I knew it would happen. It’s 3:00 am in the morning and I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about the trip I made back to Bethel NY in August 2008, to the site of the original Woodstock Festival. I had arrived here once before in 1969, now 39 years later I embraced the same woman then a girl who had saved my life. I had arrived upon the shores of White Lake way back then, on an old junker motorcycle, a suicide machine as battered and beat up as my own mind and body. The fact that either the bike or myself made the hundred-mile trip the first time was quite remarkable in itself.
I was a broken young man. One who set out to save the world only to become overcome by the waves of evil and despair which pervaded the reality I found myself in, in 1960’s America. I was deaf to the phrase “I love you” from those that mattered most, I was dumb to the ways of the world as I emerged from an autistic mind set, and blinded to any possibility of overcoming the deep feelings of angst and alienation which weighed down heavily upon me. It was upon that very bike, stoned and unable to see clearly through darkened sun- glasses I hurled myself at incredible speeds towards wooden telephone poles at night on the winding road that ran through my mind and where I actually traveled in the real world. Knowing that a centimeter closer and it would be all over.
I was a seminarian who had faltered, ill equipped to battle the existential windmills of grief placed before me. I carried the hopes and aspirations of my monsignor, my parish, and the small Village of Irvington NY upon my shoulders: and I was losing the battle. Unable to fathom the chaos before me (civil unrest, assassinations, war) I drugged and drank myself into oblivion falling backwards into locked church doors-ways in the middle of the night.
And as I look at this picture I am brought to tears. There in front of me stands a woman, now a grandmother. Behind her looms the Bethel Woods Museum, on the very spot we spent three days in the mud together.
She is checking in on the grand kids – our grand kids! The irony is quite profound.
Stuck in traffic on my bike off 17b in August of 1969 a young seventeen girl opened the door and exited the car in front of me. As she walked shoe less toward me, her waist-long hair blowing gently in the breeze little did I know my life would be changed forever? She asked if I would take her down the side of the road on my bike, to wait for the traffic to clear. I agreed and rode toward the festival site with a shoe less Maria. We waited for hours, the car never made it. After several attempts to locate the car, we embraced each other, and rode together into the concert. The rest is history.
author of The Closer’s Song
a Woodstock novel