I drove the first five hundred miles in pain and sadness over the piece of myself I had left in Nicole's bungalow, and the last five hundred dreading what awaited me in West Virginia. As long as the car was moving I was able to remain fairly stable. But as soon as I stopped for gasoline or to stretch my legs I was overcome with such an overwhelming depression that I was compelled to get back on the highway just to hang on to what was left of my sanity.
The Ohio Valley was even darker and dingier than I had remembered it. I pulled into the high school parking lot across from Rose's house and turned off the ignition. A cold February wind swept through and whistled in the windows and doord. The car quickly gave up its heat, but the thought of walking into that house with this unbearable sadness and facing the man who had predicted it kept me imbedded in my seat. Maybe I could go out to my cabin for a week, I thought desperately, or bunk at the office for a couple of days until I readjusted to the surroundings.
But finally, cold and just plain fed-up, I stepped out of the car and locked the door behind me. As I slowly made my way up the steps I noticed that the white porch paint I'd helped put on was peeling, and that a new latch had been put on the gate. Otherwise, everything seemed painfully the same. I stood on the back porch in front of the door, keys in hand, debating whether I now needed to knock or if I could still walk right in. I thought of all of Benwood's unwritten rules, and wondered if I could actually adjust again to what had for so long been my life. Finally, I unlocked the door and entered Rose's kitchen yet one more time.
He stared at the unexpected intruder through dime-store reading glasses, then placed the book he'd been reading onto the cluttered table. I just stood there. He said nothing as he got up and walked over to me. Then he shook my hand and said simply, "Welcome back."
The pain was still there. The pain and sorrow over my lost life, and love. Reality did not change when he grasped my hand. He never took his eyes off me as I removed my hat and coat, tossed them on a chair and then took a seat beside them.
"You're sick," he said.
I nodded. "Yes."
"I'll help you unpack."
I put my coat on again and together we unpacked my car, making trip after trip up the steep cement steps. When the last box had been deposited in my room he turned to me and said, "You've had a long day. Better get some rest."
I laid on my bed and listened to his slow, purposeful footsteps descend the stairs and make their way into the kitchen. There was the familiar creaking, then closing of the hallway door, followed by the muffled sound of the eleven o’clock news.
I stared at the cobwebs and peeling paint and listened to the endless roar of trucks rumbling past into the night. And I knew without question, that my fling with elusive, illusory happiness had come to its inevitable end.
I awoke late in the morning to the sound of coupling freight trains instead of tropical birds. I pushed myself through my morning yoga routine, dressed, then headed down the steps. My initial disappointment at the empty kitchen was soon replaced by a sense of relief. Considering the importance of what remained to be hashed out with Rose, I probably wasn't ready for that confrontation.
I sat in the darkened kitchen, listening to the clattering of the overworked space heater and staring at Rose's empty chair. Through my nomadic Chautauqua days, my obsession with career success, and now my frantic search for elusive happiness, Rose was always the same, living the same life, following the same direction.
"The true measure of a man is his consistency and reliability," he often remarked. Suddenly I felt very small in the shadow of his presence.
A few minutes later Rose emerged from the hallway into the kitchen. He looked me over as if checking my condition, then smiled. He made small talk with me while he fixed himself some tea, then sat down in a rocking chair near the stove.
"You know, falling in love can be a beautiful experience," he said. "But for someone who has made a commitment to the Truth, it can be a toboggan ride into Hell."
I sighed and said a soft "Amen."
"People who stay around this work long enough get a sense of how incomplete they really are. But after a while they get tired of searching, so they project all their ambitions onto someone of the opposite sex. And for awhile there's a certain beauty and serenity in the surrendering of the ego. But it doesn't last.
"The earth can be a very lonely place," he said, firmly but without reproach. "And romance can be a great comfort. While you're in love you really think you've found something important, that this is it, and from now on life will be different." He seemed to be speaking from a memory of another life, another person.
"But you know what happens? As soon as it's over and you come to your senses and take a look around, there you are again. Back in the middle of the desert."
He lowered his gaze, and stared directly at me. "But there's no peace. There can't be, because the work's not completed."
I searched for my voice, but said nothing.
"Nobody can be blamed for trying to find a little company in this nightmare, someone they can count on, share a few laughs with, and maybe a little intimacy. Without friendship there's no communication, and without communication, there's no hope of spirituality. That's what I meant in The Albigen Papers when I said there's no religion greater than human friendship. Even the Absolute is attracted to pure Love."
I stared at him, studying him intently as his short legs rose and fell with each rock of the chair. I decided to say nothing. In the past I'd sometimes not ask a question out of fear of what he'd say. Other times I'd ask one question too many and upset the invisible equilibrium that had opened the psychic passageway between us. Now, I was afraid to open any link between us, afraid to inquire how much he knew about my life, my future, the battles and pains inside me.
"Let's get some air," he said.
Rose was not a restless person. If he took a walk it was for a purpose--because he hadn't been able to get out to the farm to "swing an ax," perhaps, and felt the need for exercise, or when a visitor had something personal to discuss. Why he now wanted to go outside I didn't know. We both put on coats and stepped out into the cold. It had snowed overnight and the town looked clean and white. Stray flurries still dotted the air and the street was unusually quiet.
"Right here is where my father got killed," Rose said, pointing out into the street in front of his house. "He was always stepping out in front of cars and the last time he did it he finally made the trip." I looked over at Rose as we walked, surprised, as I always was when we were side by side, at how short a man he was.
"Sometimes I think he did it on purpose. He wasn't the type to put up with too many headaches. His solution was to take a drink." Rose laughed. "Unfortunately, that doesn't work for me."
I had watched Rose take on more and more headaches over the years, and had seen the toll they had taken on him. Maintaining and improving a 130 acre farm-ashram with no money, outdated equipment, and moody volunteer labor. Perpetually ruminating on better ways to get his message across to people who wanted to hear anything but the truth. Turning his house and farm, and even his life over to strangers. Never turning his back on anyone no matter how little they seemed to appreciate what he was offering. As we trudged silently down the street in the falling snow, I thought of all he was carrying and wondered again, why?
"My father was not an educated man, but he had a lot of wisdom. I don't mean stepping in front of cars was wise," he chuckled, "but he had a certain intuition about the world. Trouble is he never knew who he was or where he was going when the car finished flattening him.
"That's the advantage of going through the Absolute Experience," he added. "I know what's up ahead.
"But even though there's only one Reality, not everybody can face it. If my mother ‘d had the Experience, she would have thought she went to hell. Because you're only seeing one side of it, the outside, and that's a pretty terrifying reflection."
He was no longer speaking to me, or at least not only to me.
"No matter how enormous that which you become a part of is, it's still a very lonely place. The Absolute is a very lonely place. You're the only one there. Of course," he added, "everybody is the only one there."
Sometimes in the kitchen with Rose, or in rapport, or reading "The Three Books of the Absolute"--even sometimes in the silence of my own thoughtless mind--I occasionally got a fleeting appreciation of where he had been, and where his Real Self still existed. I sensed it and feared it and hungered to return home to it myself.
Now, in the snow and the residual loneliness, Rose had again brought me up to the door of the Absolute, and it's unending starkness drove me back into a longing for everything warm and secure and familiar I had ever known. My dead father. My lonely mother who thinks she has lost me. Trips with the family in a crowded station wagon. The smell of musty cabins at summer camp. My first dog. My first love. It was overwhelming, so pleasant and so forever lost I thought I'd go mad if the mood didn't let go and allow me to return to my worried, isolated ego.
"It's like hillbillies and hunting dogs," Rose said, suddenly breaking the silence.
"What was that, Mister Rose?"
"If a hillbilly has a coon dog he's particularly proud of, he'll castrate the animal and hide his balls under the porch. That way the dog will always come back home."
Sure that he had my attention, Rose continued.
"That's the way it is with this stuff. Once you've got a taste, you're like a castrated hunting dog the rest of your life, searching for what you had when you felt more whole. You keep getting drawn back but you don't know why."
I smiled and shook my head at the analogy. "Do you mean a taste of love, or of spiritual aspiration?" I asked.
Rose raised his eyebrows mischievously. "Yes," he said, then walked awhile in silence before speaking again.
"Moods are powerful things," he said quietly. "Fear, seduction, and nostalgia. These are the three moods of man. And the most powerful of these is nostalgia.
"You know, somebody once said the most painful thing on earth is a pleasant memory. This nostalgia that sometimes comes over us isn't an accident. It's a message. It has something to tell us. We’re programmed to indulge in life, but this haunting nostalgia is a subliminal message from another plane. It's the homing instinct of the mundane mind. At its best, it's what draws us back to the Father."
"But why such sadness?" I said. "Why the pain?"
"Because nostalgia is a window to the soul, and the soul is lost to man as he lives. Nostalgia is the soul's memory of prior experience. Touching it, you touch the Eternal."
His words seemed to find my thoughts and speak directly to them.
"Nostalgia is the door," he said. "The only door. It’s the one mood that makes man hungry for union with the Soul. Without it we'd be lost. But with the nostalgic mood comes the feeling that, yes, there is something. Something to become. This is the evenness--mankind's voice of rectitude. This is the even voice of man."
Something in his words touched and soothed me, even though I wasn’t sure I understood what they meant. I suddenly felt very light and comfortable. We walked a long way that morning in the snow, Mister Rose talking all the while of matters of the heart. We walked until we reached some unseen destination in his mind, at which point he turned around and we headed home. The whole town was impossibly silent and white that day--so silent I could hear the snow fall--and in my memory I cannot recall seeing anyone else on our entire walk, though surely there must have been someone.