A voice said, “Cry out!” and I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass... Its beauty is like the flowers.
The grass withers, the flower fades...
But the word of our God stands forever!
Yeshaiyah the seer captured an essential quality of human life in his vision — our beauty is kin to that of flowers. We share a brief and intense life in common; when mature, we flower and burst forth with seed for future generations. As for them, everyone recognizes their colorful make-up, how it lures the eye of wandering insects, assuring that next summer the meadows will again be clothed with splendor. We humans likewise desire to generate in beauty and bring forth others who will be like us.
One summer day my imagination was stirred by the love that was all around me and from that day forward I yearned to participate in a new life that was filling our country. And like me, for many Americans now alive, 1967 to 1973 were the years of our flowering. We lived, breathed and drank in a colorful, passion-filled time; work, travel, music, and politics plunged us into monumental joys and sufferings; we experienced an endless summer brimming with hopes and dreams. All during the Woodstock years, from that first “summer of love” to the close of the Vietnam War, we burst into flower, faded, and scattered the seed of our generation all across the United States. We bore the seed and carried the new raw love that burned in our blood; we built the bridge from the last generation to the present, from our parents to now; we were the flower children — young, innocent, and short-lived.
The summer of love almost slipped by me like a day lily's brief appearing. My one true glimpse of it was like a French sailor gawking at the enchanting natives of a Tahitian village. Sixty red-blooded Boy Scouts from Ohio and I spent two weeks in the furnace heat of Idaho's Farragut State Park. To cap off the adventure, we bussed to Seattle for a free evening before taking the ferry to Vancouver Island. A few friends and I rode the monorail to the old World's Fair site in search of excitement. Everywhere we walked, young hippies filled the grass and paths. It was like going from a foreign legion outpost in the Sahara to Paris. We stood out like sore thumbs in our olive-drab uniforms, dark green knee socks, red tassels on our garters, and wide-brimmed “Smokey the Bear” Stetsons. All around barefoot teenage girls drifted by, some in long-length white cotton dresses, some in clinging Indian prints, some in bell bottoms and peasant smocks with hand-embroidered designs, some with flowers in their hair, or head bands, or beads and garlands around their necks. They looked like part of an Indian tribe, or like medieval minstrels, or gypsies. We looked like Mayor Daley's police or the National Guard at Kent State. The sweetly acrid smell of marijuana burned on the evening breeze. They were around my age, yet casual, un-selfconscious, absorbed in another reality I wasn't even aware of, neither out of place nor awkward in the slightest. Had someone explained what they were into, I might have deserted right on the spot and never gone home. Who knows? Two more years were still to pass before I bought my first pair of bell bottoms and tried the drugs of the freak culture.
For flowers to grow, the tiny seeds must first fall into the earth and die. For a long time, the little seed in my heart remained buried before it began to grow. Little roots went down — Timothy Leary's interview in Playboy, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour. Similar to the tactics of a communist on US soil, I hid underground, biding the time, awaiting the right opportunity. Secretly, anonymously, I took root — thinking, reading, watching, preparing for the days ahead when my ideals could be expressed openly.
A “Death of God” theology course the following summer paved my way into hippiedom. Without God, nothing ultimately mattered. Why shouldn't I do anything I felt like? Who was keeping track of me? Who was watching? My theology professor, an old Kierkegaardian, led me down the primrose path of his master's genius. As soon as I learned that the road to freedom divided into three main branches, I had a choice to make. One led to an ethical life, one to an aesthetic, and one to a sensual. Which would be right for me? Should I live doing what was right, or for beauty, or for pleasure? Should I be a monk, a Mozart, or a Don Juan? I chose the aesthetic. I would search for truth in beauty and beauty in truth. I would enjoy life's most beautiful things and find meaning in them to go on living. My tenets were simple: art was the most beautiful part of life, film the greatest art; nature the most beautiful part of the earth, and hippies the most beautiful people. Yet, why were the most beautiful experiences in life so filled with the ominous presence of death?
In the old German tale Faust, the world-weary savant conjures up a spirit one dark night in his study. With hopes of learning the meaning of life, he embarks on a quest, guided by Mephistopheles, the devil. The cost of the experience will be his soul, the wager hinging on the devil's confidence that he could wear down the ever-restless Faust and finally get him to say “verweile doch, du bist so schoen” (linger a little, you are so beautiful) to something he would not want to let go. I, too, awaited the same — that one awful, beautiful moment I would wish with all my heart to linger a brief second longer. As close as I came, my years as a flower child never fulfilled that wish.
There were times, tripping or stoned or close to nature that the awesome splendor and the painful briefness of life drove me deep into despair and near to giving up my own Faust-like quest for beauty. Why couldn't we always be tripping? Why did we have to come down? Why couldn't my friends and I stay like this forever — carefree, young, unambitious, giddy with purposelessness? Still, behind every one of such fine moments hid the unrelenting Mephistopheles, quick to snatch even that brief glory out of our hands. He knew how to draw us on, how to tantalize and further promise and then lock us up forever in the prison of his insane world. Behind the beauty of every experience lurked a hopeless despair, an agonizing feeling of helplessness and futility. All the flowers were meant to fade and every relationship to fail. A sense of impending doom damned every endeavor. “There's a thorn tree in the garden, if you know just what I mean,” Eric Clapton sang. The thorn tree was death. We had to get back to the garden, but the cost of getting there was enormous — the thorn tree blocked our way.
So I had to settle for a different garden. It was lush and relieving. All around lay low-lying hills, lakes, streams, waterfalls, meadows and woods. Nearby, too, was the ocean, low dunes, reeds, and saltwater marshes. Yet in spite of all this beauty there often came the terrible lonely feeling of not fitting in. It didn't matter where I was, stoned or not. The sensation that I was out of place overwhelmed me. Sitting on a cliff's edge watching the hawks gyre and soar on the updrafts, or on a lawn beneath a shade tree, I knew that nature was doing what it was meant to do. I knew that plants and bushes and flowers were all fitting in their proper place, but I, strangely enough, wasn't. They were in harmony with the wind, the air, the sun, the rocks, the tender skin of the earth, the cool waters, and the fiery heat of day. But I was alone, a stranger and an outcast. Thoughts like these continually disquieted me. Even in the stupor of being high I couldn't dull my senses enough to the awful feeling that I didn't fit into the realm of nature as all the other parts did.
I felt a horrible outrage at the thought of death. It was so unjust, like a knife stab to the heart or the twist of a screw deep within. One day I wouldn't be on the earth watching the sun come up in all its peacefulness or see the moon rising in the early twilight. I wouldn't be around when the apple trees came into bloom to fill the air with fragrance or when the lilacs came out drenching the evening, or when the daffodils covered the hillsides. The clouds would come and go and I wouldn't be there to notice them. I wouldn't be able to see the sparkle of sunlight on water or feel the raw salt wind off the Sound, or sniff the soft balm of melting snow. The seasons and life would run on without me. It would never halt and wait till I was there. Was there anything more unfair than that? In all his wisdom, Shakespeare could only say, “Golden lads and girls all must, like chimney sweepers, come to dust.”
There was little consolation in Georg Buechner's thought: Christ was the greatest Epicurean because he knew when to die, or in Jacques Brell's lyrics, “It's hard to die in the spring, you know,” or in Omar Khayyam's quatrain:
When you and I behind the veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the world shall last,
Which of our Coming and departure heeds
As the Sea's self should heed a pebble-cast.
It wasn't fair that I would have to lie beneath the ground year after year and miss everything. Death was horrid and ugly; I didn't want to be a disembodied spirit, chained in the deepest recesses of the earth, held in agony by the excruciating, crushing loneliness. Who didn't dread the stillness, the imprisonment, the horror, the hopelessness, the helpless despair? And the conscious waiting that would go on — every second of every hour, day after day, year by year. The torment of mind would be acute, the pangs more fierce than losing someone you truly loved. Over and over again would be the thoughts of my conscience and the clutches of hopeless darkness all around.
One day I faced the issue squarely and decided to wrestle with this fear. I heard rumor of a man who had defeated death and I found him at his cross. Joining him was better than anything else I had ever done. I had nothing more important to do than be with him. I had nothing left to really live for, nowhere to go, no more true friends, no lasting hope or adventitious future. With him I could face the threat of death. He was all I needed. It was a relief to see it all go, especially the empty life I clung to so greedily. With him all things became new. In him there was no more dying. He was life. His name — Yahshua.
Unlike some people I followed, his people love to live together and be with one another. With the help of others like myself, all the deepest thoughts and greatest longings of my soul came into being. I became a member of a commune of people, part of a tribe with its own culture and government. Together we have the hope of bringing forth another generation, our true sons and daughters to fill the earth with love and
a garland instead of ashes
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness
the planting of the Sovereign,
that he may be glorified.