In Search of Self: Beyond Survival
This is me. Fifty years ago.
I am back at the school I graduated from. This picture was taken on the morning of graduation day, June 6, 1969. Two of the other guys with me (cropped to spare them) are here at our reunion. My wife of forty seven years is here. A total of twenty four classmates will arrive later today. Some of them I barely knew at school, most I have not spoken to since this graduation day. Fifteen of my classmates have died. Who am I? Who are we? Does it matter?
This morning, waiting for something or nothing to happen I was looking out on the quad. A fellow from the class of 1949 (that would make him eighty eight years old, or so) was sitting on a chair facing one of the stately brick dormitories. I didn’t need to ask him what he was doing, though I did. It was clear that he was trying to connect the dots he could hold in his heart and mind. A young boy from a small mill town in Maine, a ribboned wrestler in his day, a career as a professor of orthopedic surgery, and now back to his old school after seventy years. Deep waters.
It did not take us long to recognize that we were searching for substance and connection in the same waters. Tortured adolescence meets late chapter in life realizations. Identities taken on and cast off. Relationships forged in competition, success, failure, and promise. Self understanding framed by nickname, trophy, or degree. Gazing down into the dark deep well of teenage uncertainty.
Yesterday morning’s ACA meditation was entitled “Beyond Survival”. Here’s part of what I read: “ACA's Solution tells us we can restage our childhood by being our own loving parent. What a healthy sounding way to change the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional home. These beautiful words fill us with hope that there is indeed a way to reparent ourselves out of the shame, fear and emotional pain ingrained in our being.”
This captures nicely much of what I feel now, that re-staging of childhood, seen now through the eyes of my “own loving (inner) parent”. Powerful stuff.
I need to take you for a minute to the Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT, to look at an old barn door. Peeling paint, old and new fixtures, symmetry and aged practicality. Once young and vital, still solid but clearly aged.
Parts of me certainly ache the way this old barn door aches. You can feel it close up.
I was telling Mary how I used to walk up from my dorm to breakfast in the morning, completely turned inward, a funny sort of adolescent mindfulness that was more about survival than anything else. No real sense of having much I was sure of beyond my hockey and singing skills, and an internal focus that gave me a foretaste of walking meditation. Lift. Move. Place…lift, move, place. Peeling paint is being known. Blue sky is being known. Shadows known. Too much uncertainty.
Ten Years Later
No, I hadn’t lost it. I was a youth pastor. Splitting headache on this particular day. Just dropped a van of teens off at John Pennicamp State Park for a day of snorkeling. I took advantage of willing colleagues who were not dealing with a scrambled brain, took a powder, and found some shade where I could regain my equanimity (before I really knew what equanimity was).
More like today…
This is my current whatchmacallit that I put in those silly circles in apps to give people a sense of dealing with a real person, not an empty gray sphere. I am a few years older than this. Same glasses. Hair a little longer and grayer. Same spots on my forehead. A more mindful and less inclined to splitting headaches me. More attentive to “reparenting myself” in all sorts of contexts, including my memories of adolescence. Sitting in the quad looking up at my old dormitory. Fifty years out from high school graduation!
I want to finish this blog with another view from Sherwood Island State Park. The near and the far all held in one mostly clear gaze. The slightly blurred tree in the background is me as a teenager. The near tree trunk is only seen partially, but it is solid, and pretty clear. (I think I actually placed the focal point for this shot on the far tree. Yes, that’s what this reunion is about…the past in clearer focus, not at the expense of the present, but pulling them together, celebrating both, learning from both, and letting the blue sky and distant Sound hold it all. Namaste.