Last week I had a nice visit with an old friend who's never met me. You read that right. See, Natalie Goldberg's Long Quiet Highway is my favorite book. Yep, it even beats out On The Road. I try to reread it at least once of year. The story resonated with me so much during the first read that I thought she had written it for me.
Near the end of an almost 10 year marriage that was beyond the help of life support, I happened upon Goldberg's memoir in a book club catalog. I don't remember exactly what the blurb said, but the themes of Buddhism and writing appealed to me. Note that at that point, I was neither a writer nor a Buddhist. The book ended up being more than I bargained for. Goldberg told the story of finding her way through life by employing writing as both vocation and therapy. In parallel, she related her journeys through Buddhism and her relationship with her teacher, Dainin Katagiri Roshi.
Goldberg found a physical home in New Mexico and, for a time, a spiritual home in Minnesota. Her story both inspired and depressed me. I felt a certain energy build inside myself while reading of her long-term commitment to the written word. It wasn't so much that I wanted to be a writer since at the time I really only had vague notions. No, it was more that I sat there in my own endlessly static state reading about a person who seemed to be solving their life. It was actually possible! On the other hand, I found Roshi's decline and eventual death very difficult to take. Maybe it was my fragile emotional state, or maybe it was just a sympathetic response to my new found friend's shattering circumstance — whatever the reason, I remember sitting up very late at night, crying silently as my eyes floated over those words describing that man's passing.
On subsequent readings of Long Quiet Highway, I found myself rooting for Goldberg. My own life had changed for the better (after getting much worse), so the book was not the reminder of my sad circumstance that it had been. Goldberg's determination in her writing, and her joyous immersion in the creative world were all the more inspiring. It did indeed feel like we were friends. But still, Roshi always died. I was always sad.