Monday, December 5, 2011

Once Upon A Lonely Road

Recently I received an e-mail from a man who lives near the small town of Sandy, Oregon, about 20 miles east of my home town of Portland, where I lived for some 55 years The man, who identified himself as George Porter, and a complete stranger to me, related that he had recently come upon a computer thumb drive lying at the side of an all but unused road behind the plant nursery he owns in Sandy. Thinking at first that it may be his own, and curious in any case, he took the drive home and plugged it into his laptop. Though this revealed the existence of some files, both photo and text, he was unable to open the files on first attempt.

I thought about just giving up and tossing the thing, Mr. Porter wrote, but then something told me to keep on trying.

He did so, and ultimately, after tinkering around with several programs and options, he was able to open one of the text files on the drive. What he found was the entire text of a book I had written some four years ago.

And this is where things begin to get a bit eerie.

In the first place, I have no recollection whatsoever of having put the book on any storage device other than the one I have in my own possession, tucked securely into the pocket of my laptop case. Such was my conviction of the same that I checked the case just to be sure -- and sure enough, there is the thumb drive, and thereon the copy of the book. The book, though three years with an agent, has not been published, and so does not, for all practical purposes, exist at all, other than in my hands and in the hands of the agent. And now in the hands of George Porter as well.

So how in the world could my book have gotten onto another thumb drive, and how could that thumb drive have ended up on a back road in Sandy, Oregon? I have not been in Oregon, or anywhere in the world other than Bali and Singapore, for almost two years. What then has been the career of this mysterious thumb drive? How has it remained intact for at least two years? How long did it lie on that road -- two years? Or have its travels been wider and involved more people in transport?

Or is this some kind of scam?

That, quite frankly, was my initial suspicion, given that internet scams are so common these days. We’ve all received them in various form -- from the unknown recipient of millions who desires for some reason to share his wealth, to the beautiful woman (photo included) who lives in Africa, has come across your profile somewhere on line, and feels that you and she will make a perfect pair (if only you will send her some money for a plane ticket).

What was the scam in the case at hand? I could not imagine -- but of course that’s the point. A good scam does not betray its nefarious nature, but relies on the human inclination to trust, to be curious, to believe and to bond. I replied therefore to George‘s mail, reticent, guarded, yet captivated by curiosity.

And I found that Mr. Porter wanted nothing at all. He had no plan, no agenda, no rabbit up his sleeve. He offered in addition only that he had seen one of his drivers walking on the back road where the drive had been found, and said that he would do his best to contact this man to try to determine whether it might have been he who dropped the drive.

But there’s more to this story. What I have said so far is skeletal only, without meaningful substance or animation, a mildly curious coincidence.

Here then is the kicker: The book that I wrote, which somehow got onto a thumb drive, which itself somehow ended up on a back road in Sandy, Oregon where it was found two years down the path of time by a man named George Porter, is the story of my life after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the spring of 2007; and the man who found the drive, who brought it home, who plugged it into his laptop and laboured at some length to discover what was on it, had just recent to that very day lost his friend of almost forty years -- Mike by name -- to the contributory effects of multiple sclerosis.

Here is where coincidence becomes cohesion, here is where a fluke becomes a twist of fate -- for the reason that George was writing me at all was to share how meaningful my book had been to him, how comforting my words had been and how informative about the disease that had taken his friend. He had written, in short, to thank me -- and, as it happens, to encourage me as well. One writes, ultimately, to connect, to share; one writes for the ear of an invisible reader with whom he hopes to find a fellowship of living. It may seem sad in some way that this book over which I had expended my heart had ended up in the gravel on a lonely roadside, and yet the miracle that brought it to the hands of this single reader is encouragement beyond the common pale of life, and a a gift of rarest, most rewarding amazement.

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