A New Ulysses

Burdens are the foundations of ease and bitter things the forerunners of pleasure.   Rumi

Some people find themselves in a tight and secure worldview in childhood, and spend their later lives fleeing it; others survive a chaotic early life and search as adults for lasting sources of stability and meaning.

In my case, the chaos hit when I was in my thirties. I found myself divorced and uncertain by choice, grappling with court dates and debt as I turned away from the life I had known as a minister, husband and father. On my journey into adulthood, I had chosen a doctrinaire and disciplinary college which reinforced my sense of “rightness” and by my late twenties was convinced that higher education would further qualify me as a teacher of right thinking and right doing. The life of a Bible teacher or archaeologist, an expert on the lives of people and cultures dead and gone looked attractive.

I knew nothing about what really matters in life; my soul was invisible to me.  I plunged into depression, the dark night in which outer knowledge fades and inner truths are revealed. Unable to deal with my mentally-ill wife, I found myself in therapy and began to discover my own feelings and needs. My dreams educated me in the river of symbols that flowed day and night within. My unloving actions mirrored the darkness within, while deep yearnings for a life that brought happiness to myself and others drew me on, like a ancient ship in the Aegean fog. Would I journey like Ulysses and find safe harbor, or end up thrown on the rocks?

One night on the way home from work, I was attacked by criminals swinging pipes. I lay in the gutter and waited for the ambulance to come.  I arose a new man, with eight broken bones, no longer believing that I was someone special or protected by God. For years I had dreamed of being attacked at night; at last it had happened. When I walked down Michigan Avenue a few weeks later, my arm in a sling and my leg in a cast, the well-dressed mostly ignored me, hurrying to the next appointment. The homeless on the same street looked me in the eyes, slowed down and said, “I’m sorry. What happened?”  I never saw myself that way, until I saw that others saw me that way. I knew compassion for the first time, and its name was I Am Like You.

That was twenty years ago. My dreams now lead me toward a new land. What was given up now returns with added blessings. I will become a father and husband again and fulfill my destiny. Like the ancient Greek who left his home and slowly journeyed back to what was always waiting for him, I am on way back where Telemachus and Penelope wait for me. I will slaughter her suitors; I will embrace my son; my old servant will recognize me– by my  scars.

(499 words)

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