This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. Part 1 can be found here.
An Escalating Sense of Urgency
The ocean waves keep crashing in. They surge up the beach, only to be drawn back down again by gravity. Each set of waves climbs slightly farther or less far up the beach, depending on whether the tide is flowing or ebbing. How high any particular wave will reach is unpredictable. But the trend of the tide is unmistakable.
* * *
In March of 1980, Douglas celebrated his fiftieth birthday. Not long after reaching this milestone, one of his sustaining beliefs — that he was riding an incoming tide and that the story which had led him here was unfolding as it should — took three significant hits. Following these jarring dislocations, Douglas started to wonder whether the tide might have already turned against him and was now beginning to ebb.
This is the third of a four-part series of posts. Part 1 can be found here.
Seeding Wax Statues
Douglas and I are sitting together on Temple Hill. It’s a warm Indian summer afternoon in 1977. Douglas is 47; I’m 32. Doug and Stan have just moved up from Norfolk and are living in a small camper at Transdyne, the land they bought two years ago. It’s within easy walking distance of ALM (Associations of the Light Morning), where Doug and I are now talking.
Far above us, a raven traces a lazy circle in the sky. Douglas again wants to hear why our guidance in Virginia Beach said that the Essenes were to serve as a model for the community. He’s alluding to a few lines from Season of Changes. It’s the passage that first sent him searching for ALM and for me. By now I know the words by heart.
This is the second of a four-part series of posts. In the prologue to Part 1 (which can be found here), Douglas is described as being “a mentor and interrogator; a reliable source of both irritations and insights; an occasional enemy; and a best friend. He could be effortlessly charming one moment and fiercely adversarial the next. But above all else, Douglas was fully committed to exploring the interplay between his own unique and pricey calling and the founding vision of Light Morning.”
The Bookworm and the Symposium
“I am evidently not intended to die and leave this world,” Douglas said in the biographical cassette tapes that he recorded for us, “because I’ve been unsuccessful in these attempts. As we can see, there are quite a few people who would not be unhappy with my absence. But there is some force that appears to be more adamant than I in keeping me here, for reasons that are still not known to myself, and are totally unknown to others.”
After an attempted suicide in a Washington, D.C. hotel room, “I was unemployed for some time and very rarely left our apartment. I raised orchids, read books about Edgar Cayce, and saw few people. But in a way, this story is a story of destiny; a story unfolding according to the designs of destiny. And this happens to each of us, if we will but look at it. This is not to say that I was aware of looking at it, for only recently have I started to pay attention to what comes before me, instead of fighting what comes before me.”
What was about to come before Douglas was an unexpected twist of destiny: Douglas was about to become a shopkeeper.
Remembering Douglas Dean Todd Born March 3rd, 1930 Died on Good Friday, 2000
One morning over breakfast, in the autumn of 1999, I mentioned to the other members of the Light Morning community that I would be going to Roanoke to see Douglas that day. Following his stroke, Doug had been staying at Salem Health and Rehabilitation, just across the street from the V.A. hospital. Then someone sitting around the breakfast table said, “Who’s Douglas?”
Cecile had become part of the community only recently, and her question stopped a spoonful of applesauce midway between my bowl and my mouth. It seemed inconceivable that someone living at Light Morning could not know who Douglas was. For me, it was a watershed type of experience.
Douglas had played different roles for different ones of us during the 25 years when he and Stanley lived just down the road: mentor and interrogator; a reliable source of both irritations and insights; an occasional enemy; and a best friend. He could be effortlessly charming one moment and fiercely adversarial the next. But above all else, Douglas was fully committed to exploring the interplay between his own unique and pricey calling and the founding vision of Light Morning.
These are the final three letters I wrote when participating in a bioregional seminar in the late 1980s. The first two letters, with a fuller introduction, can be found here.
Letter 3: February 1989
I stayed up late last night, trying unsuccessfully to find a theme for this month’s letter. As I finally went to bed, I asked my dreams for help. But this morning I was unable to recall even a single dream. Joyce, however, who was consciously unaware that I had been puzzling over this letter, awoke with a surprisingly relevant dream. It almost seems as though the dream I needed had come through her.
In the dream world Joyce is attending a workshop on environmental issues. Many of the other participants are castigating the government and/or the big corporations for their unresponsiveness to the critical problems facing the planet. Joyce is moved to say that we have no right to demand significant changes from anyone “out there” if we are unwilling to make comparable changes in our own lives.
“The changes we must turn to first are personal changes,” she says passionately. “And they have to be radical.”
It’s a warm summer evening at Light Morning. I have just settled down to read the newly-arrived Summer 1986 issue of Katuah, the Bioregional Journal of the Southern Appalachians. It’s a homespun publication run by a volunteer crew of artists and activists, poets and homesteaders. Gary Snyder has called it the best bioregional publication in the U.S. Growing out of the mountains of western North Carolina, Katuah Journal comes out quarterly. This is Issue 12. One of the early issues had laid out its guiding theme.
“Here in the southern-most heartland of the Appalachian mountains, the oldest range on our continent (Turtle Island), a small but growing group has begun to take on a sense of responsibility for the implications of that geographical and cultural heritage. This sense of responsibility centers on the concept of living within the natural scale and balance of universal systems and laws. We begin by invoking the Cherokee name Katuah as the old/new name for this area of the mountains and for its journal as well.”
This is the first in an occasional series of my strong medicine dreams. An introduction to the series can be found here. The dream was recorded on the morning of March 4th, 1984. It has five scenes. Each of them — in a nod to internet readability — has been given a title and an illustration. Following the dream are some of the personal and cultural associations which the dream evoked.
I’m in a courtroom, sitting at a long rectangular table. To my right, at the head of the table, is the judge. To my left is an advocate. Although he seems unfamiliar to me, I somehow know that he’s my father.
Other people are seated around the table also. There’s an air of expectancy in the room. Everyone seems to be waiting for something to happen.
I turn seventy-five next week. That means that I have spent close to twenty-five years (one third of my life) asleep. For many if not most of those twenty-five years I’ve been fully immersed in the swirling world of dreams. Having grown up in a dream-demeaning culture, however, it wasn’t until I was twenty-four years old and living with a woman for the first time that I became aware of that world.
The opening happened in Arden, a small experimental village founded by my great-grandfather at the turn of the twentieth century. Joyce and I had known each other as children there. But my family had moved away when I was in grade school and we hadn’t seen each other again until we both returned to Arden as young adults.
This is the second of two posts containing my application to the School of the Spirit for its program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. The first post, and a fuller introduction, can be found here.
A well-chosen question can have quite an impact. Several years after moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was gifted with such a question. It was posed by Douglas, the same friend whose birthday would later coincide with the Testing the Water retreat in Roanoke.
It was a sunny afternoon at Light Morning. We were sitting on a grassy knoll called Temple Hill, close to where Douglas now lies buried. High above us, a raven traced a lazy circle in the sky.
“So why did your Virginia Beach guidance,” Doug asked, “say that the Essenes were to serve as a model for your community?”
In March of 2018, I learned about an 18-month program called On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. It was offered by The School of the Spirit, a ministry “rooted in the Quaker contemplative tradition of the living silence.” Feeling ready to explore my Quaker heritage, I requested an application.
“Write a summary of your experience with spiritual nurture ministry,” the application said. “Reflect on how you have been drawn toward or clearly discerned a call to spiritual nurture and its study. We seek to understand how this call has risen out of your personal faith, faith community, life experience, education, and training. We encourage you to offer stories that describe your explorations, wrestling, insights, and lessons learned. Please include your experience of desiring, seeking or receiving support concerning this call.”
What follows is my response to this request.
Spiritual nurture ministry is an unfamiliar phrase, but it stirs deep associations. Good friends nurture each other. They’re responsive to one another’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Quakers, moreover, self-identify as a Religious Society of Friends.
I have a knack for making and keeping friends. I’m a good listener and often ask good questions. People tend to trust and confide in me. I have been with friends who are giving birth and others who are dying. I have helped some friends get married and others get divorced. I’ve been there for friends who have become suddenly and seriously unhinged, just as they, in turn, have been there for me.