Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Holding the Thread

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

                            -William Stafford

Sometimes I wonder if I’m over-interested in my own autobiography. But the truth is, it’s not about me. It’s about the genius/daimon/ thread that has been by my side my whole life and my slow journey of merging personal biography with the Soul’s destiny that’s of interest. The details change, but it’s a universal experience, that sense of having come to birth to fulfill a particular destiny and to contribute to some grand scheme in a way that moves evolution forward. The journey is fraught with wrong turns, refusals, closed doors that we stop knocking on, opening doors that we miss. It’s not an easy thing to hold the thread and follow its winding. But it the journey we’re meant for. 

So my 50thHigh School Reunion is still echoing and it turned out to be extremely meaningful to see how some threads began there that I have indeed followed. Some—like pole vaulting—had their brief mayfly existence and the time spent playing Bach on the organ shifted to jazz on the piano, but though I think college was where I first began to come into my own, it really began around 11thgrade in high school and I can name some of the books that led me to certain awakenings that were in their tender bud form: Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown opening my eyes to the racial situation in America, How Children Fail by John Holt that gave language to my dissatisfaction with school, Walden by Thoreau and Leaves of Grass by Whitman that connected me to the natural world and some sense that spirituality was in the forest and not in the church. 

So I was thrilled to discover an old school newspaper I had long hoped to find that had an article I wrote about Black Power (to be shared here soon), a short story in the literary magazine about finding a wise old man in the woods and a little news item announcing that I had been elected to the newly formed Student/ Faculty Assembly seeking to change some of my school’s outdated practices. The latter in particular was a big surprise because I didn’t remember it! And I was moved to think the students had actually elected me. I was never the Big Man on Campus and I felt like I leaned toward the invisible side, but apparently, I was more present than I thought and that thread of being always outspoken and critical while working to help create models of positive change began earlier than I thought. 

That thread of thinking about what might be improved and marrying vision with action, I’ve held it my whole life. And I found (again, a surprise) a photo that captured a bit of it. Here my hair was beginning to grow (well, that’s a thread I lost!), the look of thinking was real and not posed, in the background is a blurred image of Dave Fullilove, one of my best friends from that time, one of two black students in a class of 90 (who so sadly passed away in 1991). There’s a lot being spoken in that image and it equally moved me that someone thought to put it in the school newspaper. (I put this on Facebook and someone said, “You’re Doug Goodkin the VIth?!” But VI means Form VI, a Country Day School way of describing 12thgrade). 

And so 50 years later, time indeed has kept unfolding, things have changed, loved ones have died, tragedies have happened. But this small two-legged creature has kept hold of that thread and never let go and that has been a great blessing. 

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