Once upon a time…not so long ago….there lived a man not so different from you and I…well that is, if you are over eighty years old and still trying to figure-out the world you were born into! His name was David Lawrence Seah, but he was often called Davey Seah. This nickname grew out of a couple facts in his life: First, David worked with children as an elementary school teacher–kids liked to play with the rhyming of his name–but more important; being called Davey Seah helped to rein in his need to feel like he knew everything! For this story we’ll just call him Dave Seah…unless we want to distinguish between the creatively playful and the rational work-full side of our friend!
When Dave Seah reached the age of sixty-four the school where he taught suggested he might want to consider retirement. He did not need much encouragement: He jumped in line for social security and his teaching career had built a solid retirement income…so he was comfortable economically. In addition, his wife had a solid career as a teacher and their two children were fledged and on to their own path. So Dave was free to imagine and explore whatever his curious mind could cook up for the last third of life!
It might be helpful to say more about the curious nature of our friend. Dave was born into a family of steelworkers from the middle of America: he was taught to watch the clock and think practically about the way he lived his life…that fit with the David Lawrence Seah side of him. This practical side often conflicted with the creatively playful and curious side…the Davey Seah side…like one day at about the age of nine when he was walking to school and saw a red fox. He was curious and followed it into the woods…that day he arrived at school two hours late!
These two sides of Dave did cause him a fair amount of grief while growing to adulthood, but it also opened an opportunity to find his place in this life! One Sunday, shortly after graduating from college without a set profession, he met a woman who was the head of small private school. After some time, and good conversations, she offered him work as a teacher. The school was connected to the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner–a Waldorf School that welcomed a broad idea of education and Dave found that despite his “steelworker” side of him, he fit the bill for a Waldorf teacher!
It was here, as a teacher of young children, that the creative and playful, Davey Seah, found his place in the light of day. Like most children, Davey had learned about the world he lived in by being curious and playing with it…looking inquisitively, touching and tasting and sharing thoughts about anything and everything!
“Ouch, that thing is too sharp, it hurt my finger!”
“Yea, that’s so sweet! Gimmy more, more, more!”
“I don’t want to watch that movie, it’s too scary!”
As a teacher of children Dave found his individuation, his place in the world, the child in himself: he encouraged his student’s playfulness saying: “try things, play with them and decide what works for you and what you don’t need to try again!” Then this playfulness led him to a new method of teaching…well, eventually he realized that he was really turning the clock back to a time when all teaching came through the power of oral storytelling. Davey found that a lesson shared in a story form with emotions and creative engagement was remembered longer and with deeper understanding than a lesson shared in rational statements! So the two faces of–David Lawrence Seah, the practical, rational and hardworking teacher–balanced aside Davey Seah–the playful and creative storyteller!
Like most of us, these two sides of Dave Seah were lived out unconsciously for many years until shortly after he started his life in retirement–his time for reflection and understanding. One day his wife, Caroline, asked a simple question:
“Are you a teacher or an artist?”
Dave thought a moment and answered:
Caroline smiled and said:
“I think you need consider the artist in yourself, the story creator and teller…you might even consider how you are spiritual!”
Some might say that Dave experienced a small “metanoia” that day…a realization that he did indeed have a part of him that was very rational, but there was another side that was spiritually creative…and this realization piqued his curiosity to the core!
How do we honor these two distinct gifts of reason and creative spirit or soul in ourselves? As a young adult Dave engaged day to day with family and work. It was difficult to give time to this conundrum of being human. But now, for Dave, that busy time of life was over–he had time for reflection!
Dave had no trouble understanding the rational side of him. It was the other side-the artist, creative, spiritual self that most needed to be explored…and it was during the beginning of this time of self-realization that Dave decided to begin by going to church with his wife who was a regular attender…Dave was not. This rational decision turned out to have its own touch of the divine about it. That Sunday the church had a guest preacher and her sermon included a little story to help share the message! Here is the story Dave heard that day in church:
It is said (Jewish Legend) that prior to the birth of a human child; God calls the seed of the future being before him and decides what its soul shall become: male, female, sage or simpleton, rich or poor. God leaves only one decision for the human to make: “Shall I be righteous or unrighteous?”….for it is written, “All things are in the hand of the Lord except the fear of the Lord.”
The soul pleads with God: “I ask, if possible, do not make me go to that world of humans!”
God answers: “When I formed thee, I formed thee for this earthly fate.”
There upon God orders the angel– in charge of the souls of the living in the Beyond– to initiate this soul into all the mysteries of that other world, the Beyond! In such manner the soul experiences all the secrets of the Spirit…but at the moment of birth, when the soul comes to earth, the angel extinguishes the light of knowledge burning above it, and the soul is enclosed in its human envelope and born into this world, having forgotten its lofty wisdom, but always seeking to regain it. So it is said that we all know a truth that we do not know that we know.
Davey Seah was enchanted by this story and he felt it had something to say about his exploration of the spiritual energy in himself!
That Sunday afternoon after church, Dave and his wife, Caroline, took a walk as they did every day. These walks were often a time when they shared playful thoughts about anything and everything…like two curious second-graders!
For five minutes they walked in silence, then Dave shared his reflection: “I’ve been thinking about the little story the minster shared…and what caught my attention… was the idea that I know something spiritual about myself…that I don’t know that I know!”
Caroline waited a moment and then responded: “And?”
Dave smiled and said: “I think it’s related to creative play like a child, except its not about learning to play in the physical world like my kids in school, it’s about learning to play creatively and spiritually in the fields of the Lord….to steal an idea from Peter Matthiessen!”
“And how does your ‘spiritual play’ help us to discover something that we can never know in this world?”
“Well, maybe we never can…completely know it”, said Davey with a sly smile, “but we can experience the aroma of the divine….a scent so sweet that it might have come from the Garden of Eden—spices like saffron, cinnamon, calamus and nard!”
Now it was Caroline’s turn to smile as she recognized a line from one of her husband’s stories about a dream where the prophet Elijah appears to an old man seeking to find wholeness in his Self! For Caroline, and Dave, the love they shared was another aroma of the divine, another way to experience and know, a little, of that which we can never completely know in this life!
We all live this life where we struggle to find ways to experience our rational and spiritual selves, our David Lawrence Seah and our Davey Seah. When we are present for the experience of what it means to be human, then I like to think that we find a balance, a wholeness that offers a glimpse of that which we know about the divine in ourselves and this helps to keep us curious to the core until Death comes to claim us!