Thursday, July 20, 2006
Synchronicity and Grace
I grew up with a father who distrusted anything that smacked of education and intelligence. He grew up in a poor family in the rural South with eleven siblings. As his father would beat him, my father would constantly be told how stupid he was. My father dropped out of elementary school during the Great Depression when his father was killed in an auto accident and all the children had to suddenly support the family.
My father was cursed with two very intelligent sons. When I brought home my report card with its straight A’s, he would tell me that I had no common sense and how he had seen all the college educated kids die first during World War II. It is one thing to fail in life with bad performance or lack of effort. It is quite another to fail with efforts that few people can match. I ended up graduating from high school as one of the top two math and science scholars in my county. My father only slipped further from me into his drinking and depression. He died when I was 22.
I feel like I lived my life in a haze for a long time, not from drugs or drinking, but from the experience repeated over and over endlessly, the experience that nothing I could do would ever be good enough, not even near perfection. My own depression sprang from this. Why try when the best of efforts was insufficient?
It’s difficult to have a deep relationship with a woman in this state of mind. When I was 42 and returned to my 25th high school reunion I met a woman whom I hadn’t seen since my high-achieving days of high school. It was a synchronistic event that deserves an entire story of its own. I knew without a doubt that I would spend the rest of my life with her after we first said hello and then passed on by. We didn’t fall in love as much as choose to become friends who would help each other down the road.
After I had moved to live with her and her five-year old daughter, my past began to rise up to meet me again. A friend of hers gave her the name of an old man, Robert Blakemore, who was supposed to be a good counselor. When I went to see him my life changed forever. The magic was that he saw nothing wrong with me, nothing to fix. He enjoyed every aspect of my particular genius and beamed with a paternal pride as I undertook being a father myself. His depth and wisdom penetrated me as he encouraged me to take on those same aspects for myself. His very being encouraged forward.
One day Blakemore sat me down and told me the story of Parsifal and the Holy Grail as he was trained in the mythic tradition of Jungian psychology. Within this symbolic tradition, the Grail is not a thing—not a cup or a womb—but rather the place within each of us whence our own vital energy, our true life, springs. Soon after he told me this story, Robert A. Johnson, the Jungian therapist and author of the book He about Parsifal and the Holy Grail, came to town for a presentation. Blakemore encouraged me to go see Johnson, told me that something interesting might happen. He also told me to make an effort to talk to Johnson.
I went with my wife to see Johnson’s lecture. We entered a crowded hall and miraculously found seats in the second row, slightly to the left of center. After his lecture, which enfolded aspects of the Grail Legend, I turned to my wife to talk. There was a break before the next presenter was to come on. As I turned toward the front again, I found Johnson sitting directly in front of me. I fought for words in my mind, something I could say, but I couldn’t move my lips. He turned to look at me. “Did you say something?” he inquired. I fumbled for more words. He explained that he had trouble giving talks, so he relied on advice that Marie-Louise von Franz had once given him. He picked out someone in the audience that he liked and spoke directly to that person as he lectured. He said he had chosen me and asked if I minded. Here was man who had been a close student of Jung himself and he was asking if I minded. From this encounter Johnson became another mentor who helped guide me on the quest toward my own personal Grail.
When I went to see Blakemore days later, he again listened with a smiling face as I recounted my story of the encounter with Johnson. “I knew something would happen,” he said, and then laughed deeply.
Blakemore died suddenly soon after. I wept profoundly at the depth of my loss. I wept with gratitude at the depth of my gain. I loved him deeply and I loved Johnson. I had thought I would never experience such acceptance of who I really was and am. I had just started the first pages of a book when Blakemore died. At his memorial I pledged that I would finish the book in his honor as the book wouldn’t have any existence or merit at all without his interaction in my life. I envisioned finishing the book in a year or two. It took ten.
I was at Home Depot a few days ago for a last minute exchange of parts before I headed to a job. I heard a voice. “Hello there.” I looked up into Blakemore’s face, into the same beaming smile that had left me years ago. Of course it wasn’t him, it was his son who carried the same name. I hadn’t seen him since soon after the funeral and in the intervening 12 years his hair had become white. He now looked much like his father.
When he asked what I was doing, I replied that I had just published a book that was dedicated in part to his father. I told him that the book wouldn’t even exist without his father being in my life. We looked at each other as tears moved to our eyes. I can scarcely talk of his father without tears of gratitude springing forth unbidden. I asked if I could give him a copy of the book to complete the circle, the circle of energy returning to its source in order to go forth once more. This is the essence of the Grail. “Of course,” he said. He is a big-hearted man like his father.
I don’t know where this interaction will go. These synchronicities guide my life, have shaped and given depth to me. It is grace in action. This grace will have its own life and lead to its own end. In life we are taught to grow strong and beat down the doors. Either that or we walk away in angry frustration. Sometimes if you just sit and just watch, the door momentarily opens and you can walk on through. Grace. Patience, awareness, gratitude. Grace.