Friday, April 8, 2016

When the truth comes home

All week my thoughts have been straying. The weather has been glorious, and yesterday we took a sort of tour of the kwanzan cherry trees, which are now in their full glory all over Vancouver and area. This year they are particularly magnificent, heavy clusters of blossoms that are a rich pink, almost fuschia. Like the choir of birdsong we recently heard at Burnaby Lake, they lulled, calmed, and (wince, I hate the word) even healed my spirit.

It’s difficult when someone dies and there is unfinished business, or even bad feeling. It’s difficult when you realize that a supposedly-kind, supposedly-generous, much-loved figure was quite abusive to you over the years: that he said and did demeaning, even contemptuous things in the guise of “helping” you. That he undermined your most cherished and passionate beliefs so you wouldn't make a fool of yourself by sharing them with the world.

In this case, our mutual interest was spiritualism. He considered me a dabbler, himself a master. One of the last things I said in my final email to him was “no one is more hidebound than a hidebound medium”. He quickly fired back a response, which I deleted unread, because I knew what was in it already. I was so sick of this, so sick of the pattern, needed to break it once and for all.

It was disturbing to me to see how often I had ended up this way. Even “best friends” somehow seem to arrange it so that I have to run back and forth and hit the ball from both sides of the net. It's just so much work to keep the whole thing going. The best I can anticipate is indifference; the worst, abuse.

Not to say I’ve never had real friendships, and some of them have been incredibly rich. But they’re often problematic. They tend to be like rivers: long ago in high school geography, I learned that rivers have a life, and though most of them start off vigorous and splashy and full of liquid energy, some end as a mere meandering swamp. Who knows why or how this happens. But is it beyond the realm of possibility that the toxic swamp I grew up in had serious, though unconscious repercussions, that it bent and swayed my choices in friendship in ways that often snapped back cruelly in my face?

I think my former friend probably served a need, and sometimes he listened when we talked – or so I thought. I had known him about 15 years when he moved away and started his own church, which he retired from (or left, disaffected? Why do I think so?) early this year. Starting your own church is always a bad idea, or at least it always ends badly. The faithful inevitably turn against you  – you lose control, they no longer follow your dictums. All this newfangled stuff comes in, and all of a sudden people want to think for themselves. You have a stranglehold, and eventually it just snaps in your hands and lets go. I won’t get into the bloody mess, the civil war that happened in my own former church when it all melted down, nor the stress it caused, which (incredibly!) I denied was a major factor in my own complete meltdown, the near-death experience of 2005.

But that's another story.

When I first began to share some of my Gershwin stuff with him last year, the vivid impressions I was receiving through his music and his voice, at first he was extremely enthusiastic, almost in awe. He claimed I might even have “undeveloped or underdeveloped psychic ability”. Prior to this, we had gotten together for coffee for over fifteen years and done nothing BUT talk about our psychic experiences. I shared my own impressions and beliefs very freely, and he seemed to be listening. I assumed he acknowledged that I had some degree of ability, else why would we be doing this?

But then, out of the blue, it all changed, and as with most psychological abuse, I don't know why. It took the form of, “Of course, in this case I am speaking as a psychotherapist, which leads me to believe that having these particular fantasies might serve a psychological need in you due to your former psychiatric” (blah blah blah blah blah).

It was not the first time he had used the word “fantasy” to write off my experiences (or pulled the "psychotherapist" card, which is brutal), though his own were always authentic. How did he know? Because everyone respected his gifts, that’s why – this was some sort of proof, the fact he had so many followers. It validated him. But why did everyone respect his gifts? Because his experiences were always authentic.

There’s a word for this: tautology, a snake that swallows its own tail. I was amazed such an educated man could be so completely blind to it.

I don’t know about everything that happened in this particular situation, because it is still murky and muddled. I know he is dead, and his death came as a shock to me. I know that ten months ago I was spitting nails, I was so angry at the stuff he said and did, the way I was dismissed. (Is that the true meaning of "dissed"?). And now this, a completely unexpected development. In fact, bizarrely, I just got an email from him - no kidding, from HIS email account - announcing the particulars of his own memorial service. For a lifelong spiritualist, this is irony taken to the level of the sublime. (The more mundane explanation is that his partner, who has the same first name, is still using his email account.)

I have long believed that people die the way they live. It's a sort of variation of "live by the sword, die by the sword" that proves itself over and over again. They saw off the branch they are perched on, the one they're afraid to climb down from. A lot of workaholic businessmen drop dead on retirement, having lost their sense of purpose. My former friend “retired” from his church/spiritualist centre, where he was resident medium for eight years, but I have a funny back-of-the-neck feeling he left, which is a different thing. The tepid response on Facebook to his retirement notice (just a handful of likes and comments, after eight years?) and even more tepid response to the death announcement tells me something. I don't know why, some psychic flash perhaps (heh-heh), but I can see an "open letter to the members of the Blah Blah Church" stating his reasons for leaving. That's just the kind of thing he'd do. Pedantic, lawyer-ish, pounding away at the same point until you want to scream.

(I know all this is far too personal to write about, but I do get tired, sometimes, of posting Betty Boop gifs, much as I enjoy making them. This blog has never been quite sure what it is about, and it will never have a large readership, but one of the purposes of it is to help me wrestle with/hack my way through the jungle of serious dilemmas. Writing is a way, as far as I am concerned, like the Way of Zen that Alan Watts used to write about. It’s my way of surviving in the world and at least trying to make sense of things.)

This is a rapid turnover thing, however. Already, today I am in a different place, though not through any conscious decision. With my family of origin, eventually I came around to pitying them, pity being the back door of compassion. I didn’t leap into the arms of forgiveness, in spite of the current cultural imperative to forgive people who’ve raped you, murdered your children, etc. etc., because if you don’t you’ll walk around seething with hatred for the rest of your life and it will destroy you. There are no other alternatives, of course: forgive the person completely, or consume yourself in the acid of hatred, which of course you “shouldn’t be feeling” anyway. Nice people just don't.

I’m not for hate, and I never have been, but I was surprised when compassion came in the back gate. It just sort of did, it sat there on the stump in the yard. I didn’t exactly welcome it in for tea, but I was surprised and felt something of a sense of awe. I now felt sorry for all of them, especially the ones who are dead, who I can never talk to again. The more egregious the wrong, the deeper the pity. What else could I feel? Imagine BEING that way. Evil consumes itself, and you don't even have to concern yourself with revenge. The most you will ever have to do is hold up a mirror.

I don’t know if evil was going on here, but I know there was contempt and loftiness and pulling the card of superiority (“you must be very, very careful, Margaret, because I have years and years of intensive training, whereas you. . . “). I know that loftiness and the swirling cape of expertise hides a hole. It only has a few branches and some scrub over it, so I know how easy it is to fall in.

Something about the manner of his dying continues to bother me. It's the same way Lloyd Dykk died, and if ever a man carried a load of poison karma, it was that one. His colleagues stood around his deathbed trying to figure out if they could remember any details of his life. Incredibly, he only worked in one place for his entire career, the backwater arts pages of the Vancouver Sun, and had never spread himself out, probably because his spirit was so small. No one knew if he had kin anywhere - there were only vague, conflicting ideas. So what is a stroke? Something backs up on you, I think. Something in your head disastrously explodes. If you're immensely old, it makes some sense - the vessels age, they wear out - but at 67? At 67, it's a form of autointoxication. 

My former friend the medium seems to have been  struck down in the same disastrous way, though he was three years older. I DO feel sorry for the people who miss him, as they now must cope with mixed feelings over how he must have treated them. His former disciples may be of the “you must forgive" school of thought, not wanting to acknowledge that life isn’t a dichotomy. In fact, sometimes it’s so bloody complicated, with so many confusing and conflicting options, that it’s hard to know how to feel at all. But one thing I do know: it is almost never “either/or”.

I also know that “should” has no place here. Other people’s agendas have no place. “You should forgive”, or, worse, “You MUST forgive” only reveals their profound discomfort with your anger, pain and grief. They want you to freeze that anger, hide it, even swallow it, though they would be indignant if it were pointed out to them that all of this is for their own sake, to save THEM grief and discomfort. In truth, they just don’t want to know.

This whole situation has affected me far more than I thought it would. I do feel sorry for those involved, because I don’t know how many people this man had in his life, how much kin, if any. He did seem to lose his way professionally, and I do think he badly needed the pompous professorial mode (two Masters degrees and a PhD, whew!). And the way he died was simply awful, a massive "cerebrovascular accident" on Easter Sunday which took a couple of days to kill him. His partner posted a heartbreaking account on his blog, and it made for very difficult reading. It also gave me a prickly feeling on the back of my neck, because to be perfectly honest, he was the one and only person I ever formally put a curse on.

Coincidence is a strange thing.

So what now? I don’t know, I guess now it’s none of my business. There is a memorial service in a week - interestingly enough, NOT at his former church - but it’s inappropriate for me to go, and I find I just don’t want to. We either go on after we die, or not. Maybe the energy dwells only in our collective memory, but that’s powerful enough. I was shocked to learn that the church he walked away from had to pass the hat to scrounge up enough money to bury him. Here I’m not revealing any secrets, just repeating something which is stated on the church's Facebook page. There was a plea for donations to help his surviving partner cope with the massive debt he left behind.

This is sad, but you reap what you sow. Debt is a hole you fall into eventually –  it means you’re living on someone else’s money and should be making restitution, but you’re not, for whatever reason. And it usually comes about not through chance or a sudden event, but by a whole series of very unwise decisions.

And to leave massive debt on the shoulders of your surviving partner, particularly a person who appears to be emotionally fragile, is nothing short of irresponsible.

So all this has made for a very strange, sometimes melancholy week. I keep thinking of Celie in The Color Purple: one of the most powerful scenes in moviehood, where she points at her tormenter and flings a curse which is full of righteousness. CAN a curse be righteous? I think it can, because in essence it merely turns the dark beam around at the person emanating it. In an awful lot of cases, it turns out to be too much for them to stand.

(This is a rerun of the "Gershwin time travel" piece that started the whole thing. Or perhaps it started much longer ago than that. My big question is: when does it end?)

Gershwin is a time traveller - you can see him out of the corner of your eye. He did not die in the normal sense of the word, because he did not know where he was. He was in a very high fever and dying all alone in a hospital room after failed brain surgery. When he left his body, he experienced extreme disorientation and for quite a while did not realize he was dead. This meant that a light, loose Gershwin-shaped energy field still moved about the world, and lit up whenever his music was played (which was almost all the time). 

After a very long time, though it was a mere moment in eternity, he began to realize who and how he actually was, that he was no longer in a body and would have to exist in a very different form. Being a soul sojourner from the beginning, this was not a threat but an adventure to him. But even in spite of this necessary metamorphosis, to a remarkable degree, he retained a George Gershwin shape. No matter what sort of problems he was having in his life, and he had many that we don't know anything about, there was a ferocious static-charged supernatural pumped boost of energy that somehow kept on connecting people with each other when he was around. 

But ironically, in spite of his sacred mission to join people joyously, in his life he had many struggles with intimacy, which led to a loneliness even as he was the most popular man in the room. During this strange leaving-his-body-and-not-being-sure-where-he-was period, he began to have extraordinary insight into not just his own condition, but the human condition. GG's emotional affect and his emotions seemed curiously light, but there was a galaxy of melancholy within that he did not show to too many people. The stars in that galaxy exploded out of his fingers and his brain and were made manifest as notes of music on the page. 

Though he lived at a hurtling pace few people could equal, little did he know that he was absorbing all of humanity's travails, gaining an understanding of suffering that would not be fully realized until he found himself in a different form outside his body. It would have been unbearably painful, had his life (as he knew it) not been over, a blessed cessation of all earthly pain. When a soul or entity gains this sort of awareness, mysterious alchemy takes place because the need here on earth for that level of understanding is so dire. Those pained and anguished places in that broken thing we call the human condition began to draw and attract this generous, gentle, deeply broken spirit. There was Gershwin dust in the room sifting down like stardust, particularly when there was music playing. And there was music playing a lot. 

Someone, not keeping up their guard, felt something strange or warm and not quite familiar in the room, yet also hauntingly familiar. Someone else thought they saw him for a second, or someone that looked like him. There was in some subconscious way a powerful sense that a healing was beginning to happen. As the entity begins to heal, so it heals itself. George's brain gave way, the most disturbing way to die, so that he was basically humbled by losing the genius brain he was celebrated for. Stripped of that, even of that, all that was left was his essence. How can I say how this happens? How can I be sure that George Gershwin is a time traveller and an entity who is basically free to move about within time and space wherever and whenever he wishes?