the long road


Most any aspect of my life demands a soundtrack.

I’ve spent the afternoon getting cookie batter ready to bake tonight and the music played right along with me. As I came up to write, I procrastinated a bit by putting together a playlist full of rain songs for us to bake by this evening, since we are almost through our ninth or tenth day of precipitation and awaiting Joachin’s arrival. I also thumbed back through old blog posts from the fall of 2007 as we were preparing to move to Durham from Marshfield, Massachusetts and I came across some of the songs that scored those days. One of those was Cliff Eberhardt’s “The Long Road.”

I first found the song because David Wilcox covered it in a concert. On the album, Cliff sang it with Richie Havens, whom I knew, first, from listening to the Woodstock soundtrack as a ninth grade kid. A few years back, Cliff’s song came back into view because he rerecorded it when he did an album at Blue Rock Studios with my friend Billy Crockett.

The first verse always gets me:

there are the ones that you call friends.
there are the ones that you call late at night.
there are the ones who sweep away your past
with one wave of their hand.

We ate dinner on the porch again last night, as we have for the past few Thursdays, enjoying the cool breeze that was the prelude to the storm that arrived a bit later. Up and down the table were friends old and new, eating and drinking and talking and laughing. “Teach us to number our days,” the Psalmist prayed; I am far too conscious of the numbers these days: we drive out November 1, following the long road to New England. It is the right move for us, and it’s really hard to leave.

Later in the song, Eberhardt sings,

I can hear your voice in the wind.
are you calling to me, down the long road?
do you really think there’s an end?
I have lived my whole life
down the long road.

Those may be the lines that first attached me to the song: I have lived my whole life down the long road. Because I grew up moving all over the place, I have pictured myself as one who keeps moving, yet as an adult I have lived for long stretches in Charlestown, Marshfield, and now Durham. I have memories in these places, stories, friends, chosen family. I have roots. I am not just passing through.

Yesterday, I called my friend Burt in Texas. He and I are one year shy of it being forty years since we first met. He was beginning his first year at Baylor and I was in my third. In the fall of 1986 I called him to mark the fact that he was the first friend of mine whom I had known for ten years and known where they were all of those ten years. I was almost twenty-nine. Now we have shared almost four decades. As I look back down the long road that has led me from Waco to Dallas to Fort Worth to Boston to Marshfield to Durham and now to Guilford, I feel as I did walking the Camino de Santiago last year: I am not alone. This long road is filled with connections.

I gotta find you tonight.
are you waiting for me, down the long road?
do you really think there’s an end?
I have lived my whole life
down the long road.

I am pulled by the two questions he asks in the song:

do you really think there’s an end?
are you waiting for me?

Ginger and I have spoken often of the ways in which life is often like a Saturday Night Live skit: it starts with a good idea, but no one is sure how to end it. I hear the first question and wonder if he is asking about death, or about the travel, or about the road itself. I hear the second and wonder if the person is waiting to begin, or waiting for the other to arrive. And then I see there’s one more question:

I can hear your voice in the wind.
are you calling to me, down the long road?

Waiting and calling, like the call and response of a gospel song. You call me and I will call you in return as we move and stay up and down this long road we call life. I can hear the voices in the winds of my memory, in the breeze on the porch, in the hope that lies ahead. I have lived my whole life down the long road. And I am grateful for all the hearts that have made room.



  1. So glad to have connected with you on this long road Milton.
    Sending love and warm wishes to you two as you begin this new, exciting chapter!

  2. Milton — great words. I share so many of the sentiments and questions you pose here — so many stops along the road, wondering how/where/when/if it will end. This I know tonight: I am blessed that our “roads” crossed and continue to cross in your writing.

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