I am honored by your interest. That is the second reason I wrote Noe—to reach out to the unintentional community of brothers and sisters, parents and children who inevitably suffer with illness, confusion, difficulty and loss–and can benefit immeasurably by sharing experiences. Isolation is too often the source of a cold heart, of bitterness and shame, of getting wrapped up in oneself and losing precious connection. The shared life is so much stronger, so much more vital—even with the difficulties of relationship we all experience. I came to this view over time. It was not natural to my situation. It had to be cultivated and appreciated as a greater pleasure.
I grew up in a backwater of Queens, New York during the 1950s—a time of cultural/political fear and insularity. Community and belongingness were confined to family with stringent rules about sharing outside its boundaries; church and synagogue based on traditional male hierarchies and frozen practices; and public schools in which classes of over thirty kids behaved remarkably well under the rule of one teacher—for fear of heinous penalties. Yelling and corporal punishment were component parts of family life, wives were often attacked physically—I knew of several in my neighborhood, divorce was impossible, and sick children were hidden or disappeared. Very different times than for many of us in this recent cultural period.
An alternative sense of what was possible between people arose in me as I was able to make close friendships during high school outside my house—I kept these private, to myself. Later, living away from home, in dormitories for eight years at college and medical school, I learned a bit of living peacefully with others. But I continued to long for something larger and a sense of community that included yet transcended local conditions. One night, finally after months of great agony and indecision, I screwed up the courage to go to a demonstration against the war in Vietnam at the old Waldorf Astoria Hotel where, ironically, President Lyndon Johnson was receiving the Leo Cherne Freedom Fighter Award. Perhaps there were a thousand people present surrounded by cops on horses and there was chanting and a near equal number of ferocious counter-demonstrators. I recognized a few people I knew from med school, actually, my professors (I seemed to be the only student) and they drew me in and helped me to become part of the protest. It was a different kind of group experience than any I had known. There were folks from all over the world, and there was a sense of love for all people, of great kindness, and a determination to achieve justice and equality for all people. I had found my own first home.
That day changed me forever. From small town boy, I was suddenly a Citizen of the World; welcome nearly anywhere I travelled or sought connection. There was a long road ahead to work out much of the cultural and only still later the spiritual foundations for a pluralist movement for sharing, but the door had opened and I had walked through, never to look back with longing.
My life path took me through commune life for several years, the Women’s and Men’s movements, dogmatic leftism, building a family within an extended community of supportive friends, becoming a psychiatrist/psychotherapist with a love of family therapy, psychedelic psychotherapy. group therapy and marathon work, running a community-based alternative process oriented psychiatric hospital, teaching, and organization building. It was far from a linear path and there were failed experiments and mistakes, even frank delusions that shaped and misshaped consciousness.
Noah’s illness was a sudden onslaught and it taxed every bit of what I had learned about people, family, and community. And it enlarged me at the same time. Catastrophic illness opens all the windows and doors in your house. Some people try to slam them shut and become congested with feelings and isolated. For me and mine, we opened them wider and were benefited by great support and love. We also discovered groups and practitioners who encouraged sharing and learning form others’ experiences. A group with members opening to others of their struggles and experiences is of immeasurable benefit–for kids and parents, as it was at the Center for Attitudinal Healing; for grief and healing; for just holding on to mind and sanity. Sharing truly works!
And reading is sharing. A good book resonates and it expands us, adds to our capacities, and references what others do. So, reason number 2: I hope you vibrate with Noe – and find helpful harmonics.
So, then, reason number 1: I had to write for myself—to see if there was any sense in all of this holding and then missing of my son and family. Or, if not sense, than something of value, some measure of what it means to me personally–this being alive, struggling for clarity, loving, making mistakes, and continuing on-a bit reluctantly, tattered, and yet blessed.
Thanks so much!