Wer reited so spat durch Nacht und Wind? …
Who rides there so late through the night, dark and drear? …
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Goethe, Der Erlkoenig. The Erlking. I remember this poem from my high school class in romantic literature. The story of a father riding horseback through the woods with his sick boy, racing to see the doctor. It was a dark night and the road was deserted. Feverish boy started noticing strange movements in the trees, heard voices and saw strange shadows. The father tried to calm his son, saying––the wind, the fog, just your imagination. The boy became increasingly confused and disconnected. He kept hearing the voice. It was a voice of a mythical, supernatural being. The King of Elfs was calling on him. A shadowy creature was wooing the boy to come to his kingdom and meet his daughters. The father was trying to calm his son and gallop faster and faster, to no avail. He knew he was losing his son. Finally, the boy said, “Father, father, don’t you see -he is grabbing me!” The father realized then the boy was dead.
While watching a spectacular sunset from the cliff in California, Dr. Jack Murano’s phone rings. It’s his long-estranged son, Luke. He is in the ER in Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Luke is bleeding, and was told he has cancer. There is no time to ask about the details and after “I need you, Dad” ––in a few hours, Jack is on the plane to Miami. There he finds Luke in the midst of a typical overcrowded and understaffed inner-city hospital. There is no way he would leave his son under these circumstances. Jack hastily arranges for a transfer to Duke Hospital in North Carolina. Despite being up the previous night, Jack signs Luke from the ER and drives with him close to nine-hundred miles north to Durham.
On the way, they will have a detour they’ll never forget.
The story is about father’s unconditional love of son, parental commitments, and the battles with addiction. The first part based on Goethe’s “The Erlking,” the second on Virgil’s “Aeneid” describing Aeneas visiting the Underworld and meeting his father.