You Are Your Story - A Pinch of Incense

 

About five years ago I purchased some thick rubber bands, an allergy mask, and a plastic bag.  These were most of the things that would be needed to commit suicide fairly painlessly, as described in a book put out by the Hemlock Society.  I was 63 years old, happily married, and in reasonably good health at that time.  The occasion that prompted my serious contemplation of suicide had to do with my release from being incarcerated for 3 1/2 years in prison, as a sex offender.

After talking recently to an individual who was in a similar situation I decided to pull up some entries from the Journal that I was writing at that time.  I felt this might be of interest, and perhaps even of some help, to the person with whom I had conversed.  My initial intent was simply to locate a copy of the journal entries and send them on to my friend.  As I looked at the entries it occurred to me that this material might be of some interest to a variety of other people as well.

It was however clear  that some general explanation of various circumstances would be necessary for a person to follow what I was talking about. My intent has been to keep this explanatory material to a minimum so that it would be possible to hear the voice of the person who was very much in the middle of these circumstances when the entries were written.

Before I was incarcerated I asked my lawyer to negotiate with the prosecutors an agreement that I would not be required to attend the usual sex offender treatment programs after being released from prison.  As a psychotherapist I had heard several descriptions of such groups. Based on these descriptions I had come to consider such groups as degrading forms of brainwashing with which I wanted nothing to do.  Without going into any detail about the so-called "cognitive/behavioral" approach to the treatment of sex offenders, suffice it to say that such groups are based on forcing the participants in the group to agree that the therapist's pre-formulated -- one size fits all -- narrative of the sexual offense is the true one, and that the "offender's"  own experience of the event consisted only of rationalizations and denials.  In short, treatment was a matter of forcing a set of beliefs and self defining narratives upon the participants.  I felt that Russia under Stalin and China under Mao had developed such techniques adequately, and that we did not need to be experimenting with them in a society that purports to believe in freedom of thought.

I had agreed to arrange for treatment on my own and with a Jungian analyst, and was presently seeing one.

Shortly after my release from prison a friend of mine talked me into joining a writer's group.  I was interested in sharing some of my writing with them. Specifically, I wanted to get some feedback as to how a random selection of people might respond to descriptions of my prison experience.  I had not been in the group very long when one of the group members reported me to the Department of Probation for "advocating pedophilia."

I was confronted by my probation officer who said that a decision had been made. It was no longer acceptable that I should evade the standard group sex offenders treatment program.  I reminded him that my not being required to attend the usual sex offender treatment was a part of my plea bargain.  I suggested that we take it back to court and let the judge decide whether the Department of Probation would be required to respect this  aspect of the plea bargain.  I was told that should I pursue the matter through legal channels, the Department of Probation would take it back to court with the recommendation that I be required to serve the entire outstanding 11 years that were still hanging over my head.  In effect I would be punished by 11 years imprisonment for attempting to seek a legal opinion as to the enforceability of the plea bargain.

It was this situation that led to the crisis that is the background of the journal entries that follow. I have added a couple of the headings that are under the dates, and had to do a small amount of reconstruction in a few sections because my documents were slightly damaged by my computer program. But the words here are as I wrote them then. Any other additions are just for giving enough relevant background to enable a reader who is unfamiliar with my situation to make sense of the journal.  These additions are in brackets. Also, the names have been changed. But this is not fiction.


10/15/03
Degradation

Yesterday I was told by John Shannon [my probation officer] that I would be required to attend a sex offenders treatment group after all.  By the time I got home my stomach was hurting a lot.  I guess I must secrete a huge amount of acid in such situations.  I took several antacids, and after a bit that seemed to help.

Some time last week a woman in my writing group turned me in to the state for “advocating pedophilia.”  My “Preface” to the writing I was planning to do on my prison experience was delivered to the hands of my probation officer.  Actually in that preface I was neither advocating for, nor condemning, pedophilia.  I was asking to be seen as a human being.  But I guess in her mind this was too fine a distinction.  This report that I was “advocating pedophilia” was what caused my probation officer to do that 180 degree turn around about therapy. So much for my experiment with re-entering the world in something resembling a normal manner.  
    
I struggled the whole day with the issue of suicide and whether that was the sensible thing to do at this point, or at least at the point where it becomes apparent that there is no way out.  If the degradation is going to go on and on it hardly seems worth living.  I reviewed the method I would use, [The thought had occurred to me before, and I had gathered information on how I might do it.] and talked some with B [Boo, my wife] about it in the evening.  To actually do such a thing to myself seems almost unthinkable when I consider it concretely.  At the same time to spend the next ten years in prison also seems unthinkable.  I am certain I would rather be dead if it appeared that this was where the whole process would end up.

I woke at about 2:00 AM thinking about it.  I realized that the whole question of “treatment” for me centers around the issue of degradation.  So I asked myself, “what does it mean to be degraded?” What came to me almost immediately is that there are two forms of degradation -- internal and external.  I made the following lists to distinguish between the two.

External degradation.

This is what is done to you.  The elements of external degradation are as follows:

Being exposed to ridicule, derisive comments, and name calling.
Having a negative identify imposed on oneself  from the outside.
Being prohibited from telling one’s own story.
Being coerced into living a life that is not in keeping with one's essence.
Being forcibly subjected to the micromanagement of one’s activities.
Being treated with complete disregard for who one is.

Internal degradation.

To be inwardly degraded  pertains to what a person does to him or herself, or to others.  We are inwardly degraded in the following circumstances:

When we willingly participate in the external degradation.
When we internalize the view of those who are degrading us.
When we tell our own story in a way that is devoid of compassion and understanding.
When we abandon our own principles.
When we fail to protest, as fully as is reasonably possible, the external degradation.
When we actively degrade others.

To be inwardly degraded is a matter of fact. To be externally degraded is a matter of appearance. To determine who is inwardly degraded and who is only externally degraded one must look at who is active in the ritual of degradation.  The one actively doing the degrading, whether to one’s self or to another person,  is the one who is inwardly  degraded.  The one doing the name calling, for example,  degrades himself.  Also the one who internalizes the names he or she is called, and incorporates them in his or her self concept is inwardly degraded.

The archetypal story about this is the crucifixion of Jesus.  What is happening here is a degradation ritual.  In terms of the above categories, it shows that one can be degraded externally in an extreme way, yet not be internally degraded.  Jesus was even forced to participate in his own degradation.  That’s the meaning of his having to carry his cross. And his main strategy for not allowing this external degradation to become an internal one?  He kept silent!! Ah, I must learn his discipline in this matter.  My task is to talk.  Yet there are times when I must not speak. Or when I must speak in modulated tones.  

The people in the world do not want my truth.  In fact they will kill me once again if I persist in telling it -- not quickly, which would be a tolerable sort of thing, I think, but slowly over a period of years.  So, okay.  Finally I saw it.  I really do have only three choices:  

 I can allow myself to be sent back to prison.

 I can go out into the woods and put a bag over my head.  

 I can cease being a teller of the truth and go underground.

[In case it is not clear, the third option listed above was what I felt would be necessary if I was to join a sex-offenders group.]

It is not easy to be confronted with such bleak alternatives at 62 years of age.  They all seem almost equally unacceptable.  But I know that going back to prison is the worst of them.

Yesterday I thought a lot about suicide.  I have been, off and on, for some time now, but I gave it perhaps, more careful consideration than ever before.  The main method I contemplated was taking sleeping pills and putting a plastic bag over my head.  This is described in the book “Final Exit” [a publication of The Hemlock Society]. The book, of course is aimed at people whose lives are intolerable because their physical bodies have deteriorated past either repair or usability. In my case it is my social body that seems to have deteriorated almost to that point.   I had already bought some thick rubber bands that would be adequate for the job of holding the bag in place.  Yesterday I looked in a drug store for sleeping pills.  I couldn’t locate any, and then decided I might not need than anyhow, and put off buying them.  

I am not aware of being much afraid of death at this point.  I would welcome a nice cancer. Doing it to oneself, however, introduces new convolutions to this matter of dying.   To make such a choice would be an awesome thing.  One has the feeling that it is forbidden.  Is it in reality a sin against creation?

 I don’t know.  In some situations I think it is not.  Still, the weight of that moral imperative -- thou shalt not kill -- is hard to shake off, even if the life one is thinking about is one’s own.  

Of course I would not know really, until I came to the point of doing it,  but I do not think the process itself would be that unpleasant.  The method described in the book  No Exit would be painless, physically.  I am inclined to think that at this point I would feel more relief than dread or fear.  One holds the bag open a bit until the sleeping pills take effect. Then one simply goes to sleep and dies of oxygen deprivation.  It sounds very peaceful. I would not even experience myself suffocating.  

One of the things that causes me to turn away from this option is that it is so ugly from the outside.  Whatever I might be experiencing from the inside, the image of my face turning blue inside a plastic bag , secured in place with a thick rubber band around the neck, is not a pretty one. It is grotesque.  Suppose someone would find me in that condition by accident.  I would notify the authorities by mail where to find me.  Even for them, prepared as they would be for what they would find, it would be a shocking sight.  Why that matters much to me, I’m not exactly sure.  But somehow it does.

How would I go about separating from Boo?  And what would this do to her.  I cannot overlook the possibility that she might feel some relief.  Not that I think she wants me dead.  But this whole situation is difficult for her too.  I could not just tell her, say goodbye, give her a hug and drive off into the woods.  I would have to just leave sometime without making a point of it.   I think this would be very difficult for her.  Phoebe [our daughter] would also be shocked, though I think she would manage with it now that she has Matthew and a life that is separate from me.  A few others would shake their heads.  Some might actually feel genuinely sad.  I don’t think it would be devastating to them, though.  The two boys who gave the information that sent me to prison might feel guilty, but they would be re-assured by therapists.  But it would be very difficult to do this to Boo.  

It is also unfair to Boo to leave her hanging up in the air, not knowing from one minute to the next  whether I am going to go out and do that ugly and unthinkable thing.  So I need to make a choice.  

10/17/03
Going Underground

Yesterday I decided to withdraw from the world as a teller of truth and to re-enter it as a teller of lies. [In other words, I had rejected the suicide option, mainly because of it's probable effect on B].  If I had my choice, I would not re-enter it at all.  Lies constitute the warp and woof of our social life. Others seem either to accept this or to not notice.  Underneath it,  are they wishing to tell the truth?  Are they lonely? It’s hard to know.  I suppose it varies from person to person.  I know that I have little interest in adding my thread to this huge fabric of dissimulation. But it seems to be necessary.  I must become a teller of lies.  I must go underground.  

I believe that without truth we are meaningless phantoms.  We barely exist at all.  Perhaps a little bit of reality seeps around the layer upon layer of persona that we place between ourselves and others, but only enough to let us know that the other person is not the one we are seeing.  Can one be a phantom in the world, and still exist as a substantial being in solitude?  Or is living a lie and thereby becoming a phantom the ultimate betrayal of our reality  -- a betrayal that leads to the loss of that reality.  I am not sure.

It does not come naturally or easily for me to become a teller of lies.  But I will have to give it the very best effort I can.  

At the same time I have decided to become a teller of lies, I have decided to begin a new journal -- so that I will have someplace to tell the truth about this part of my life.  

Possibly some still unforeseeable event will throw me back into prison no matter what I do.  Perhaps my rage at not being able to be a real person in the would will get the best of me at some point and I will undermine myself.

It was difficult saying goodbye to Sanford. [The Jungian analyst I secured in order to be in compliance with the plea bargain.]  He is a good and gentle person and has been quite supportive to me. A part of his idea is to provide a warm and safe place for people to sort out their problems.  This is the old and genuine concept of psychotherapy.  He should be able to practice this if he doesn’t run into too many people like me.  Herbal teas, hot water, and earthy attractive mugs  were always available in the waiting room.  It was a quiet and safe environment, as he intended it to be.  The waiting room and consultation office  were in the basement of his house, snuggled back in some trees on a peninsula.  One could not see the ocean there, but you knew it was not far away.  When I drove in yesterday I discovered that my usual parking place was inaccessible due to a branch that had fallen there.  The previous day a storm with high winds had pushed through the area.  I got out of my car and pulled this branch out of my parking place.  I could have parked elsewhere, but the place where the branch was, was mine. I had always parked there.  Paul’s wife noticed me moving the branch.  She waved at me from the window upstairs, and thanked me.
 
I told Sanford about what happened with my probation officer.  He told me that the probation officer had called him and told him that I had been reported by an anonymous person from my writing group.  That’s how I discovered that fact.  

When I discussed the fact that I wouldn’t be seeing him again I started crying .  And when I actually said goodbye and left the office, I began once again.  I cry so much these days.

I am beginning a new section of my journal in order to still be a teller of the truth.  I wonder whether it is it important to tell the truth if there is no one to hear. So I ask the question all beginning writers are instructed to ask: who is my audience?  It’s not easy to answer this.  Before when I wrote my journal it was to Sanford or to Boo.  I won’t be writing to Sanford anymore, and I tell Boo what I think as we go along. So to whom am I writing?  To a hypothetical grandson, possibly -- one that  may never exist, and if he does, with whom I may never have a relationship?  To a lover of boys in some future, possibly freer time.  To the Buddha?  I don’t know really.  To whomever it might concern.  That’s the best I can do for the moment.  It seems likely, of course, that it will be to no one.  

The final question as I embark on this new journey has to do with the issue of degradation.  Am I degrading myself by accepting this option?  It feels degrading, of course, to agree to go to one of their sex offenders treatment programs.  Even the kinder programs that are not deliberately set up to be degrading are attacks on the dignity of the participants.  But is that just a matter of external degradation?  If I really have only alternatives that are more degrading and more harmful to  others, it would not seem to be inwardly degrading.  

    
10/18/03
A pinch of Incense

The question is whether one should throw a pinch of incense on the fire at the alter of Caesar.  Some years ago I read “The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicita.”  I had to be impressed by the courage of these people, if not by their theology. Even during some of the most severe persecutions, all that was required to avoid martyrdom and continue with whatever passed for normal life in those days was to drop a pinch of incense into the hot coals at the alter of  Caesar.  I’m not sure I remember, or ever knew, the exact set up at these alters.  In my mind I see a statue of the current Emperor of Rome, and beneath it a brazier full of hot coals upon which the incense was to be dropped. However accurate the details of this picture may be, that was the gist of it.  A simple pinch of incense, and you got away scott free.  Shameful.  All Sunday-School-trained children have heard at some point of the early church martyrs, and they know what judgments to pass on those who gave their pinch of incense: shameful.  

Of course these good children know that they have dropped their pinch of incense into the braziers provided by Caesar.  Well, lets be honest.  They  have thrown fistfulls of incense into the braziers provided by their peer groups, by their parents, by their teachers, and by all the representatives of society in their lives.  If they hadn’t noticed, then some preacher or Sunday school teacher would have pointed it out at some time or other.  “When have we thrown our incense on the brazier?  Michael?”  He hangs his head, pauses, and then confesses.  He used bad words in order to impress his peers.  A hook of guilt, from which he may never escape, has been set in his flesh.  It is no accident that it is the peer group that is generally cited for temping the child to give his pinch of incense.  No church wants to encourage the children to question adult authority.  Caesar and the church are getting along very well theses days, and we don’t want to raise boat-rockers.

Such is our training.

Even though they may sometimes be used in repressive ways, there is a pinch of truth in the pinch of incense stories.  We all do betray our essence in our interactions with others.  We act as though we are not who we are, do not believe what we believe, do not want what we want, and do not feel what we feel.  We do this in order to get along with others.  We do it with our bosses, with our parents, with our teachers, with police officers, and with all the authority figures we encounter.  We also do it with our friends and our spouses.  We give not just pinches but whole fist-fulls of incense at the various alters of social expectation.  We do not behave like Perpetua and Felicita.  We do not allow ourselves to be thrown to the lions and hanged upside down on crosses.  We are guilty.

Perhaps now is the time to ask that most fundamental of all questions asked in Sunday school.  What would Jesus have done?  By consulting a concordance I find we are in luck.  There is a biblical passage that speaks directly to this point.  The Pharisees are questioning Jesus.

“Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou?  Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why tempt me, ye hypocrites?  Show me the tribute money.”  And they brought him a penny.

And he sayeth to them, “Whose name is this image and superscription?”

They said unto him, “Caesar’s”

Then saith he unto them, “ Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”

That’s mighty close to recommending that we put that pinch of incense on the alter. And in fact, Jesus is actually doing something of that sort in this little scene.  Wiley as a serpent, he was.  And he recommends this quality to us.  

With this little encounter in mind we return to our question. What judgments should we pass on those who throw a pinch of incense on the alter to Caesar?  Shameful? Well, not necessarily.  It all depends.  Yes, that is the answer to this question.  It depends.  But upon what?

It depends on what our task is.  We need a starting point here.  A task. Suppose our task is to bring light and warmth into this dark and cold place that is human society.  And suppose we believe that we do this by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, ministering to those in prison, providing help to  the sick,  and listening to those who have stories they need to tell.  I’m not pushing this agenda.  A person can pick whatever life task he or she wants.  But suppose a person picked a life task similar to the one I have just described. What then?   Does refusing to put a pinch of incense in the brazier further this agenda?  Well, again, it depends. It depends on the probable consequences of one’s actions in a specific situation.  If refusing to throw the pinch of incense in the fire will in fact increase the light and warmth in this world, then one should refuse to do so.  If throwing it, on the other hand, does the trick, then it should be thrown.
 
The ideal that I would uphold is the Bodhisattva as a political activist.  The Bodhisattva would point out that there are many powerful images of political action.  Arjuna, the warrior, arrayed in his armor, standing in his chariot, facing the enemy and preparing for mortal combat.  Jesus parrying with the Pharisees.  The Maccabees resisting oppression with guerrilla warfare.  The sage who acts like water that never directly confronts or struggles with anything in its way, as described by Lao Tzu. These models suggest very different kinds of action or non-action. Which is correct?  Once again, it depends.  Different situations require different responses.  If one follows the example of Perpetua and Felicita when it would be best to give onto Caesar, one may fail to effect an increase of light and warmth in  the world.  

Perhaps it is our identifications that gets in our way of seeing what is required.  I am this or that kind of person, so I will do this.  We are identified with a particular way of being in the world.  Wouldn’t we be more effective Bodhisattvas  if we did not feel so compelled to be this or that sort of person?  This is essentially what Krishna tells Arjuna on the eve of battle.

There are situations that require of us that we behave like Perpetua.  There are others in which we need to be like water, flowing around and through and under the obstacles -- refusing to struggle with them.  It’s a question of strategies.  What will change things?

It seems to me that we need to approach the world with a strong bias against the use of violence.  Only rarely does the sort of battle that Arjuna is preparing to fight lead to the increase of light and warmth in the world.  There is a more subtle kind of violence in Perpetua’s action as well.  Perhaps it was called for.  I don’t know.  But to act in a manner that will predictably bring down the violence of Caesar on one’s head does increase the amount of violence in the world.  In this case it was at least on one level successful.  The sort of fearless self-sacrifice evidenced by the martyrs undoubtedly played a  role in the eventual victory of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and following this, the ascendancy of the church throughout the middle ages.  But the church then became Caesar.  It’s not altogether clear that this was a good thing.  So at best Perpetua’s sacrifice led to mixed results.  

What is clear is that, if I follow the path of Perpetua in my present situation, I will be martyred.  I will end up either out in the woods with a bag over my head, or back in prison.  It is hard to see how either of these outcomes will increase the light or warmth in the world.  Therefore I must throw my pinch of incense on the alter.  Handfuls of it if necessary.  I will go to the treatment group. I must give up my identification of myself as the one who is always out there, speaking his mind and letting the pieces fall out where they will.  For the most part I feel that this was not a bad way to be.  But a new challenge has come into my life.  I must learn to be water.  

10/19/03
Rubber bands

[I told Boo about my decision not to commit suicide and to become -- to use her term for it -- a "gopher" -- which is to say one who lives underground.]

Two nights ago while Boo and I were out doing our evening stroll around 9:00 PM, she began talking continuously.  This was unusual for her.  She recalled a variety of key points in her personal history that pertained to her choice to live as a “gopher,” as someone who lives in hiding from the social world,  and  she talked about how she would handle the situation I am in, especially with the group.  Her comments seemed to have two underlying messages: 1. living as a gopher isn’t all that bad, and 2. Here’s how you do it.  She was the welcome wagon,  welcoming me to Gopherville.  

She seemed to be trying to resolve something in her mind, or perhaps in our relationship. I was puzzled. Finally after we got back to the house and were sitting on my couch, I observed that it seemed almost like she was wanting to do the treatment group task for me.  Yes, she said.  She wished she could do that. Also back when I was in prison she had fantasies that she could come and take my place some of the time so that we could share the difficulty.     

Whatever was driving her seemed resolved.  

But last night she started in again, and again there was a driveness about her talk.  She recalled that she first started living as a gopher as a way of escaping from her mother’s insistence that she be somebody other than who she was.  Then she recalled events, such as her hospitalization in Boston from liver failure, and K street [a private mental hospital she was in briefly for an acute psychotic break many years ago], when she had to make special efforts to maintain her gopher manner of being in the world. I felt she was trying to teach me how one would do it.  I explained that it wasn’t too hard to see how one would go about doing this.  For me that was not the problem. The problem was overcoming my intense emotional resistance to doing it.  It felt like a betrayal of who I was.  But I went on to say that I had pretty well resolved this in my mind.  That’s what the last two journal entries, which I had shared with her, were all about. She nodded and confessed that she had not had the time to read the second one.  I encouraged to do so. They were my efforts to resolve this issue in my mind -- to persuade myself that it was all right to choose this path for myself, at least with regard to the “treatment” group.  I felt I was pretty successful.  I did in fact feel okay about it.  When the Gestapo is at the door, it’s okay to lie.  “No.  we don’t have any Jews here. Can’t stand them.”  Reading those papers, I felt, would further reassure her that I really was in a different place.

I felt that my explanation might have helped her resolve this issue in her mind, but when we got back to the house, and were sitting on the couch, she continued with her gopher stories.  The issue was somehow not yet sorted out for her.

“You are afraid that I just won’t be able to pull it off in the group, aren’t you?” I asked. “That I won’t be able to lie. That‘s why you want to do it for me.”

“It's what I've always done,” she said.  “I'm like a duck in water in that kind of situation.  It doesn't feel degrading to me.”

“And if I can’t pull it off, you think I’ll end up killing myself.”

She nodded.  “That’s what you said you would do if they made you go to the group.”

“And I gave it a lot of consideration,” I said.

“I know that,” she said.

“But I am in a different place now.  That’s what those journal entries are about.”

“I couldn’t read them,” she confessed.  “I couldn’t get past the point where you bought the rubber bands.”

“I see,” I said.  “I can understand that.”   

She wanted to know where the rubber bands were. I told her.

“Let me have them,” she said.

I took the package of thick rubber bands out of the plastic container where I keep the miscellaneous odds and ends connected with my writing. “Here they are,” I said, handing them to her.

She commented on how useful they looked but said that she really just wanted to get rid of them.

                    *****
This morning, about an hour ago, Boo came to my room.  She said she couldn’t sleep.  I asked if I had made too much noise.

“No,” she said. “It was very quiet in your room.”  Her implication was that it was too quiet. “And your light was off,” she added.

I explained that almost every morning I turn the light off, and try to get quiet.  When it’s dark, I use a candle.

She nodded and came over to hug me.  

“Didn’t you read the papers [journal entries]?” I asked.

Yes, she had read them.  But I could see that they had not persuaded her that I really was in a different place now.

“I really won’t do that to myself,” I said.  “You won’t come in here some morning and find something grotesque.”

I think she was re-assured.  She went back to bed.     

    
10/20/03
Hunger strike

Yesterday evening while we were out walking we talked some about Phoebe [our grown daughter who was now living with her significant other in St. Paul].  We have both experienced Phoebe withdrawing from us.  With Boo this withdrawal began to occur after Phoebe got involved with Matthew.  This is understandable and is undoubtedly to the good.  That’s her new primary person.  But her withdrawal from Boo became more complete after I came back home.  I don’t think this is an accident.  Her withdrawal from me occurred after I got into the trouble that sent me to prison.  It didn’t happen right off, actually.  But after I went to prison I began to be aware that she did not really want to visit, and the letters became more infrequent and more distant in their content.  It seemed to me that this was connected with the Columbus [where I once lived and where my mother still resided] scene.  I think that essentially she was drawn into a slightly modified version of my mother’s view of the scene -- which was that I had committed an unforgivable act.  At least it was unforgivable if I failed to show more remorse for it than I did.  Phoebe is inside the circle of acceptable humanity.  I am on the outside.  We talk across that wall.

Boo got to talking about her own isolation from the larger community.  She had been to church this morning and talked about her discomfort there.  She goes because Mary [the choir director] wants her to, and she feels some loyalty toward her despite their fundamental differences.  But then she talked about her father visiting her while she was in the hospital. [This was a few years before. Boo had an eating problem that caused some health problems. I had tried to avoid the label "Anorexia nervosa" both to avoid the Reader's Digest kind of stereotyping that goes with that label, and because her situation did not, in fact, fit the label in a number of ways. Also, because we both feel that labels are handles for society to get a hold of you and control you.] Langly [her doctor] told him the diagnosis -- “Anorexia nervosa” -- and her father was livid.  He came into her room and said “I thought you were really sick, but you just have this Anorexia thing.”  

I said something about the fact that her “illness” was a consequence of her differences with her family.  It was part of a struggle that was essentially political in nature. In that sense her father was right about one thing -- it was not an illness in the usual sense of the term.  It was political.  It was connected with her effort to emancipate herself from him, from Georgia, and from her membership in the upper class.  In a sense she was on a hunger strike.  

She couldn’t see the connection.  I’m not sure I do either -- at least I am still unclear as to the exact meaning.  It was not as straight forward as “I will not eat until you make some concessions” which is the usual concern in hunger strikes.  Or perhaps it was.  The concession she was looking for was that she should be allowed to be in the world who she was in her soul.  In her soul she was a socialist, a mystic and a universalist.  Was it likely that such a weed would be allowed to grow in Georgia soil? [Her family were  very well to do Republicans.] Certainly not in the gardens of the wealthy.  She longed to escape and join the blacks or the white trash.  Maybe she would be allowed to grow in one of their back yards. In the world she was born into she could only hide.
 
Shame prevents her from seeing the dignity of her struggle.

As I see it, the issue she struggled with back then was essentially the issue that has come to a head for me, much more recently.  We cannot manifest in the world who we are in our souls.  We cannot bring who we are in the implicate order into the explicate order.  With me it was my love of boys that catapulted me out of the world of social respectability. Once we experience the overwhelming power and hostility of the world, we retreat back in our souls and try to protect what we are there as best we can. Once we do this, to be seen becomes the dangerous thing. So now we both live underground.  With her it is a familiar place.

 

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