Last night I was one of eight speakers who took part in the second Stories From the Dark Side event here in Salem, Oregon.
I enjoyed myself.
The organizers kindly provided a bottle of Jack Daniels and a couple of shot glasses in the Grand Theatre's "green room." Plus, Santiam Brewing Company had some dark stout on tap in the lobby. I managed to get myself in a great story-telling frame of mind via a balanced blend of coffee, beer, and whiskey.
I talked about my one hour with my father. That is one of my favorite blog posts, mostly because I wrote it in a burst of from-the-heart honesty. I ended it with:
When the door shut behind me and I started walking down the corridor to my rented car, I was so happy. Not happy that I had finally gotten to meet my father—happy that I would never have to see my father again.
Which I never did.
Moral to this story? If there is one, it’s that fantasies aren’t reality and what you get in life often is better than what you want in life. Growing up, I wanted my father. When I was grown up, that one hour with him taught me that I was hugely better off fatherless. I’m already too much like him. If I had grown up with him, I might have become him.
That’s too scary to think about. Time for a mind-cleansing nap, hopefully with fatherless dreams.
The whole Stories from the Dark Side experience reminded me a lot of church. After intermission (I was the second speaker, so was done for the evening) I sat in the audience with my wife, enjoying the captivating stories from other people.
There was a strong feeling of communion -- not the wafer kind, the connection kind -- between everybody in the Grand Theatre. The emotions being shared were feelings we all have had. Sure, not exactly as related by the speakers. But really similar.
Isn't this what religions are supposed to bring us?
A sense of being connected with the cosmos; a realization that we are not alone; a knowing that whatever we are going through, a helping hand and shoulder to lean on are available. I sure felt all that last night.
I barely knew the organizers and only had met one of the other speakers prior to the event. But a bond instantly was formed between us. Also with the audience, many of whom I talked with at some point during the evening.
Here's a backstage photo of most of the speakers. (Ego-centered observation: I was wearing a loose untucked shirt, so my lean, mean senior citizen body couldn't reveal its muscled contours; or, if you prefer a darker spin on my appearance, my "six-pack" has lost a few over the years.)
I've been to lots of church services, albeit mostly of the eastern religion "satsang" variety.
I felt just as warmly inspired last night as at any of the churchly meetings I've been to in my 65 years of living. And no, it wasn't the glass of beer and shot of whiskey that made me feel that way. It was the refreshing honesty of everybody in the room.
Which often is sorely lacking in religious sorts of gatherings. Platitudes are spouted rather than truth-telling. I didn't hear one false word from any of the Stories from the Dark Side speakers. It was all raw this is the way it was.
And is. I alluded to that fact at the end of my ten minute or so talk.
Up until that one hour I spent with my father when I in my early thirties, I'd longed to know what my missing parent was like. Not having a father in the home deeply bothered me when I was a child. Later I was much more accepting of his absence from my life.
However, I still had a sense that, as I said last night, I was missing out on a parental ice cream cone -- since I only was able to partake of the "meat and potatoes" of what my mother was able to offer me. It sustained me as a kid, but I was jealous of how other children were able to enjoy the extras a father had to offer.
After meeting my father, though, that feeling went away. In the words of last night's Stories from the Dark Side theme, gone for good.
But not really. Because I've come to this realization:
In a very real way, the father I wanted to know always has been intimately connected with me. After all, he supplied half of my genetic heritage. I am him, along with my mother. And along with each of their relatives going all the way back to the first stirrings of life on earth.
I, and all of us, are multitudes. (To not coin a phrase.)
My father lives within, and as, me. Naturally I don't experience life as he did. Likely, though, my feelings, emotions, thoughts, and ways of looking at the world bear more than a little resemblance to his. This insight hit me more deeply than it ever had before as I was preparing for last night's Dark Side story.
About half the time I ran through what I wanted to say, I'd start to cry. Not out of sadness; out of something deeper. Hard to explain. It was like I had come closer to a truth that always had been part of me, but which I'd failed to recognize.
Pretty similar to how I look at religiosity these days. Religions would have us believe that we are missing something only they can provide.
Well, I much prefer the implicit philosophy of Stories from the Dark Side. Nothing is lacking in us. We just need to embrace every side of ourselves, and of life. Darkness as well as light. Sorrow as well as joy. There is no such thing as a coin with only one side.
Update: Today I came across a passage in Barbara Brown Taylor's "Learning to Walk in the Dark" that nicely expresses this:
What such people stand to discover, Greenspan says, is the close relationship between "individual heartbreak and the brokenheartedness of the world." While those who are frightened by the primal energy of dark emotions try to avoid them, becoming more and more cut off from the world at large, those who are willing to wrestle with angels break out of their isolation by dirtying their hands with the emotions that rattle them most.
A video from the Dark Side folks conveys the same message.