Into the Wind

We allow our histories to melt into nothing. We permit memories to dissolve and fade and disappear. I have evidence of such things. Let me explain.

The Sandpipers. Do you remember them? They constituted a trio that sang popular folk songs and ballads in the 1960s and 1970s. One of their popular tunes was Cast Your Fate to the Wind. The original instrumental was written by Vince Guaraldi and recorded by his trio, initially in 1962. Carel Werber (maiden name Rowe) later, in 1962 or 1963, wrote lyrics to accompany the music. Her then-husband, Frank Werber, was manager of the Kingston Trio. According to a radio interview by Carel Rowe, which I read about but haven’t heard, the lyrics were about Travis Edmonson. He was an American folksinger. The Sandpipers, among others, recorded the music, with Werber’s lyrics.

With that refresher on the music of the early 1960s, I’ll go on. We let facts get lost in the fog of time. Facts, for example, about the woman who wrote the lyrics to Cast Your Fate to the Wind. Despite the fact that I like Guaraldi’s instrumental version of the music quite a lot, I enjoy the lyrics, as written by Carel Werber:

A month of nights, a year of days
Octobers drifting into Mays
You set your sail when the tide comes in
And you cast your fate to the wind…

So, if the comments attributed to Carel Rowe in her radio interview are correct, we might fairly assume Ms. Rowe had a relationship of some sort with Travis Edmondson.  That’s all we know of Ms. Rowe/Mrs. Werber. A brief radio interview and not much else. I don’t know if she is alive or dead. I know essentially nothing about her. And, from what I can find on the internet, I know as much as anyone else. She wrote the lyrics for one tune, was married to Frank Werber for a time, and apparently had an earlier relationship with Travis Edmonson. And then, from all the evidence I could find, she just disappeared. Someone found her at some point later, as evidenced by her reported radio interview, but nothing else.

I wonder whether Ms. Rowe intentionally permitted her memories to dissolve and fade and disappear? And I wonder how to follow suit? Is it possible, in this era in which privacy is virtually impossible, to fade into a mist of anonymity? What would it take, for instance, for me to disappear? I would have to change my name, but I’d have to do it in a jurisdiction where no one would ever expect to find me; Aberdeen, South Dakota, perhaps. The name I select would be one I have never used—neither given name nor surname—in anything I’ve written. I could ask to take the name Scant McMurray. But now that I’ve used it here, it’s no longer available. I can’t share the name I’ll actually use. Once the name change has been made (but after I understand and have addressed the bureaucratic labyrinth associated with making changes to Social Security and Medicare), I’ll take up residence someplace unfamiliar to me; whether a small town or a large city or acreage far from any population center remains to be seen. So many complexities must be met and overcome when erasing one’s identity and taking on a new one.

It’s time, I suppose, to return to the real world. Another day of deck work, More sanding and scraping and painting. I bought a quart of paint yesterday to see how a dark grey rail would look against the light grey decking. The dark grey isn’t nearly as dark as the sample “chip” in the brochure, but it will do. Eventually, even the railing will be painted. I’ll be considerably older then, of course.

It’s obvious, then, we don’t ‘let’ our histories melt and our memories dissolve. In today’s world, we have to engage in Herculean efforts to make that happen. Even with effort, there is no assurance of success. Our identities are too tightly woven into the fabric of an invasive State. That is what we allow. We may as well accept having a tattoo of our national identification numbers placed on our foreheads. Erasure would involve disfigurement. But, then, isn’t that what the process is like today? We can’t just decide to be known by another name, can we? Try as we might, we cannot leave our histories behind like baggage at a railway station. Some well-meaning soul will come chasing after us, insisting that we mustn’t walk away from something so obviously important and valuable.

Why would we walk away? Might it be because we’re so utterly unhappy with what we have become? Could it be that the person behind the smiling mask doesn’t even know how to smile? So many questions. If I had answers, I might write about a person whose reasons for wanting to disappear and assume a new identity are sufficient to make the attempt worth the effort and the pain. I know how the story would end. In the end, after all the trouble of becoming someone new is history, this man will realize that his memories cannot be erased. He will come to understand that he can never become someone new because he knows who he was, and is.

I began quite some time ago to write a long short story (that I never finished) that required the main character to decide between an imminent death by disease and a new life that came at a high cost: if he elected the new life, all memory of him by all the people he had ever touched would be erased. Yet his memories would be intact. I couldn’t get beyond that point; he never made that decision. A number of other factors played into the matter: he was rich and would become poor, he was an accomplished lawyer and would become an administrative clerk, etc. But the issue of being completely forgotten was the central point. Yet that’s precisely what I’ve been writing about. Erasing one’s history by taking on a new identity. Not entirely parallel, but quite similar.

The process of disappearing would be far more inviting, I think, if the choice would involve others’ memories of oneself being erased. One’s disappearance would then inflict no pain. Except, possibly, on the disappeared. If only we could just disappear into the wind, without a trace of sorrow or regret. The story line of It’s a Wonderful Life notwithstanding, such an erasure might well leave the world a better place, if only microscopically so, given the impact a single life has on it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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