realized I had taken some pretty big steps in the world of therapy.
“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.”
– Mark Twain
In the past such rumination would be counterproductive to my therapy. When you fear facing those moments that cause pain you simply don’t face them or suffer the consequences when you do. But this is not the past and the therapy I have done has begun to change me in a number of ways. Those changes aren’t always apparent to me. Still, when the picture of that crowd appeared, when I realized that I had been not only with my friend Walt but was young, fun, intelligent, adventurous and a part of a greater society, I did not suffer any sort of self-inflicted pain.
Instead, I was happy. Wistful but not maudlin. Filled with fondness and not fear. Amused, delighted and fascinated, not repressed, unhappy and distant. That, my friends, says a great deal about how things are beginning to really change for the better in a real and tangible way and not merely in some intellectualized form.
This photograph was taken 14,441 days ago. Since that date, I estimate that I have reimagined myself into at least three different people, with different outlooks, different conclusions, different goals, for an average of around 4500 days for each of those incarnations.
Yet the core person — the me that really is me — somehow managed to escape the very worst of the damage. Oh, there’s a lot of damage to be sure, but just take a look at this picture: do you believe that anyone in this photo escaped being weathered by the tempests?
That said, when I saw the photos I realized that I am still a part of them. I’m still in the picture.
We may not all be there to have our pictures taken together now, but we’ve experienced something wonderful together. Why should I be afraid to remember the best about something wonderful?
Some things don’t change, but most do. Some people are gone, and won’t come back. Some people don’t change much, but they have even if they don’t look it. Some experiences are locked into our minds as times of great joy and to allow times of sorrow, pain and anger to overcome those times of joy, to shade them, to color them and stain them is to simply be careless. I don’t like being careless with my memories. In fact, I am going to make great effort from now on to make sure that the good memories I have are polished, not tarnished.
“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
– Lewis B. Smedes