I KNOW SOMETHING, I DON’T KNOW, I KNOW

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!

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