Delusions of grandeur or relentless ambition? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
The Morphine Dream is not just a title for this book, it was a real event. It occurred while I was a patient in the New England Baptist Hospital on Mission Hill in Boston. It was on a warm summer night long ago – in 1981. I was lying in my hospital bed, trying to wake up from the latest of several knee surgeries. It was yet another failed attempt to get me walking. The prognosis was not good. The Doctors were saying I wouldn’t walk again. Worse, I was in terrible pain. It was a few moments later when the nurse came in and said “Do you need some pain medicine, honey?”
I had just gotten a shot of morphine in the recovery room, but what the heck. I said “Absolutely, the more the merrier”.
About 15 minutes later I got a shot of morphine. Perhaps an hour later, a different nurse came in and said “Did you get your shot?
I said “No.”
Shortly afterwards I got my second shot of morphine. Then there was a shift change and a different staff came on duty. Soon another nurse came into my room. She asked “How are you doing tonight?
“I’m not doing too well, I need some pain medicine.”
I got my third shot. I was in a different world. My thoughts were scrambled. When a different nurse appeared a little while later asking me if I needed medication, I said “Yes” again. I was sky high on morphine. For the first and only time in my life I was under the influence of drugs. \
I began listening to some motivational tapes and the first thing I remembered hearing was “Where do you want to be in five years. Write it on the top of a pad”. I wrote “Harvard Law School” on the top line of a yellow legal pad. It was a strange thing for me to write because I had never thought of Harvard Law School in my entire life prior to that moment.
The next suggestion was “Make a list of the things you have to do to get there.”
I wrote my list. Number one was “Get a GED.” That was really a stretch because I didn’t even know what a GED was. My second item was “Go to community college.” That was equally strange because I had no idea what the difference was between colleges or universities or community colleges and junior colleges. Third was different as I was very familiar with the concept. I wrote the letters K A – which meant Kick Ass – something I had learned how to do as a young boy under my stern task master at the time – my father.
Then the speaker said: “Now turn the page and write about where you want to be in ten years.”
I wrote “Walking USA.” I drew maps of the United States and drew on them different routes I would feasibly follow. Having been told I would likely never walk again it was pretty foolish. The morphine was at work on my mind. I had always thought about walking across the country, ever since I was a lad of seven or eight. I was actually drawing maps of routes to take me too many special places. Apparently, that was my way of deciding I would walk again, despite the bleak prognosis of the doctors.
I was dreaming, I thought. I finally fell into a deep and long sleep. I remember tossing and turning all night, dreaming of Harvard Law School and walking across the country. I dreamed of walking through cities. I dreamed of walking through the Rockies and the “Amber Waves of Grain. I would walk among the “Big” trees of the Redwood Forests and through the “Big Sur”. I dreamed of the “Green Mountains” of Vermont and of “Purple Mountains Majesty” and “From Sea to Shining Sea”
I woke up thinking about my all-night dreams. However, the legal pad was right beside me on the bed. The handwriting was mine. But it still seemed to be nothing more than foolish dreams. That would quickly change.
The doctor and a nurse arrived after breakfast and immediately came to my bedside. The Doctor asked “How are you doing this morning?”
“I’m great! I have decided I’m going to Harvard Law School and I am going to walk across the country”.
He turned to the nurse and said: “I don’t know how much morphine you’ve been giving him, but stop. He’s delirious – he thinks he’s going to Harvard Law School.”
I had never accepted that I couldn’t do something – especially if someone told me I couldn’t do it. The thought of going to Harvard Law School and walking across the country began to sink in. I told myself; “You can do it – go for it.”
So, with no experience as a student except completing the ninth grade in middle school – and with a prognosis that said I would probably never walk again, I turned all my attention to the morphine dream.
The things I had written on the pad seemed to be absurd and ridiculous – at least to others. To me, it wasn’t a dream – it was my destiny. I was allegedly in a position where I couldn’t do anything anymore, so focusing on the morphine dream became my private reality.
What follows is the story of a long walk—physical, figurative, and at times, metaphysical—across multiple landscapes in the long prelude to a different life. It is the story of the trials and tribulations I confronted as I set about pursuing the morphine dream. Now that you have the book in your hands or on your Nook, take the journey with me. If you find yourself beginning to dream about your own future, don’t be afraid to “go for it – you can do it”.
Make your own dreams come true. Dance to your drummer now, because the music might end soon.