Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Fugitives

Peppergrass Street, Napa, California, USA

August 13, 2016

Driving back to the fabulous Cowboy Cottage, looking forward to a quiet time at home with friends, I turned the corner onto Peppergrass Street which is on my route home, and saw police vehicles not just parked there but rather strewn  all over the place. They were scattered at all angles: at the side of the street, in the middle of the street, some of them with doors left wide open, some of them with doors closed, some with engines still running, some with engines turned off, some with red and blue roof lights flashing. Clearly whatever happened, happened suddenly. There were armed uniformed police officers everywhere. Something  was going on. Expecting my friends to be arriving soon and not wanting them to be alarmed, I stopped and texted them a warning "Police all over Peppergrass", and then turned and drove up the road leading to my house believing I had left whatever it was, behind me - at least, that's what I thought.

But it was not to be. Directly in front of the gate to my property, another police vehicle was parked (or should I also say strewn?), its doors wide open, its roof lights flashing, blocking my access. They were at my place!  Two armed uniformed police officers were walking on the property, their hands on their still holstered (but for how much longer?) weapons. "Oh boy!  This is  going to be interesting ..." I thought, parking at the side of the road, and walking up the driveway. "Can I help you, Officers?" I called out as cheerily as I could muster, "I live here.". One of them responded with a terse "Do you have any pets?". "No" I answered, "Why?". "Because we've called for tracker dogs, and they'll rip them apart.". That's when I saw and heard a pocketa-pocketa  police helicopter swooping low overheard above the cattle pasture. By then I could not have been any more bolt upright, or paying any more attention.

They said they were looking for a fugitive, a man wanted in a case of violent assault who had eluded them. They were pursuing him when he jumped off an overpass near Peppergrass Street into the Cayetano Creek, the river running alongside the Cowboy Cottage property. They had given chase but had lost him, and were now searching the neighborhood on foot door-to-door with the help of the tracker dogs and the eye in the sky  helicopter. The sub-text of their conversation was that if they found their fugitive and if he didn't surrender peacefully, and if the tracker dogs couldn't persuade him to lay down and give himself up, then they would shoot him dead on the spot.

This was rapidly turning into not just another typically quiet time at the fabulous Cowboy Cottage.

I asked them whether or not we (ie my neighbors and I) should be worried ie whether or not their fugitive had a gun, for example. They said they didn't know. Instead they were concerned he could have already escaped the area by calling an accomplice on a cell phone, and asking to be met by car at a place further up the river. They said he was wearing blue jeans and a white tee-shirt which he could have disguised by muddying it on the river bank, and that he had unusual tattoos on his face and neck. They asked me to call 911 citing the "east Napa manhunt" if I saw anyone or anything suspicious. By then, two teams of three police officers each with tracker dogs on leashes had arrived, and were trying to locate a scent trail in the cattle pasture and within the Cowboy Cottage perimeter. Somehow I knew better than to reach out to try to pat those dogs.

Then one of the officers said "You know, this is a great place you have here", gesturing towards the Cowboy Cottage. It was an unexpected ice-breaking remark, given the erstwhile gravity of the situation. "Would you like to see inside?" I offered. "Would  I?" he beamed (I could tell he was delighted). And that's how those two armed uniformed police officers got to be standing with me inside the Cowboy Cottage, looking around its interior and out through the window at the cattle pasture, and the tree line on the river, down which their fugitive had escaped. One of them got close up to look at a framed classic photograph of Werner I have hanging on my east wall. "You're very fortunate to have this place" he told me after a moment. "I know it" I replied, realizing both these two public servants who put their lives on the line daily for our community, were no more than about a third of my age.

I sat alone at my writing table in front of the window looking out over the cattle pasture after the police and their guns and the tracker dogs had left, and the eye in the sky helicopter was no longer to be seen, the pocketa pocketa  having long gone quiet. Even as I looked out at the trees for anything "suspicious", I wondered exactly what that would look like. A man in blue jeans and a muddied white tee-shirt with unusual tattoos on his face and neck, smoking a cigarette? Someone furtively darting from tree to tree? No, somehow I knew he was long gone, was no longer in the area, and no longer posed any danger - at least not to our local neighborhood.

I continued wondering about him well past midnight (Cowboy Cottage is at its most inspiring then). Who was he? How did he get himself into this fine mess? (and listen: when armed police, tracker dogs, and an eye in the sky pocketa-pocketa helicopter are all out looking to capture or kill you, that's the very epitome  of being in a fine mess Stan). He was someone's child once. A doting mother once held him, breast-fed him. A family loved him, a human being just like you, just like me, no red horns, no green saliva, no forked tail. What he did (ie whatever he's alleged  to have done) will have consequences (ie severe  consequences) for the rest of his life. And for the rest of his life, he may or may not be granted the freedom (and so not have the time) to pay back his substantial debt to society. In that way, his life will be indelibly different from now on. It will never be ordinary again. But all that aside, who he is is me, who he is is you.

I found myself wishing him well, wherever he was, whatever would become of him. That's not to say I condone what he's alleged to have done, or turn a blind eye to its impact. Rather I wish he finds peace with himself and with whatever he's done, and can accept responsibility for it - not in the way that takes the blame  (quote unquote) for his actions (that's only a minor aspect of redemption) but rather in a way that accepts he's source in whatever his experience of life is - for himself, and for the people he's impacted by his actions. Whatever subsequently becomes of this fugitive from the law, accepting responsibility for his experience and the impact it's had on people, is a certain pathway to self-rehabilitation, fulfillment, and freedom, and eventually maybe to being re-accepted by society.

The thing is (and it's so god-damned  obvious to me) it's ... not  ... just  ... him!  Prior to transformation we're all  fugitives. We're all fugitives from our own fears. We're all fugitives from our disappointments. We're fugitives from our guilt and our unconfrontable sense of failure ie of having not "made it". We're pursued by expectation and hope which we already know will never be enough. We're pursued by the resignation that we'll never have  enough, that we'll never be good  enough (for the people we're trying to impress). We're pursued by the debilitating fatigue which comes from trying to find meaning in a world which doesn't have any meaning at all. Prior to transformation we're all fugitives, looking back over our shoulder, frantically trying to elude our past which is inexorably catching up with us.

My friends never did come over that evening. They called to cancel. It had nothing to do with my text. Something else had come up, so we rescheduled. That's a good thing: if you're not in jail, you can always reschedule.


Background soundtrack: Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron "Toots" Thielemans: Theme From Midnight Cowboy - wait for 6.01M download


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