These EYES!. That is the terror of it. These gloved hands I now look at, steering the motorcycle down the road, were once his! And if you can understand the feeling that comes from that, then you can understand real fear ... the fear that comes from knowing there is nowhere you can possibly run.
Oh, yes, I did get it.
My first encounter with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance scared me almost witless.
Not only was it a treatise on values and excellence, it was a devastating ghost story, and it mirrored much of my own experience.
So the death yesterday of its author, Robert M. Pirsig, shocked me into almost insensibility. Oh, not that he died: everyone does that, sooner or later, and he was 88, after all.
No, it was the sudden shudder of remembering what the book meant to me all those many years ago. Before you ask, I never had electro-shock therapy, nor was I under psychiatric care, although perhaps I should have been.
About that, I'm grateful.
What was done to Pirsig was essentially personality extinction. Years later, I remember listening to a CBC interview with the man, in which he broke down and cried at the memory of it all.
It was more about recognizing something I hadn't known existed outside of my own head; this dual self, the black horse and the white horse, struggling to find some kind of peace.
I've read and re-read Zen over the years, even took it into the hospital with me last year when I had cancer surgery. I knew I probably would be too doped up to tackle it in there (and I was), but it it is sort of a talisman for me. It meant I could get through this.
I picked up my surviving copy of the book this afternoon, searching for the quote above. I figured I'd have a rough time finding it. Instead, it fell open to almost the exact page I wanted.
Spooky? Yes, but I did say it was a ghost story, and perhaps the best I've ever read.
And I'm still not really getting down to what I mean here. Maybe I don't want to. Like Pirsig, I know I'm not what I was back then, and like him, I'm mostly happy about that.
But I lost something along the way. Maybe it had value, maybe it didn't. I just know it's no longer there.
He'd have understood.
And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good,
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?