Imagine you’re on a 10-speed bicycle. You’re on a two-lane highway near a small town in Southwest Kansas. It’s summer, sometime in July 2009, it’s 6 p.m. and the temperature is still near 100 degrees. There’s little traffic, the road is flat, with a slight breeze in your face. Your pedaling at medium-speed, sweating profusely, and listening to classic rock on your headphones. Then it happens. “Your” song comes on, “Freebird” by the legendary group Lynyrd Skynrd. That’s when you “kick it” into high gear and pedal as fast and hard as you can all the way through the song. Your mind and legs are in rhythm with the music and AT THAT MOMENT, you forget how hot it is, how stiff the wind is blowing, how tired your legs are. All you know is you HAVE to stay in high gear completely to the end. You’re FREE.
When I returned to Elkhart, Kansas in late May 2009, it was exactly one week to the day shy of one year since I was there last as a free man. For the next 9 ½ months, it was “home” again. I had a job and, most of all, I had “Mr. Mongoose”, my 27-inch bicycle. I used to joke around with friends and family during that time, that wherever I went Mr. Mongoose went. And it was true. I would ride every day, sometimes 10 plus miles, no matter what the weather. Heat, wind, cold, even rain. Of course, one of the biggest reasons was the obvious physical benefits but, what I discovered was there was something else it provided. It was a release. A way to express my FREEDOM. It gave me peace of mind.
Fast forward to today. It’s late January, 2011 and Kansas is a memory in my rear-view mirror. I’ve been in Northern San Diego County for nearly a year now and my bike is in the garage, replaced by my legs walking along the beach as often as I can, expressing my freedom in a different way. I remember clearly what I said to a lady counselor this past July. She gave me a bit of a surprise really with this question, “What do you do to recharge your batteries?” I paused for a long time and then calmly said one word, “Movement.” But as I wrote the first paragraph above, the memory of being on that bike back in Kansas is vivid, and will remain so for the rest of my life. The heat, the wind, the sweat pouring off me, the legs pedaling as hard as I could push them, and the lyrics of that song, “Freebird.” At that time, it didn’t have the meaning it does today. All I know is I loved the speed! But I digress, it’s the lyrics that “speak” to me now. Here they are:
“If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be travelling on now, ‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see. But, if I stayed here with you girl, Things just couldn’t be the same. ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now, And this bird you cannot change, Lord knows, I can’t change. Bye, bye, it’s been a sweet love, Though this feeling I can’t change. But please don’t take it badly, ‘Cause Lord knows I’m to blame. But, if I stayed here with you girl, Things just couldn’t be the same. Cause I’m as free as a bird now, And this bird you’ll never change, And this bird you can not change, Lord knows, I can’t change, Lord help me, I can’t change. Won’t ya fly-y-y freebird, yeah!”
For me, the “girl” is Kansas. I’ll leave it up to the reader to interpret the rest but, basically, it was time for me to leave her. It was a long courtship, lasting all but 10 years of my life. I was born there in 1958, left there in 1975, returned in 1985, and left once more in 2010. But it was the past five years from 2005 to 2010 that will be forever etched in my memory. A tremendous amount of life-changing events occurred during that time, and not just for me. My decisions affected my children, my family, my former co-workers, many friends, clients, and probably dozens of people I’m still not even aware of. Unfortunately, some of these decisions were not for the best and, like the song says, I was to blame. For that, I paid a very dear price. Those of you who know my story don’t need me to go into the detail of that. I nearly lost everything, including my very LIFE.
There IS something different about me now and that’s where my life runs counter to the song’s lyrics about change. I HAVE changed and not just bits and pieces. It’s been a re-birth and I think my brother-in-law from Florida put it best when he saw pictures of me one of my sisters showed him that was taken in Tucson in the summer of 2009. He said, “It’s not just a renovation, you look RESURRECTED.”
You hear it all the time, it’s time to “move on” and move forward in a positive way. Though I firmly believe in those words, I also hold the belief that one day I will return to my home state and make an entirely different impression upon her. Not to move back there mind you, only to visit as I did this past August when I returned to my hometown in Tribune. I remember seeing many people there and felt many eyes sizing me up. People could not only SEE the change, but they also FELT it. I know this because of comments made by several people when I was there.
I’m not sure what the future holds about returning to Kansas again, only time will tell, and it’s all in God’s hands now. What I would like to tell everyone there in my hometown is this. My HEART will always belong to you and though I’ve “moved on”, don’t ever think I don’t remember. I want to tell them that it’s a BIG world out there and though many people think Southern California is “paradise”, in reality, paradise is wherever you are, including Western Kansas. I want to tell them that people change, including me. I want to share with them the glory and awesome power of being “resurrected.” I want to tell them ALL of the story that’s transpired since I left there in July 2005. I want to tell them that there is ALWAYS hope, no matter what your circumstances or who you are. I want to tell them to not give up. I want to say, NEVER say never! I want to tell them I love them.