Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Phaedrus died about fifteen years ago, unnoticed or mourned by anybody but me. Me, I cried for him when he went away. He was my hero. He died when his God began to die a long slow death of obsolescence. As his God died, Phaedrus was reincarnated. As me. As Hamlet’s girlfriend Ophelia says “Lord we know what we are, but not what we may be."
Phaedrus was a spiritually ambitious, tormented soul, of good humor who prayed in passionate tears, laughed loud and often in the face of hardship, was afraid of no man, but was afraid of the dark, and posessed the special luck of a fool who is madly in love with his God. He was almost murdered three times, once with a gun, once with a knife and once when men hunted him in the dark of a Louisiana bayou near Houma. He walked away clean each time because of his resourcefulness and his pure faith that his God was watching over him.
He was a constantly lonely soul, who was never alone, always in the company of his spiritual family of brothers and sisters, except for the time this photo was taken in downtown Oshkosh Wisconsin when he was profoundly alone. He was born to be a lover, tormented each moment by a ferocious sexual appetite, burning for passionate union with another, and yet found himself liberated by a life of celibacy. He lived in various houses and church centers, cheek to cheek with exotic young women from all over the world, his sisters. He loved his sisters and they loved him back. The years and nights were filled with conversation, toast and jelly parties huddled in a kitchen corner, whispering, in intimate friendships with girls from Japan, Korea and Europe with whom he prayed, fasted, ate, studied, labored and shared bathrooms with. All the time true to himself. All the time refusing his desires.
I bear his karma, I carry it with me all the time, the consequences of his decisions which I didn’t share in and would give anything to change, and yet somehow I am better for them. I love Phaedrus. I’m so sorry his dreams didn’t come true, because he was worthy of them. It was the custodians of his faith that proved unworthy.
The picture was taken on a street corner in Oshkosh in February of 1976. I remember clearly it was the day after a blizzard. I was a “pioneer” missionary. I had been through four months of training in teaching lectures on the “Divine Principle”, schooled in the heart of God, and sent alone into the spiritual wilderness to find my spiritual children. I arrived the night before the blizzard, leaving the bus station in below freezing weather with a sleeping bag and a small suitcase. I had to find a place.
I pushed open the first unlocked door I could find, the side door of an old apartment building. I went in and slept in the boiler room where it was warm. The super came in because he heard me praying and pounding the floor with my fist late that first night in town. At first he told me to leave, but I told him I was a missionary and God had brought me there for the night. He let me stay.
A few days later I raised some money by selling peanuts door to door and was able to get a room cheap in this apartment building. Seeing it now, it looks like this building must have started out as a factory or a mill and then been converted.
I was a afraid of the dark. One of the consequences of faith, the world is full of malevolent haints and it was hard to sleep with the odd shadows and sounds, and always the constant nagging of my young body's lust. I had never been alone like this before and even God seemed far away.
The next day I was out on the street corner with my notebooks, a shy young man pushing himself to the utmost emotional limit with the craziest thing I could think to do – street preaching, like that old time religion. Shouting my truth out loud to the people trudging through the piled snow. A news reporter looking for a story saw me and asked if he could get a picture and an interview. I said sure, feeling he had been sent by God. I began again “People of Oshkosh! I bring good news!” and the cop car stopped. A couple of policemen in blue nylon parkas rolled down the window and waved me over. I leaned in. “Are you okay, kid?” said the cops. What he meant was “Are you crazy?”
I think if Phaedrus met his incarnation today, the product of his karma, he would be amazed and horrified. Amazed that somehow it had turned out okay and I have a family and a steady job and a house and a little yard with a peach tree. That I no longer sleep in a sleeping bag in the “brother’s room” but sleep in my underwear next to a woman I’ve known for many years, and sometimes we reach for each other in the night. I’ve become a tamer person in body and soul. And that would horrify him. Phaedrus was that untamed man, but money and marriage and comfortable evenings changes us and tames us, as it must. In “The Dying Light” Father Delmar mourns the loss of his own passionate faith, writing in his diary:
“ . . . Devils with contracts, needles to draw blood for their fountain pens. (Does the Devil prefer Esterbrooks or Monte Blancs? In the movies he uses a goose quill. Do you have any experience with this, Nixie?) Those are for the fighting souls, the rebellious, full blooded sinners, juicy and exciting to God and Satan. For the rest of us, we sell our flaccid souls with tax returns. With checkbooks. With coffee spoons. With cups of tea and warm lonely nights. Nothing more is needed. People like me, Jesus said he would spit out of his mouth. . . “
That’s really me, apologizing to Phaedrus. Telling the young man, yes I betrayed you, maybe I betrayed us both, but it had to be done. It had to be done so that you could remain a true and good man in your own eyes. You’re not allowed to sacrifice other people on the altar of your faith. Even if others sacrifice you on theirs.
Now,don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t sit around in a funk thinking about the past. In fact it’s the opposite. As time goes by, the past seems more and more unreal to me, which is what gives me its fascination. Its as though someone put in a book in my hand and said “You wrote this book in your past life in the nineteenth century. This is the autobiography you wrote when you were a Carmelite nun in a convent in France.” That would be so weird, I would just have to look, and damn if the words written there didn’t seem so familiar I could guess how the story ends.
What I get out of this photo when I see Phaedrus standing by the cop car is the zen of that image. The feeling that the Buddhists may be right, life is an illusion. Ego and what I think of as myself may not be real. Because I’ve been so many different people, even in this one life that Phaedrus seems like a kindly ghost. And I write this with the dim knowledge that I too will die and pass away, and very soon. And in a few years a stranger with common memories will dial up these old blogs and stories and wonder what in the world I was thinking of way back then.