1984 was big, brother. A lot of adventures in just 366 days ( it was a leap year).  I got a summer job as a counselor at a summer camp near Rocky Mountain National Park and I got the lead in the play “The Elephant Man” at my college. And I almost died twice. (Well at least for a few seconds I thought as such).

The job at the Trail’s End Ranch was a bittersweet experience. I got to go horseback riding through the Rocky Mountains, I got to spend a lot of time hiking, both alone and in groups. And I got to spend 90 days in the most beautiful workplace I have ever had. The bitter part of the bittersweet was that I didn’t get on well with the other counselors or the kids I had under my tutelage.  In the 1983 entry, I wrote about how I didn’t get on well with others and that a lot of it was of my own doing. In 1984 I was only slightly more skilled than the year before. The trajectory toward being better adjusted was multiyeared.

The Rocky Mountain National Park. The world’s most beautiful office space.

But there was much that I enjoyed. One of my favorite memories was when I climbed Rowe’s Peak solo. (it was about 13,000 feet) There wasn’t a hiking trail so I had to bushwack my way to the top. Despite being in pretty good physical condition at the time,  I still had to stop every couple hundred yards and catch my breath when I crossed the timberline. When I finally reached the summit, I saw one of the most inspiring I have ever seen. A storm cloud rolled right through me. I didn’t know clouds roll.  It may have been the closest I ever felt to being eternal. After resting, I began to explore a glacier that was near the summit. And while walking on the ice sheet, I fell through it and landed in a stream that was flowing through the center. I was underwater and couldn’t reach the top.  My backpack had pinned me down. I thought I was going to drown. I panicked, but then felt an odd calm. Surreal confidence told me I was going to be alright. I began to kick with my legs and let the current carry to a small lake the stream fed in to. I then swam to safety and hiked back to the camp.

A few weeks later, we had a counselor only excursion to the Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins, CO. We all were drinking heavily when someone dared me to swim across the lake, (it was a couple miles across). I took them up on the dare and began swimming. I have been a strong swimmer since I was a child. So I figured I could do it.  I got to about the center when I lost my strength. I was panting heavily my arms and legs began to cramp. I again panicked, but just like before I felt a peculiar calm. It wasn’t an external audible voice, but a distinct presence inside my mind said: “Float on your back and gently kick your legs. You’ll be alright.” The fear dissipated and I followed the instructions. When I finally turned around and looked at the shore I was only a few feet away.

Later in the Autumn, I was cast in the play “The Elephant Man”. John Merrick who was known as the “Elephant Man” lived in England during the Victorian Era. He was severely deformed, probably one of the most disfigured people who ever lived. Despite no formal education, he was acutely intelligent. And even though he had been abused most of his life, (He was a ‘circus freak’ and was physically tormented by his manager) Merrick was deeply sensitive and kind to those around him. I had felt a kinship with  John Merrick. I wasn’t deformed externally but I understood the alienation. I felt that same odd confidence that I would get the part. I was so sure it was almost like it had already happened. Playing the role was probably one of the things I am the proudest (and grateful) for having the privilege to do.

Playing John Merrick in “The Elephant Man” The playwright wisely opted for not trying to wear prosthetic makeup but rather pantomime the deformity.

Oddly enough,  my selection for 1984 doesn’t have much with all that transpired that year. But I do love this song. It is one of the few songs I can recall the very first time hearing it. Many of the songs of the 1980s haven’t aged well or seem to have become a relic of that decade. Not this one (at least for me) This one still seems to hold up. I still get goosebumps hearing it.

Just a few years ago I was in a fight with someone dear to me. We appeared to be at an emotional impasse. They even said to me, “If things ever got bad, you’d drop me in a heartbeat”. That comment really hurt. I knew it wasn’t true, but how could I show them otherwise?  A couple days later after calmer heads were present. I played this song for them. It became “our song” years after its release.


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