The gift of being wholly human is to appreciate our ability to reason and at the same time to explore the spiritual side of life! These distinct gifts of the mind and soul do help us to engage life as best we can while we live in our physical bodies. Nevertheless, I will suggest that being wholly human in mind and soul has its limitations when we begin to explore the divine in ourselves. Our physical bodies keep us from truly experiencing the Self…the god/divine part of us!
The desire to experience “the Self” in us has been explored through the Greek word “kenosis” which is defined as the act of “emptying” one’s self of all things expressed through the ego. In the New Testament of the Bible, it is said that Jesus had to empty himself in becoming human–so it is the opposite of we humans emptying ourselves to discover the divine in us!
I will suggest another way to explore the act of kenosis through the creative process. I have spent the most of my life creating and sharing stories. When I tell a story in performance, I work long and hard to prepare the story, but when I step in front of an audience I clear my mind by paying attention to my breathing to clear my mind, to empty my self/ego to allow the creative process to come into being. When I tell a story I share what comes to me intuitively. Sometimes I tell the story as I have prepared it; sometimes, I am influenced by the audience and the setting to make changes to the story. It is about emptying the ego energy and being in the moment that we create the story appropriate for that particular audience.
The process of emptying is also part of the process when you create a story. You open yourself to sharing thoughts and ideas that may not reflect best to display your ego, but it creates a story that touches the souls in your audience.
One last thought on emptying one’s self to allow for the creative process: I think the act of kenosis may be helpful when we approach the moment of death. We open ourselves for discovery of that which we know will come when we are no longer a captive of the physical body!
Life is continuously changing though I tend to focus on the sameness in it….today my sameness was shaken a bit. This morning I was working at my desk–as I do every morning– when the phone rang. I saw that it was Susan calling me.
I felt a little annoyed: ‘Why is she calling me when she is in the kitchen?’
I picked up the phone and heard: “Come, I need your help, Tai Chi is lying on the ground, I think she is dying!”
I ran out the garage door and found Susan standing over her dog who was lying on the ground. I could see the fear in Susan’s eyes. I asked: “What happened?”
She responded: “She just dropped down and won’t get up. I think we need to get her to the vet.” I agreed and Susan went into the house to call the vet while I tried to rig a way to get the dog into the car…our vet is only two blocks from the house and they were willing to see Tai Chi as soon as we could get her there. I skipped the cart and picked her up and put her in the back of the car.
The vet confirmed our worst fears. Tai Chi had internal bleeding and not long to live. We made the decision to end her life and not try any heroic medical actions…she is twelve years old and has had a good life. The doctor gave her a shot to end the trauma. Afterwards we spent a few quiet minutes with our dog; on the way out we agreed that her remains would be cremated and return to us.
As we drove back to the house Susan thanked me for helping with the dog care during the short time that she and the dog have lived on Clemens Road. I reminded her that I am a dog and caring for Tai Chi was like taking care of a sister!
So how did I come to this identity as a member the canine family? It goes back to my first exploration as a storyteller. I was hired by the New Jersey State Museum in about 1969 to create programs for children coming to the museum. Somehow I learned about a research study of wolves living in Algonquin National Park in Canada. I contacted the scientists and they invited me to join them that summer at the park.
The part of the study that most captured my creative energy was a nightly activity. We tracked the movement of a wolf pack by going out to howl and the wolves would answer us (this was before digital tracking colliers). For me there was something elemental, deep inside me, which was stirred to life when I heard a wolf respond to my call. I imagined it as the “wolf” in me!
I created a program for children coming to the museum in Trenton, New Jersey. It was called, “Way of the Wolf”. I began by telling an oral story and then I showed the children a film I edited to compliment the images in the oral story. The story and the film all came from my experience of the lives of wolves in Algonquin National Park…. and this was the beginning of my career as a multi-media storyteller!
My time living with Tai Chi was short, two months short of a year. Nevertheless, she did remind me to honor the “dog” in myself–to open myself to that non-rational energy. This way of engaging the world is central to my creative life and I imagine it will help me to engage the experience of my own death…..thank you, Tai Chi!
It is six years since the completion of my memoir: GRANDPA JUNG’S LESSONS, for a slow reader. I am still a slow reader, but life continues to balance this negative by giving me creative ideas into my eightieth year! I give thanks for this time to continue to explore the path of life; I will make use of this time to reflect and try to share my understanding of the common life we share together.
There have been two major events along my path of life in these past six years. First, my wife, Nancy Wicklund Gray, was diagnosed to have esophageal cancer three plus years ago. She lived just over a year with the disease. During the last month of her life I cared for her in our home on Clemens Road in Doylestown. She died on September 2, 2019 in her study with her art on the walls, books on the shelves and desk where she did her writing. The other major event on my path of life is that I was married to Susan Scott on October 16 of 2021! Now Susan works in the same study of our home on Clemens Road…and she has her own art, books and desk to do her writing! So again I will suggest that life has balanced the loss of a wife I deeply loved by giving me a new mate to share my last years on the path of life.
Hold up there old man! You seem to have stumbled on to an important understanding about the path of life. Our lives are always filled with both positive and negative events; the gift is to find a way to balance the negative and positive in it. I recognize that this balance of negative and positive is not always possible–some live and die in times of great conflict such as war. Nevertheless, when we are given time after a negative event in our lives, there is always a way to return, to shift back to the positive path of life if we are open to change.
This positive change is not always easy to find after a time of negative experiences. This was true for me when my first marriage, that created my two children, ended in divorce. There was a period of three to four years when I lived alone and struggled financially. This type of experience is shared in one of my stories called, Monkeyshines and Miracles. The story is found in my memoir both in written form and the video recording of a live performance. This story depicts the pain that a man feels when his wife dies–my wife did not die, but for me, it felt like a death when the marriage ended.
Recently I watched the video of this story with Susan and I felt the tears welling up in me. So many of the feelings shared in the story came to actually be when Nancy died. I will suggest now that the negative experience of my divorce turned out to be a positive support for facing the death of Nancy later in my life. This brings to front and center the subject of “death” in our lives: Can we balance the experience, the energy, of death in our lives? Let’s talk first about death as it relates to loved ones in our lives; and then I will offer observations about my own death.
Before I share these experiences of death, I want to speak briefly about the concept of “presence” in our lives. For me, presence is a gift from the eternal to live both the positive and negative in our lives and find a balance that helps us to move forward on the path of life. Sometimes this balance, this presence, is consciously pursued, but often we pursue it unconsciously and it is only later that we reflect back and see the decisions made to move forward on the path of life.
Let me share my gift of presence in dealing with the grief of losing my wife, Nancy. Because Nancy was under hospice home care when she died, I was invited to join a group of grieving spouses run by the hospice organization that supported me in caring for Nancy. I attended only two meetings of this therapy group. I could not find solace in listening to the negative experience of others living with grief. I had to find my own way of being present to my grief over her death.
When I went through Nancy’s work files at that time, I found she had gathered a series of journals kept from the age of ten until near the time when she died. They were nicely collected together for me to find. I imagined these journals as a positive stimulus created by Nancy to help her husband deal with his grief. Immediately I started to think about a remembrance that would be either a documentary film or a book. After considering the sources provide for me, I decided that the book was a better creative project than a film.
The book, THE MUSIC OF LIFE, A Remembrance of Nancy Wicklund Gray, took five months to create. During this time I focused most of my energy on this creative process. The book is only fifty-one pages and it is illustrated with many visuals from Nancy’s time of this earth. For me, the creator, there were many times of tears shed in the process, but the book was my form of positive grieving…my best way to be present to the pain of loss. I will share just a bit of the writing:
The creative idea for this remembrance grew out of a dream Ray had shortly after Nancy’s death. In the dream he found himself listening to a musical performance with Nancy. Afterwards, she said to him, “Turn this music into a story.” When Ray woke up, he immediately thought of either a documentary film or a written remembrance–with the title: THE MUSIC OF LIFE. The resources for this creative work were mostly journals and photos, not video, so the written remembrance was created.
“This remembrance is part of a husband’s grieving process for the loss of his mate in life. It has served this purpose well. I have learned many things about my Nancy that either I did not know or did not take the time to think about when we were sharing our lives.
I have tried to tell Nancy’s story as honestly as I can. For me it is the story of a strong, clear thinking woman who was capable of great love. She faced much adversity in her life, but this adversity did not deter her passion to love and to be loved in the time she was given on this earth. She has taught me much about the gift of love–how to love and be loved.
I will close this by sharing one of the last conscious communications between the two of us. Nancy said: “I want you to be happy.” I understand that to mean that she wants me to go on with my life and not live in a perpetual state of grief and loss. She wants me to explore new relationships and be open to finding a new mate; or find happiness in being alone through my last years of life. I say a prayer of thanks for the opportunity to share a part of my time on this earth with this beautiful and wise woman“
This remembrance is available on Amazon:
Through my eighty years of life I have had one other intimate experience of a loved one’s death. This experience came about because of a family decision to have my mother, Ruby Bessie Fink Gray live to the end of life with Nancy and myself. The end of this experience, Ruby’s death, is described in my journal and shared in my memoir:
October 31, 2011 (Halloween)
Ruby died this evening.
The day started with a visit to the funeral home that now holds her remains. I went to make the arrangements for her death, but I had no idea that they would be needed on this day. After the funeral home, I went to the bank to look for an insurance policy that I thought might be in our safe deposit box. While I was rummaging through savings bonds, jewelry, wills and old coins I had a call from Neshaminy Manor where Ruby lived. It was the afternoon shift nurse. He wanted to know if I had been updated on Ruby’s condition. I said, “Yes, I talked with the hospice nurse this morning. I will come tomorrow to visit with Ruby.” He suggested: “You might want to consider coming today.” It was then about four in the afternoon. I decided to go home and eat before I went to visit with her, thinking that it might be my only chance to get a meal. I went home and ate leftover wonton soup and a scrap of good sourdough bread with butter. On the drive to the nursing home I put on a CD, a Bach cello suite, sensing I needed to collect myself for my work ahead.
When I arrived on the floor where Ruby lived, I looked up Ralph, the nurse who had called me. He said he was concerned because Ruby was under hospice care, but there were no orders to keep her at Neshaminy Manor. A nurse could decide that she needed more care than they could provide and therefore call for an ambulance. I said that I did not want her taken to the hospital. He said that was fine, but if I went home and another nurse came on duty, that nurse might decide to send her. I said I would call hospice to make sure that my wishes were followed.
I put in a call to Donna, the hospice nurse. Meanwhile, a supervising nurse came to the room and checked Ruby. She said she was going to order morphine to slow Ruby’s breathing, which by this time was like a runner’s after a ten mile-run. I wondered at her ninety-seven year old heart. How long could it work so hard? The morphine was given and I noticed a slight relaxing of her breathing. Sitting beside her, I started to get sleepy myself. I was looking at the family pictures on the wall. I looked at a young and beautiful Ruby in one picture. I guessed that it was a picture from her brother Raymond’s wedding.
By this time it was nearly five-thirty. I started to think about my brother, Cecil, who was scheduled to leave the next day for a family vacation in Hawaii. Should I call and warn him that Mother might be dying? I decided that I would; I could let him decide if he wanted to change his plans before getting on the plane to the islands. When I finally talked with Cecil, he said he would think about changing his plans overnight and call me in the morning. We left it there and I went back to Ruby.
When I looked at her in bed, she seemed a little more settled. The hospice nurse returned my call and confirmed Ralph’s observation. There was no order to keep Ruby at the nursing home; the family was expected to make the decision. This was the very thing I hoped hospice would help me to do, to allow Ruby to die without medical intervention. I decided I would stay there as long as I could–overnight if necessary. I asked Ralph if it was all right for me to sleep in the chair. He said that it was no problem.
It was now close to seven in the evening. One of the aides came in to check on Ruby, to see if she needed her diaper changed. We talked about turning Ruby on her side to help her breathe easier. While the aide worked to make Ruby more comfortable, I went out to call my sister, Gloria. We talked briefly. I suggested that, if she wanted to see her mother alive, she might want to come to Philadelphia. We agreed to talk again in the morning. I still did not suspect that Ruby’s end was so near.
I went back to the room. The aide was gone. Ruby was propped up higher in the bed. Her eyes were open. Her breathing was quieter. I thought she was looking at me. I started to talk, saying that I was her son, Ray, come to visit her. There was no expression on her face. I started to watch her chest to see if she was breathing. For the first time I thought she might be dying. No, she was still breathing; each breath was shallow and taken after a long interval. I started to sing to her. I do not know what I sang, but most likely they were hymns. After singing for a while, I started to talk to her. I was direct. I encouraged her to go, to leave this life–it was almost like a chant. I sang out, “Go, go, it is all right to go; go, go, it is all right to leave this world.”
Now I knew she was going. She was dying. At one point I thought she was dead, and then there came another breath, and another. I do not know how long this went on. I stroked her head. I sang to her. I encouraged her to go, to find her way. Finally, I was fairly certain she was gone. I put my hand on her chest to see if I could feel a heartbeat. I thought about a story I was working on. In the story a man, in his human vanity, tries to bring another man back to life by breathing into his mouth. I thought about breathing into Ruby’s mouth to bring her back to life. I did once try to resuscitate a young man who was injured and dying. I did not try it with Ruby. It was her time to leave this world. I went back to encouraging her to find her way to the next world. I sang more hymns. I said several prayers for her release; then I witnessed the last function of her body. As she expired, a tear was formed in her right eye. We both shed a tear as we said our silent goodbye.
At that moment, the phone rang and it was my wife, Nancy; I told her that Ruby had died. She said she was coming to be with me. I said that was fine and hung up.I sang and prayed for a while longer, and then I went out to find a nurse to declare Ruby officially dead. When I approached one and told her that I thought that my mother was dead, she looked shocked. She called for Ralph and they both came into the room with me. The female nurse used her stethoscope to listen for Ruby’s heartbeat, and then shook her head to agree with my assessment that Ruby was indeed dead.
When the nurses left the room, I continued to sing for some time, until the supervising nurse for the evening shift came into the room. She smiled and told me that I was so fortunate to be here when Ruby died, that most people deal with death without experiencing it. She shared that her cat had died today and that she was so happy to be there when it did. I agreed that I was happy to be part of Ruby’s end. I said, “She helped me to come into this world and I was here to help her to leave this world.” We both cried.
The floor nurse came back into the room and asked about Ruby’s clothes. I said, “Give them to whoever needs them.” She suggested that I call the funeral home to come for the body. I called and a woman answered the telephone; she said the funeral director would call me back. For a while I was again alone with Ruby until Nancy came into the room. We hugged and talked. The funeral director called and said that he would be there within half an hour. It was time for our last goodbye. Nancy and I both kissed Ruby one last time and left the hospital.
We drove home silently. I had a big piece of apple cake with vanilla ice cream, followed by two glasses of Irish Mist. I tried to go to bed at about ten-thirty, but I could not sleep. I have been writing for an hour and a half. Maybe I can sleep now.”
In one way my experience of Ruby’s death was more intimate than my experience of Nancy’s death. I feel that Nancy chose to die when I was not in the room with her. She literally died when I went out to the kitchen to fix a meal for myself. As the above description shares I was there to see Ruby’s last breath of air; nevertheless both experiences were intimately connected with the death of a loved one…and in both experiences I felt very honored to accompany a loved one to threshold of death.
So yes, I have been present for an intimate experience of death– I will share that I found both experiences very positive–what many might find a negative experience in life, I found for myself, a balance, a positive that grows out of being willing to be present for a difficult time in life. Many talk about dealing with death as a battle–“she fought bravely her battle against cancer”. You might have said that about Nancy, but she did not choose those words for her experience. It was simply a negative in life that she had to deal with, to be present for the experience and find the positive where you can in it. After Nancy’s death I have felt her presence several times in my life.
This brings me to a couple of thoughts about my own death: How will I be present for this last act of a long life? First, I will say I don’t agree with a storytelling friend who said: “Just keep on keeping on!” She suggested that you continue to live your life as always and ignore that your time on this earth is nearing its end. I want to think about my end and prepare myself to be as present to the event as I have tried to be in living my life.
You could argue that Raymond talks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to presence about the subject of death. It was about three months after Nancy’s death that I received a sympathy letter from Susan Carol Scott. She shared that we had met at one of my storytelling performances and talked about the fact that were are both graduates of Princeton Theological Seminary. Like me, her mate had died in the past year–so we were both foot-loose and fancy free! At that time I was working on the remembrance of Nancy: and as I have shared here, Nancy said to me just before she died: “I want you to be happy.”
I wrote in the remembrance: “I understand that to mean that she wants me to go on with my life and not live in a perpetual state of grief and loss. She wants me to explore new relationships and be open to finding a new mate or happiness in being alone through my last years of life.
I will share that I did think about living alone for the rest of my life–and I could have managed it–but I soon decided that I missed having a mate sleeping beside me in bed at 68 Clemens Road! It was soon after I published Nancy’s remembrance that Susan and I agreed with one of Nancy’s boyfriends who said: “I think our bodies like each other!” I had found that quote in one of Nancy journals and published it in her remembrance. So in some sense I agree with my storytelling friend who suggested that “you just keep on keepin’ on” in your life: I also think at the age of eighty you cannot ignore the closeness of death and I want to think about being present in the time I have left on this earth and how I will be present for my end of life.
It was in the spring 2020 that I created a story– A Conversation with Death. I shared the story with Susan and we talked about it. Susan has worked as a hospice chaplain, so she is not uncomfortable talking about the subject of death. She even made some comments that helped me to refine the story and finally she agreed to help me to create a video recording of my telling the story. I will share this little story and our recording of me telling it–Susan was the camera person!
A CONVERSATION WITH DEATH
I often talk to myself, Raymond Lowell Gray—don’t we all to a more or lesser degree? I may be a little different in that I earned a modest living as an oral storyteller; that involved creating characters and inhabiting them to share a story.
Most recently I’ve been imagining the character–Death. I am interested in the subject of death because I will soon be seventy-nine years old. When I read the morning paper and come to the obituary page, I see a lot of names of people younger than me. The immediacy of death then became particular real last summer when I cared for my wife, Nancy, as she faced death and died. Since her death, I’ve been imagining a conversation with Death that explores the positive in this end of life process.
If you will, come with me to the home where Raymond Lowell Gray lives alone; it is a cool summer night. We find Raymond sitting on the couch in front of the big picture window in his living room. Outside a lite mist partially obscures the branches of a magnolia tree–creating visons of the real and imagined for Raymond to contemplate.
Raymond closes his eyes to encourage his creative process. For a period of time he lingers between the states of sleep and wakefulness, conscious and unconscious, like the misty world outside his living room window.
It is a sense of presence that encourages Raymond to open his eyes again. Slowly he turns– though not hard and fast of flesh and sinew, he sees a night visitor sitting next to him on the couch. This visitor is not devoid of humanity–indeed he is dressed in jeans and flannel shirt much like Raymond often wears. As he turns to face Raymond, there is warmth in his wrinkled smile.
The visitor speaks softly, “Thank you for inviting me into your home this night.”
“I, I, I don’t know what to say”, responds Raymond. “I mean, I imagined something else, like in a Bergmann movie, you know hooded, carrying a scythe, full of endings, not beginnings….what should I call you?”
Death stands up, his face toward the darkened window, “I would like to be called, Teacher, maybe even, Friend.”
Now Raymond stands up next to Death and they both stare out the window for a quiet time. Then Raymond responds: “Since childhood I think I have unconsciously wanted to think of death as a positive. I mean kinda like a kick in the butt to remind me that life is not eternal. We should have a purpose, things we want to do in life. So, I guess in a way I have…unconsciously…thought of you as my teacher.”
“And have you found that purpose?” inquires Death.
Raymond Lowell does not answer immediately. He stands with his new friend and teacher–like two travelers on the bow of ship at sea–they both stare into the misty night outside the big window. Finally without assurance, Raymond responds: “Yes, I think I have. I mean I have not found great material success in life–no fame or wealth, but, but I have found purpose in my creative work.”
“Your world of story”, says Death.
“Yes”, says Raymond, “and in old age, I have developed a fascination for spiritual stories. The Greek write, Nikos Kazantzakis, put this way: “God made us as grubs, by our effort we become butterflies.”
“Ah, God”–Death sighs–“the bane of my existence. The source of all positive and I am left to shepherd the poor soul who face the negative in life. So tell me Raymond Lowell Gray, how have you found in old age a purpose, a way to turn into a butterfly?”
Now it is Raymond’s turn to sigh…”I think it has something to do with the balance of opposites, the god positives and the death negatives maybe…but I am old and my time to die is coming near. I fear the loss of control, control of my life! Every night I close the blinds of this window, I lock the doors. I try to control my life, but I am isolated, alone and …and I can’t imagine a world without me, me, me…I’m exaggerating a bit to make my point.”
Death interrupts, “Yes, this human ‘me’ thing is a point to make, but if we think of your idea of opposites: then the opposite of ‘me’ is ‘you’ and I suggest that the balance between them is ‘love’. Raymond I think you, Old Man, need to find someone to love…love listens to all and endures all!”
These last words from Death seem to soften and float away. Outside the mist has disappeared and a full moon now illuminates the shape of the magnolia tree. Raymond senses a moment of clear-light understanding and turns to thank Death for sharing this time with him…but his teacher and friend has disappeared like the mist on the night air.
First, I do not have any understandings that come from theology or philosophy about the experience of death. The only thoughts I have to share come from living with death, not experiencing it. As I have shared here, my thoughts and experiences of death have all found a way to balance the negative with a positive response by doing my best to be present for the life experience. As for my own death, I do fear the unknown about it. The best I can do is to be open to being present, being like the new born babe I was eighty years ago when I came into this world!
This presents a question about being: Are we more than the physical body that came out of our mother’s body? Here the intuitive, creative part of me–I will call it the “Self”–declares its existence separate from the body. I think and feel that I know this Self through the creative experiences I have been given in my life. It is not something that I read about in a book, it is part of my life experience discovered in the creative life I have lived. So yes, I believe that I am more than the physical body that came out of my mother’s body…and my Self will live on after my physical body turns to dust.
Like the creative life that I have lived, I do not expect to control my experience of death. I simply have to be open to the experience–to be present– and do the best I can to imagine how it will happen. Here I will use another metaphor to describe the experience. I have often imagined my creative works as the seeds of a plant that are scattered on the wind and land where they will. I do try to spread them, but I do not control where they take hold and come to life again in a new human body. So something of my Self will live on in new life and add to the growth of a new Self…no longer my Self, nevertheless supported by my creative energy!
Do you have a friend who repeats the same personal story over and over? You say to yourself, ‘All right, I’ve heard that before’. Sometimes we need to forgive them because growing old often leads to repeating ourselves. It can also be appropriate if there is someone in your company that does not know your friend’s stories. You know them because you are…well, good friends, you enjoy each other’s company and spend a lot of time together!
My friend, Edward, is one of those old ones that I forgive for repeating his story about human consciousness. What can I tell you about my friend, Edward R Jones…to get to know him? First, I will share that I am writing this because he died last week and I am trying to come to terms with the loss.
Edward was one of those humans who never quite fit into a standard mold created by society for us all to follow. First, he was dyslexic and started his education before this disability was identified. Teachers underestimated his intelligence and he resisted their evaluations…developing a strong characteristic of the contrarian in his personality.
This negative part of Edward’s personality was balanced with many positive abilities. He had a strong sense of curiosity about the world around him–everything from the mechanics of his bicycle as a boy to an interest in nature and the creatures that inhabit it…including the humans throughout his life. Edward was good at asking questions that made his friends feel his interest in them and the lives they were living. This curiosity about the world around him often led to observations that other found thoughtful and worth consideration…some even called them wise…Edward’s contrarian nature seldom found the worth in being identified as wise, but he loved the engagement with the minds and hearts of others.
Edward’s connection to the natural world was shown clearly in his first ever creative project. As a young man he wanted to explore the human expression of spirituality. After graduating from college he contemplated a degree in theology and a career in the Christian Church of his family of origin. This traditional career path was soon rejected and he began to explore his spiritual energy in a non-traditional–contrarian you might say–interest. He developed an interest in research being done to understand the ways of wolves. He traveled to the Canadian north woods to participate in a study of their pack habits.
Scientists from a Canadian university were engaged in learning the habits of wolf packs. This was a time before the development of technology for tracking animals. They followed the movement of their subjects across the wilderness by going out at night, howling, and the wolves would answer the human calls….and so the scientist could determine the nightly movements of the wolves through the woods.
Edward found this communication with another species elemental for his being; indeed, he would later describe the experience as spiritual–communion with the divine. When he returned from his summer’s adventure, he created a program called “Way of the Wolf” and sold it to a museum.
Later Edward jokingly declared to many of his friends that he felt that he was a “wolf”…there was an elemental energy in him that he first consciously identified on those nights of howling and hearing the wolves responding back to him.
This elemental energy founded in the natural world became the basis for a career for Edward. For more than thirty years he created multi-media programs that he sold to museums, schools and community groups….canoeing the Yukon River to create a program about the Alaskan Gold Rush…and paddling a sea kayak across the Aegean Sea to understand the adventure stories in Greek mythology….to name just a few of his programs. For Edward these programs were a way to explore, grow in understanding and share with others your adventures in the natural world!
The performing career of Edward R lasted for thirty plus years. It was at the age of sixty-four years that he experienced a metanoia, a change of focus for his curiosity. At that time his mother, Thelma, was living with Edward and his wife. One day Thelma saw Edward reading Carl Jung’s memoir–Memories, Dreams, Reflections. She asked her son an innocent question: “How long does it take to read that book?”
Edward thought a long moment and then responded: “Forty years!”
Thelma laughed and said: “You must be a slow reader.”
Edward smiled in return as he started to consciously reflect on this unexpected truth: Why had he turned these stories of Jung’s life, his individuation, into his own personal bible, his holy scripture?
For the first time in Edward’s life his curiosity turned consciously inward and he started to think rationally about stories he might create from Jung’s exploration of the human experience.
One of the concepts that peaked Edward’s interest was the idea of “archetype”. Jung’s idea of archetype is described as an innate, unspecific energy, derived from the sum total of human history, which prefigures and directs conscious behavior. Edward immediately thought about the energy that had driven his choices for subjects to explore and create programs for others to enjoy and learn about life. He recognized his energy was connected to the natural world and he started to think about how this energy had directed his life.
This led to a time for Edward when being was more important than doing in his life. He stopped advertising his programs, his money making and ego engaging activities. Over a period of several years his work slowly disappeared. He became accustomed to spending most days alone–reflecting on the way he wanted to spend the last third of life…however long that might be.
Slowly a philosophy of life became conscious and Edward explored feelings and thoughts about it. He thought about life as being meaningful when we find a balance between the opposites in our world. This led him to describe himself as “wishy-washy…..always seeing the positives and negatives in life, but not trying to direct his path, or the path of anyone’s life. This attitude about life brought more of a sense of wholeness where you accept opposites, you do not try to change them; instead you accommodate them, to balance them.
This will to accept rather change the world opened the door for introspection and reflection. When Edward’s wife became ill, and a year later died, he struggled to maintain his balance with Death on the other side of the seesaw we call life. Luckily, his wife Mary had left her journals for him to read and learn many things about a remarkable life that she had lived. He learned many things about Mary that he would not have known if he had died before her. For six months he worked on a remembrance of Mary’s life…many days crying as he worked to create it. When the book was published he felt a new balance…but now Death was part his balance of life and he needed to understand this new relationship, this new relationship with his natural world.
These are a few of Edward’s thoughts about death that he shared with me: We live in a world where many prefer euphemisms when they talk about Death– Our friend “has passed away”; or, “she’s gone on to better place”. We have trouble talking about Death as a reality in our lives. These euphemisms are a way to ward off this reality of life, the balance of positive and negative…that is, our lives all end in death. This is the negative, but there must be a balance, a positive present in the reality of death. Edward started to think about ways to confront the reality of death–to seek a balance of mind and heart, or reason and spirit as we engaged this end of life. So one day he sat down to write a story about a conversation with Death.
Come….Let’s join Edward as he sits on the couch in front of the big window in the living room of his home. There is the dark of night outside the big window. Edward closes his eyes in a meditative state and imagines a conversation with Death. The shadows of the night meld together, and after a time of quiet reflection, Edward opens his eyes to see a figure beside him on the couch. Though not hard and fast of flesh and sinew, the visitor is not devoid of humanity. Indeed he looks much like Edward–gray hair, dressed in blue jeans and sport shirt that fits tight around his belly. Slowly he turns to face Edward; there is warmth to his wrinkled smile that Edward finds welcoming.
The visitor speaks softly: “Thank you for inviting me into your home this night.”
“I, I, I don’t know what to say”, stumbles Edward. “I mean, I imagined something else….like in a Bergman movie, hooded, carrying a scythe, you know full of endings, not beginnings….I can’t think how to begin. What do I call you?”
Death stands up, his face toward the darkened window and says, “I would like to be called teacher; maybe even, friend.”
Now Edward stands up and looks out the window as he gathers himself to converse with Death. “Now that you say that, I think unconsciously I have thought of death as a kick in the pants to remind me that life is not forever. I need a purpose for life, things I want to do before I die. So I guess, in one way, I do think of you as my teacher.”
“And have you found that purpose” inquires Death?
Again, without assurance, Edward responds, “Yes, I think I have. I mean I have not found great material success in life, no fame or wealth, but I have found purpose in my creative work.”
“Your world of story”, says Death.
“Yes, my creative work has been a positive in my life, a balance to the negatives in my life….but I’m growing old and I fear the loss of control in old age….the negatives seem to outweigh the positives: my physical body doesn’t work like it used to, there is the threat of dementia, being alone without a partner since my wife’s death is big also…but maybe most, I find it difficult to imagine a world without me, me, me! I’m exaggerating a bit to make my point.”
With a meaningful nod of his head, Death responds, “Yes, me has its place in your human life; but the opposite of me is you… and the balance between them is love…I think it says somewhere that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all thing and endures all things. I know Edward, you have had a great loss with Mary dying, but a new love can help balance that loss…perhaps you may even find a new partner to share a new love with you.”
Outside the big window Edward now sees a full moon illuminating the shape of the Magnolia tree in the back lawn. He turns to thank Death for sharing these thoughts with him…..but his teacher is gone.
So ends this lesson for one human soul who seeks to balance the mind and heart, the rational with the creative, the human with the eternal in us all.
This brings me to the purpose– you might say the heart of this story–during the last years of Edward R’s life he became fascinated (curious) about the ideas of Gnosticism. Gnosis is the Greek word for “knowledge”. Edward wanted to explore the idea that: “We know something that we don’t know that we know. “ I will not say that he ever declared a belief, a certainty, about his exploration of this idea, but he did try to understand it. Edward often shared his idea that this knowledge is hidden from us because our physical bodies prevent us from being wholly in touch with our spiritual selves. It is only at death that we are freed to discover this knowledge that we don’t know that we know!
So you see my friend Edward found another way to balance the negative inherent in the process of dying. He felt that Death is a friend and we find wholeness in death that we cannot find in our physical bodies
I will share one more detail about my friend, Edward R Jones. Death was right in suggesting that Edward should be open to finding new love after the death of his wife, Mary. Whether it was God’s spiritual blessing or Death’s good reasoning, Edward did find new love with a mate. Edward was happily married to Sarah for six years before his death!
And I will end this contemplation by sharing that I want to thank Edward for helping me to understand and reflect on my own end of life experience through telling his story!
I am preparing a performance that grows out of Carl Jung’s, The Red Book. The performance begins with the telling of Jung’s story about the giant (demi-god) called, Izdubar, in Mesopotamian mythology. My hope is that the performance will engage the audience in several ways. First, I hope to distinguish our human gifts for exploring the world through both our powers of reason and creative soul. As Jung suggests in his story, we in the west do sometimes depend on our powers of reason as the only gift to understand and engage our world. We need to explore more our creative and intuitive powers that open access to the energy of the unconscious. Jung used the concept called “active imagination” to describe the way we open ourselves to communication with the unconscious. Jung exercises a form of active imagination when giving voice to his unconscious by describing a conversation between himself and his soul. I will share my interpretation of this conversation that occurs early in The Red Book.
A Conversation with My Soul
My Soul: Dear Gramundos, it is time, time to turn inward and consider the questions that have long haunted you.
Gramundos: I don’t understand. Of what do you speak?
My Soul: You know well of what I speak. Since your youth you have struggled with the eternal questions…..questions that have confounded the human race from the beginning of consciousness. WHERE DO I COME FROM? WHY WAS I PUT ON THIS EARTH? AND, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME WHEN I DIE?
Gramundos: Soul Dearest, I feel I must be direct. I am exhausted from the day’s labor. Why will you not allow me to rest, to enjoy my night’s sleep?
My Soul: Beloved Gramundos now is not the time for sleep. Night is the time for the struggle that awaits you.
Gramundos: Soul Dearest, I find there are no answers to these questions. At best, we speculate and tell stories that point to a truth, but there are no answers that satisfy the rational mind.
My Soul: Precisely and to the point, you are one who has some understanding of the non-rational, the symbolic truth, and you can help others to explore the divine and share it.
Gramundos: I can’t see why I should do this: Is it not a fool’s errand to speak of a subject that has no popularity in the world today? You ask me to risk my mental and physical health, not to mention my place in society, to speak about a subject that no one knows they are missing.
My Soul: You know, and you have known from birth that you are called to this task. Your time of worldly success has passed. Your time to explore the unconscious, the life of the soul is present.
Gramundos: Why should I listen to you now, at this late time in my life?
My Soul: Yes, you have ignored my voice for many years, but it is not too late to renew our relationship and move forward with the foreordained task set at your birth. You have arrived at the time in life when all humans are asked to loosen the bonds of reason and engage the soul.
So this imagined conversation between my Soul/Self (Unconscious) and my ego-self leads to a second way I hope to engage my audience through my performance. Times, stages in our lives, ask us to focus on different ways to engage life. As Gramundos’ Soul suggest, he has ignored her voice for many years, but now “your time for worldly success is past” and it time to engage the work of the soul. I would argue that it is in the last third of life that we need to find time to consciously communicate with our Soul.
I will share a bit of my own story of how I began to focus on communicating with my soul in the last third of life. When I was about sixty-four–fifteen years ago–I was confronted by a reality that my storytelling business in schools was diminishing….I was feeling depressed and wondering if I needed to make some changes in my life. One day, my Mother, Ruby (who was living with my wife and I at the time) saw me reading Carl Jung’s “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (MDR) and she asked a simple question:
“How long does it take to read that book?”
I thought a moment and responded with a smile: “Forty years.”
She laughed and said: “You must be a slow reader.”
It was that prod, innocent on her part, which led me to realize that I had been reading Jung’s MDR over and over for most of my adult life–it had become my Scripture! This realization kindled my desire to better understand this spiritual focus in my life….and, my way to explore and understand is to create a story!
For several years after Ruby’s prodding I followed a transitional path from being Ray Gray, the presenter of storytelling for school children, to Gramundos (name created by one of my storytelling friends) the explorer of the human soul! I stopped promoting my storytelling programs for children in schools and over a period of two-three years the work disappeared. In the place of the children’s storytelling, I started to work on adult stories that I loosely imagined as stories for the last third of life. First, I created two performance from MDR titled, “Imagining the World of Carl Jung” where I performed Jung in the first person–these performances had the widest presentation from England to Canada and several cities in the US. A third performance, “The Red Book Stories” had only a couple of local performances and never found an audience.
It was three years into my transition that I decided to expand my exploration by writing about my life. I started to work on a multi-media memoir with audio and video recordings that augment the writing. The memoir was published as a kindle book, “Grandpa Jung’s Lessons, for a slow reader”. Work on the memoir led to the decision to self-publish two of my children’s stories as paperback books with illustrations. These stories had been shared as oral stories in school programs for many years, but now they were important for understanding the path I had chosen in life.
It was just over three years ago, at the beginning of the project to publish one of my children’s books, “Ice Cream Mud”, that my wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with stage-four esophageal cancer. It was during the year that we worked on the book that she struggled with her illness and finally died just weeks before the book was published. Nancy’s death lead to the last book project I have created since starting to work on stories for the last third of life. This is a remembrance of Nancy Wicklund Gray, “The Music of Life”. It was my way of understanding and dealing with the grief of losing a mate that I deeply loved.
I share these personal experiences to illustrate the third way I hope to engage my audience through telling Jung’s Izdubar myth. I believe that life is a creative process. We either act as the creator or receiver of the benefits from the creative process– the interaction that moves past the rational to understand life and engage the soul through an experience of active imagination. I know that I benefited by creating Nancy’s remembrance. And, in a different way, I benefited from reading Jung’s story because it introduced an idea that invigorated my creative process, my engagement with my soul. Jung introduces in the Izdubar story, the idea of a god my pocket! This idea has suggested to me that much of my adult life; I kept my god in my pocket. Only now, in my late seventies am I now taking that god out of my pocket to explore and understand how I may benefit from my relationship with the Collective Unconscious or God! So if you’re up for it, let me share my version of Jung’s Izdubar story…how in old age I am trying to open a conversation with My Soul.
Izdubar, the Giant
So it was through imagination and the power of story I set out on a journey to the east to discover the birthplace of my Soul…..and my imagination transports me to a place of bare-rock mountains intertwined with narrow, dry valleys…..stifling hot by day and freezing cold by night. Then an experience is given to me: I hear a rumble of thunder; I look up, not a cloud in the sky, only the sun dissolving all moisture in the air.
I am quiet….I listen, look and feel: Then through a pass in the mountains there appears an enormous man. He has two bull horns protruding from his great head. His head is covered with thick, curly, black hair……He has a broad chest shielded by chain mail armor the color of midnight blue….a double-bladed ax in hand.
Then in a moment, with three giant strides, he is standing before me: I freeze in the shadow of this fearsome creature….slowly I look up at his face expecting to see belligerence…. Instead I see a look of expectation.
Hesitantly, cautiously I say: “Most Honored One please spare my life and forgive me for lying like a worn in your path.”
“I do not want your life”, responds the Bull-man, “Where do you come from?”
Raising my head more, I call to him, “Please forgive me Most Honored One, I come from the west.”
“You come from the western lands.” I hear a sound of anticipation in his voice. “Do you know the place where the Sun goes to be renewed after its daily labors?”
“Most Honored One”, I respond, “I fear I am the bearer of unsatisfying truth–what we humans call science–there is no place where the Sun goes to rest each day after its labors. The Sun stands a great distance from you and me. You see, you and I, we live on a planet called Earth. Our Earth spins on its axis as it circles the Sun creating the illusion that the Sun sets in the west each day.”
Now the Bull-man looks puzzled: “You tell me there is no immortal land where the Sun goes each night to be reborn for the coming of the new day?”
“Most Honored One, again forgive me for speaking my human truth.”
The Bull-Man drops his ax to the ground and calls out again: “Damn your truth…you tell me there is no western land where I can go to attain immortality, to be born anew as the Sun is born anew each day!”
I point up to sky and say: “Please forgive me Most Honored One, can you understand, the Sun is a celestial body out there, far out in unending space.”
Now I see a look of fear on the Bull-man’s face: “Unending you say, I cannot go there if I keep walking to the west?”
I reach out to him in sympathy: “Insofar as part of you is mortal, you cannot reach the Sun.”
Now the Bull-man drops to the ground and says in despair: “I am mortal, I will never be immortal as the Sun. I cannot do battle against endless space. There is nothing left for me to conquer.”
So time passes and the sun slowly disappears over the western mountains. Then the Bull-man raises his eyes and looks to the heavens, “Go damned father of the gods, wrap yourself in immortality. Your faithful son is left without hope for eternity.”
The chill of the coming night finally stirs me from the side of my fallen hero god. I gather wood and light a fire. Slowly the heat begins to warm the two of us, most unlikely companions.
Then, for the first time, the Bull-man looks directly into my eyes and says: “This truth, this science, you speak of, is it a god to replace my Father, the immortal Sun?”
“Oh no”, I say with a little sarcastic laugh, “It is no more than words, just an idea about the truth.”
The Bull-man looks trouble, “Then you have nothing to believe in?”
“You speak the truth”, I say with a nod of recognition, “Science has taken from me the capacity for belief and it is because of this that I have come to the east to the land of the rising sun to seek a new way to understand my world.”
The Bull-man says nothing in return; so we both rest before the coming of a new day and hopefully a new beginning.
When first morning light shines, I rise up and kindle the fire again. The Bull-man does not rise up to sit by the fire. The experience of the past day has left him in a weakened state and he cannot lift his heavy body from the ground.
Recognizing this new reality, I feel the Bull-man’s loss: “Most Honored One”, I call across the fire, “I know that I am greatly responsible for your loss of power.”
“This poison you call science has cut me down”, says the Bull-man, “let me be, death must come to us all if your science speaks the truth.”
“But I cannot just leave you to die”, I say. “I feel a great sense of responsibility for your plight my friend….and added to that I will share that I have never felt as alive as I did when first we met. I did not want to harm you by sharing my truth. I said what I was taught in school, not what I know from living. We are both wanderers on this Earth……. We both seek the truth that will fulfill the lives that we have been given to live.”
“I do not blame you”, says the Bull-man.
Now I start to think about our predicament–the Bull-man is too big for me to move him–I stand up from the fire and walk a short distance, stop and call back to him: “I have an idea!”
The Bull-man looks incredulous: “Why should I find hope in your human idea: Was it not your idea of science that condemned me in the first place!”
I come back to the Bull-man and say: “Please forgive me Most Honored One, but we in the west believe that ideas can both help and harm us. We have to be rational in our thinking process, but also open to the energy of the heart. I believe this idea will help us.”
“Then speak your idea”, says the Bull-man.
“Thank you”, I say, “In the west we have what are called myths. A myth tells a story that is true in the inner world of the imagination…it speaks to our heart and soul. Please understand me Most Honored One, I do not wish to offend you, but you are not real in the western, scientific sense of reality. You are the imaginative creation of an ancient storyteller. If I remember Mesopotamian mythology correctly, you are Izdubar a demigod or superhuman in these ancient stories. If you can accept this new reality, I may be able to carry you back to the west where you can find your immortality through the telling of your story!
The Bull-man, demi-god, Izdubar, sighs, “Damn your science, your new reality, your story……but I have no other choice. Life changes and new realities appear whether we choose them or not. I accept the truth of your reality.”
Then, in a magical moment, for both me and the Bull-man, we are metamorphosed into the reality of an ancient story! We find ourselves standing before a great tree with roots that reach into the earth and branches that disappear into the heavens. I understand that this tree is the Tree of Life and it provides an avenue for journeying from the world of humans and our powers of reason, to the world of the gods–the powers of the heart and soul. I understand that the branches closer to the earth provide support for those humans most bound to human reason. As you climb higher into the Tree of Life, the powers of reason and science are of less use as you create stories of the relationship between the human and the divine.
The understanding of this reality is as a clear light for me. I look to my god-man, Izdubar and see that he has become lite as air. So I reached out and take hold of him. Now Izdubar’s body is soft and pliable: I begin to work his shape, squeezing and folding, I work this godly reality into a size that I can manage in the world of human reason….a god that I can carry in my pocket!
The idea of a “god in my pocket” is a new for me. I will allow it to ripen and mature a bit on Tree of Life before I try to create a story, my form of creative engagement with My Soul!
I find it energizing to see a tombstone with my name etched in it. Presently my name and birth year, 1942, are on the stone, followed by a line that awaits the date of my death. When I look at this marker for my life I imagine a time one hundred years from now. I imagine someone who has a connection to me coming for a visit. They will see that I have left a message, a communication for them to appreciate and wonder about the person who created it.
I could make an argument that all creative work is a form of the tombstone. We leave markers for others to read, to interpret and to understand how we have engaged the world. I think this is particularly true for older artist; we are past the need or desire to gain fame or fortune from our work, but we still feel the need to communicate how we have experienced this world! I like to think about it as my wish to leave my scats about for others to find after I am gone from this earth. I think of my blogs as a form of creative scat that I am leaving for people to discover long after I have died.
We should not forget to mention the idea that a stone, particularly the philosopher’s stone, was thought to have the power to give immortality to the person who knew how to mix different kinds of stone–a form of alchemy! So perhaps there is a bit of the alchemist in me when I visit my tombstone–just another way to become immortal!
One last thought about visiting my tombstone–a thought that contradicts or balances thoughts about immortality–this tombstone reminds me that my time on this Earth is limited. If I have things I want to accomplish, I best get started, motivated to get it done! I will not be here forever. I learned this lesson early in life because I came from a big family that lived in one area of western Pennsylvania. As a child I saw many old people laid out in a casket with flowers around them. I remember thinking: That will be you some day, Raymond Lowell, if you want to be and do in this world, get started!
So I will continue to climb the hill to Doylestown Cemetery to remind me of my mortality and at the same time appreciate my desire to be remembered for the life I have lived on this Earth!
Susan Scott moved to Clemens Road yesterday. This was a bold gesture of trust in me–selling her house in Avondale. We are in the process with a lawyer preparing a prenuptial agreement that declares that Susan is the owner of my house when I die….nevertheless I see her moving to Doylestown as a bold gesture. I might even go one step further and say that it is a bold gesture for both of us to be willing to start a new relationship at the ages of seventy-five–for her–and seventy nine for me.
Susan and I are not novices when it comes to taking risks in our lives. My career as an oral storyteller required many decisions that tested your sanity if you want to be safe and secure in earning a living. Susan’s decision in mid-life to end her first marriage and go to seminary with four children was about as bold as any life change that I have heard of anyone doing. So we both are risk takers to fulfill the imaginings of our heart and mind!
Individuals our ages often do not commit to becoming a couple. I suppose there are many reasons for this reluctance: Susan found her second husband, Bill, dead on their bed in the middle of the day. My second wife, Nancy, died after more than a years’ struggle with cancer. For both, Susan and I, the loss of a deeply loved mate was very difficult….and now we are signing up for one of us to again suffer the loss of one that you deeply love.
A common friend recently remembered seeing Susan and I talking on the first night that we met at a gathering of storytellers. She thought at the time–those two seem well matched–good energy between them! This observation is matched by the fact that we both made C’s in math! So….maybe….there is a good chance, for us, that one plus one can equal one!
We all have stories to tell that trace the path we have followed through our lives. Some of these stories we tell to the world, but some we tell only to ourselves. As a professional storyteller I have spent much of my life telling stories to others.
It was only a few years ago that I started to think consciously about the “Me Stories” I have told myself through many years. I recognized several facts about these “private stories”: I am the only action character in the story; often a single action is repeated over and over; and the story is told in that time after I close my eyes and before I lose wakefulness.
The story changed as I passed through the stages of life. The first story I remember telling myself started at about the age of nine or ten: I am driving an Oldsmobile convertible with two Boxer dogs in the back seat. I drive past a girl standing beside the road, time after time. I don’t stop to engage the girl in conversation. About the age of sixteen the story becomes me as a football player. I have the ball and I am running through the opposing team. I break free and run toward the goal, but I never score the touchdown…I just run toward it over and over. By twenty-something I am living in an apartment. There is a beautiful woman who lives down the hall. I go to her apartment and open the door. I walk toward her bedroom, over and over again, but never go through the bedroom door. The mid-forties find me climbing the stairs to a stage where I am to receive an award for my creative work. I climb the stairs over and over, but I never accept the award.
Wait! Hold on! I think I understand the point of these “Me Stories”: I enjoy imagining the moment of success–the story–more than living it!
Ah, I can see you shaking your head in pity for the old teller of stories….no wonder he’s not become famous and rich in his life-he’s just a dreamer. Again, hold on a minute and let me make a case for my understanding of life. I was born into a Christian world that encouraged me to find meaning in anticipation of a future life, not this life. Heaven is my home; I’m just passing through this world–this was the wisdom of the world that bore me.
Today, I do not call myself a Christian–at least not the kind that my family imagined when I was a child. I try to be centered on the moment I am living. My goal is presences! I try to not dwell on past failures or future successes like sex, scoring touchdowns, fame and fortune….or even eternal life in heaven. My ambition is to engage in daily life creatively. I find meaning in life through the creative act…..writing or telling a story, or just fixing a clogged bathroom sink! (Blog, March, 2019).
My “Me Stories” today explore the world through the creative act. I find my spiritual and worldly meaning in this engagement….my reward is the creative presence in my life!
We are about to be finished with the month of February here in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It has been a month of snow, snow and more snow–my home on Clemens Road still has piles three feet high around the driveway! Between the labors of shoveling I’ve been working on a set of stories that explore the Jungian idea of archetype. I will not venture a professional definition of an archetype, but I will offer my own understanding. An archetype is an influence, an energy that directs our lives in unconscious ways. The influence is not generated through personal experiences; it wells up from the collective unconscious without our always being aware of the ways it influences us. It is only when we pause to reflect on our lives that we can begin to identify the energy and understand its influence. I’ve been reflecting on the archetypes that have influenced my life and trying to share them through the medium of story.
We all have many archetypal influences on our lives. I will share just one of my influences, one of my sources of energy in this writing. Jungian analysts call this archetype variously: “the rebel”, “the contrarian”, and “the outlaw”. I will suggest several ways that this energy has influenced my life both positively and negatively.
First positive: I started my school education in a one-room country school. From this first grade beginning I discovered that I had problems with reading books–particularly when I was called upon to read aloud. As a six year old child, I was made to feel inferior to those who could read well. It would be nearly thirty years before I understood my problems with dyslexia–but it was my contrarian energy that refused to accept the opinions of others about my intelligence; and in particular, I developed an antagonism toward teachers. Eventually I earned two college degrees–Bachelors in Anthropology and Masters of Divinity–but I never had a favorite teacher. It was always a struggle, but my rebel, contrarian energy supported me.
Second positive: When I graduated from the seminary, it seemed proper and right that I should be ordained and work in the Church. I know this would have made my parents happy. Instead of going to work as a minister, I took a job working in a steel mill! My contrarian self reasoned that I could earn a living working eight hours a day, five days a week, and the rest of my time I would be free to begin creating stories!
Negative: The bad thing about being the contrarian, the rebel, is that you find it difficult to deal with authority and bureaucracy–somewhere in my writing I’ve called myself the “Cut and Run Kid”. During the thirty-five years that I earned a living as an oral storyteller, I was a contract performer, do the job and go home. I was never offered work with benefits for an institution or a company. Multiple times I started a working relationship with an organization, but for a variety of reasons these relationships ended. Often it was my contrarian nature that caused the ending.
I have no regrets about the way that my life has played out–what Jung would calls your “individuation”. I have tried to direct my life by listening to the wisdom shared by the unconscious. Just last night I had a dream where I was trying to explain how you could sail across America–in my family there were many stories about members traveling from Pennsylvania to California to start a new life. In my dream, a man called out, “YOU CAN’T SAIL AGAINST THE WIND!”
When I woke up and remembered the dream, I thought: ‘What was that all about?’ After a short time of contemplation I recognize that my unconscious was commented on, reminding me of my archetypal nature, to be the contrarian, the rebel, the outlaw who is always trying to sail against the wind….thank you Grandpa Jung for this understanding!
Now I better check to see if more snow has fallen while I’ve been sailing against the wind!
In this Christmas season of 2020 I am thinking of my home that I shared happily with my wife Nancy who died last year. I am also thinking about sharing my home with Susan Scott, the woman who I hope will marry me in the next year. Is it a good idea to start a new life together with Susan in the house that I shared with Nancy? Many advise against it.
Here is my problem: I love my home that I have created on Clemens Road. I will admit I am a homebody. My life’s work as a creator of stories has dictated that I spent many hours in a quiet place where my imagination is free to be…to explore the world of ideas! This means a room where I spend hours reading and writing. It means an outdoor environment where I can go when my ideas need some time to percolate. This house and property on Clemens Road has been my support for a creative life for more than twenty-three years.
This place was not a home when Nancy and I found it. Yes, there were several things I liked when we made a first visit. The house does not face the road and it is surrounded with trees and bushes that provide a sense of privacy. Because the garage is closest to the road, the house does not present its best face to those passing by….it is an understated presentation and that appeals to me.
When Nancy and I bought the house, it had not been loved by the previous owner…that was my feeling when I first saw it…but there was great potential. The living room had a big window that looked out to a private backyard. The window was floor to ceiling and twelve feet wide. The room was large enough to host a large gathering of people for storytelling and music. The backyard had a terrace area with a tree near the house. I imagine the lower lawn as a place for outdoor performances with the storytellers and musicians standing on the upper terrace to perform. Because Nancy was a musician and I am a storyteller, we both imagined our home as a place where people could gather for enjoyment of these arts.
Like the inside of the house, the outside did not feel like a place that was loved by the previous owner. One spring day, shortly after we bought the place, I found myself looking at the tree outside the big window. It was a magnolia tree and it was in full bloom with a covering of reddish blossoms. Suddenly I remembered a passage from the memoir (Memories, Dreams, Reflections) of my spiritual mentor, Carl Jung. He describes in his memoir a dream that formed his concept of individuation. In the dream he sees a magnolia tree that displays a “shower of reddish blossoms”–the center of the self, the place where we discover our sense of who we truly are and what we must become in this world!
This synchronicity between the world of my spiritual mentor and my own world was the beginning of making the house on Clemens Road into my home. My magnolia tree needed much tender care and more than a little repair to equal the Jung dream tree. The tree had scars where large limbs had been roughly trimmed, one branch still rested on the roof of the house. The ground around the tree was bare and muddy. No one had paid much attention to the wellbeing of this magnolia tree.
I decided that summer to honor the Jung magnolia. I built a low, brick retainer wall around the tree–my representation of a Jungian mandala. Inside the wall I planted flowers with the tree at the center. Under the rest of the tree’s canopy I laid a brick and stone patio where we could eat meals in the warm months of the year. On the side away from the eating patio I made a smaller mandala of stone and concrete with these words in it: Vocatus Atque, Non Vocatus Deus Aderit (bidden or unbidden, God is here). Jung had these words carved in the wood over the door of his own home. From that first year the magnolia tree has shaded many happy summer meals on Clemens Road. It is lighted in the winter Christmas Season and has a feeder for birds year around. This tree has become part of my life and I believe it shares with me a similar feeling.
This home on Clemens Road has hosted many, many gatherings over the past twenty-three years. In the winter there were Christmas parties with twenty to thirty people gathered in the big living room to listen to stories and music by the fireplace. In the summer Nancy and I hosted every year over fifty people for a summer backyard storytelling festival…and every summer night we enjoyed a meal under the protection of the Jung magnolia tree….even nights when a rain shower came up suddenly, we continued to eat under our protector!
So am I wrong in hoping that Susan might want to come share my home on Clemens Road? I know that she, like Nancy, loves to host gatherings of friends and family. Like Nancy, she is musically talented and enjoys sharing her music with others. I think she would enjoy continuing the Clemens Road tradition of hosting gathering as long as we are both physically able…we both recognized that age will eventually limit our ability to continue this tradition.
My hope to share my home with a new partner does come with a few cautions. I say to Raymond Lowell: You need to allow Susan the freedom to make the changes in your home that she needs to make it her home. Raymond, you don’t have to forget your love of Nancy, but you do have to learn how to see that love as a model for the new love you will create and share with Susan. Growing old and living a long and happy life requires the ability to change while still honoring the past.
The decision to make the house on Clemens Road into the home of Susan and Raymond has not been made. This reflection is simple part of the process for two people to make a decision about their future together. I pray to God that that we are given time to enjoy wherever we decide to live.