The Lofty Chronicles grew out of a daily journal that I kept for several years during the early 1990’s. Many of its entries were about our daughter, Lauren. She turned six in 1990 and soon asked us to call her Lofty. Since she was the first grandchild on either side of the family, her geographically distant grandparents, aunts, and uncles were especially eager to hear what she was up to. So I volunteered to send them selected passages from my journal each season. I also sensed that a grownup Lauren may one day become curious about her roots.
The reason for posting those long ago journal entries here on Light Morning’s website is that peeking through the day-to-day concerns, wonders, and routines of parenting is a startlingly intimate view of the three core values of this community: living close to the Earth, in a new kind of family, and sharing a transformational journey. These foundational values have already been explored here. In The Lofty Chronicles, however, they come to life in a viscerally specific way.
We see adults trying to live simply, work closer to home, and become more self-sufficient. We watch a mostly self-chosen family of friends and traveling companions work and eat and play together, hurt each other, solve thorny problems, and slowly learn to truly care for one another. We catch surprising glimpses of what it means to “become again as a little child.” And we see that a path of transformation can be both long and arduous. There’s nothing quite like parenting for showing us our shadows and humbling our pretensions. It’s fully as good a teacher as marriage and community.
Now it’s time to let the stories speak for themselves. The Lofty Chronicles will be an ongoing series of posts, making way now and then for posts on other themes. After first setting the stage with a few journal entries from Lauren’s younger years, we’ll take up the story proper in May of 1989, shortly after her fifth birthday.
This is the final portion of a story that begins here.
Tom Hungerford was born in Winslow, Arizona in 1916, shortly after Arizona became the 48th state. He died at Light Morning at the dawn of the new millennium. Quite soon Tom will become one of the unremembered multitudes — a wave receding down a beach; a raindrop touching the surface of a lake; an autumn leaf falling from a family tree.
Yet in the brief interval between when Tom took his first breath and his last breath lies a span of some 30,000 days, each of them a tapestry woven of stories. Thus did J.R.R. Tolkien speak of a tree of tales in a forest of days.
In this concluding portion of Choosing To Age In Community we’ll see that Tom was deeply influenced by two books, The Razor’s Edge and The Comforter; that he loved a little cabin in the woods called Snowberry; and that a chance viewing of a movie freed Tom from a trauma he’d been carrying since World War II. Since he was always a traveling man, we’ll close with the story of how Tom ended his days at Snowberry, and finally traveled on to who knows where.
Born in Winslow, Arizona on April 29th, 1916 Died at Light Morning on May 25th, 2000
In the spring of 1976, a large white van pulled up to an old 8×10 granary shed which served as Light Morning’s community shelter. We were working outside, building a small woodshed out of salvaged materials. Dry firewood was a necessity. We used it for both heating and cooking.
Eight or nine people climbed out of the van, looked around, and introduced themselves. Almost all of them were our age, in their 20s and 30s. One of them, however, was 60. We wondered what had attracted someone our parents’ age to visit a remote rural commune in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia.
That’s how we first met Tom Hungerford. During Tom’s many subsequent visits, and more fully after he moved here, we drew out portions of his remarkable story. Finally, on the eve of Tom’s 79th birthday in 1985, he and I sat down with a tape recorder and he reminisced about the circuitous path that led him to choose Light Morning as a place to both live and age.
Last week’s post brought to a close the story of my first Vipassana meditation course and the first nine months of my life. It was a story — told in three parts and beginning here — about trauma, catharsis, and synchronicity. In the spirit of compensation for that longer story, here’s a haiku version of how and why I currently practice Vipassana. Perhaps down the road I’ll be able to flesh it out.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1995. I’m alone in a rental house on Inverness Ridge, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, where I was born 50 years ago. My wife Joyce and our 11-year-old daughter Lauren have joined my parents, my sibs, and their families for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It’s part of a long-planned family reunion. I haven’t joined them because outwardly and inwardly I’m unable to do so.
Classic signs of the flu set in this morning: congestion, fever, fatigue. But these are symptomatic of a deeper dislocation. A week and a half ago, on my first 10-day Vipassana course, I was plunged into psychological crisis. Since then I’ve been tumbling through a bewildering array of insights, anxieties, communions, and paranoia. Given the traumatic aftermath of the course, including my dissociated flight to San Francisco, it’s somewhat surprising that I haven’t ended up in a psych ward.
This is Part Two of a three-part story, told from the perspectiveof how I experienced ittwenty-five years ago this month, in December of 1995.Part One can be found here.
A Frightened Octopus
I’m sitting in Light Morning’s community shelter. It’s December 18th, 1995, and I have just returned from my first 10-day course at the Vipassana Meditation Center (V.M.C.) in western Massachusetts. When the course unexpectedly turned traumatic on Day 8, I stopped eating or drinking anything. Now my mental status is becoming marginal.
The following story has three parts. It’s told from the perspective of how I experienced it25 years ago this month, in December of 1995.
* * *
After the trauma had served its intended purpose, I would come to believe that the path I was traveling needed to unfold as it did. The hard-earned clarity of hindsight would show me clues I had missed and traces of long-dried blood on the tracks. But we don’t see what we’re not ready to see. Or shouldn’t see. Foresight would have made me run from the pain that awaited me. And from the improbable healing that pain would bring.
Recovering From the Wounds of an Abusive Childhood
Part One of this three-part series, which includes Marlene’s harrowing account of the abuse she received as a young girl at the hands of her mother, is here.
Reaching for Blackberries
I went off to college in 1958, at the age of 18, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Even though my mother, Leona, gave the Dean of Women a fit, and some weekends at home were the usual hell, I was finally out of there. Free at last!
This is the final post in this series. Part One and the introduction are here.
Each of the first two posts in this series revolves around a strong medicine dream. But where do dreams like “Down Under” (here) and “Harvesting the Moment Points” (here) come from? They’re certainly personal. I’ve already shared visceral associations with the imagery. It’s quite improbable, then, that anyone else could have dreamed either of these dreams, any more than they could have my face, my voice, or my fingerprints.
Yet strong dreams can also be more than personal. Other people’s thoughts, words, and images sometimes come alive within us. That’s why poets, painters, and storytellers ply their trade. That’s what makes conversation and communion possible. That’s why myths and scriptures resonate. They help us approach the threshold between the worlds from one side. But what awaits us on the other side?
This is the second of three posts in this series. Part One and the introduction are here.
I’m sitting in the Roanoke City Library re-reading portions of Citadel of God, an historical novel about Benedict of Nursia. I’ve lucked upon one of the few armchairs scattered among the stacks. Some newspapers had been laid across it, but I put these aside and become immersed in the life and times of the man who helped birth western monasticism.
A woman in well-worn clothes walks by, glances at me, then sits down briefly on the floor a short distance away. Some of Roanoke’s homeless people take refuge in the library when the weather turns cold. I wonder whether she’s the one who had marked the chair with the newspapers.
Later I lay the book down on my lap and stare into space, thinking about the monastic components of Light Morning. Then my gaze turns to the large bookcase across the aisle from where I’m sitting. The title of one book comes into focus: Callings. I’ve just been reading about how Benedict, a young nobleman living in the waning days of the Roman empire, followed a series of inner callings to leave Rome, live as a hermit, and later become the founding abbot of the Monte Cassino monastery.
I stand up and take the book off the shelf. The author is Gregg Levoy. I open it to the inside front panel of the dust jacket.
“How do we know if we’re following our true callings? How do we sharpen our senses to cut through the distractions of everyday reality and hear the calls that are beckoning us? …How do we distinguish the true calls from the siren song? How do we handle our resistance to a call? What happens when we say no? What happens when we say yes?”1