Saturday, August 1, 2009

Formative Experiences

Life, in its fundamental essence, is a series of experiences. Fingertips pushing keys on a keyboard. Driving a car to work in the morning. Organizing photos on one's laptop. Talking to a friend on the telephone. Paying bills. Walking out to the mailbox to get the morning paper. Our days are filled with such ordinary things most of the time.

Then, there are the extraordinary moments, those unforgettable experiences outside the norm.

I was talking with my brother Don about my grandparents this morning. We were sharing memories, and it somehow came up how I used to talk with my grandmother for hours about mystical things like whether the Egyptians had been in contact with alien life (as evidenced by their remarkable understanding in the design of the Great pyramid) or whether psychokinesis is really possible. That is, can people bend metal simply by the power of their minds? Or levitate objects? The Russians were purportedly researching these things during the Cold War.

Don was a bit surprised by this side of my grandmother, and it became apparent that much of what I knew about my grandmother was not common knowledge. My grandmother had always been a highly intuitive person and read extensively along a wide range of interests that far exceeded what you might expect from a rural West Virginia housewife. This was all before the formative experience that gave birth to the following poem.

I'm not sure of the year but it was sometime in the early Sixties, an out of body experience. Without hallucinogenics. Rather, she'd had a stroke and while undergoing surgery left her body. For what she believes was a period of twenty minutes she hovered over the operating table, watching as doctors and nurses labored over her semi-lifeless body.

The Greek-Armenian mystic Gurdjieff once stated that our life experiences are like food. Some foods take more time than others to digest. My grandmother's long talks with me were an effort to process this experience she'd undergone.

So it is that some powerful experiences move us in deep places. The loss of a loved one. The unexpected death of a friend. A profound mountaintop experience. It is not only grief that takes many moons to process. Sometimes other kinds of experiences make such impact that people spend years seeking to better understand what happened to them.

The following is a poem which originally appeared in my grandmother's chapbook of poems titled Helping The Sun Grow. No mention here of the mystical, but a remarkably luminous and upbeat snapshot of that moment in time...

Aftermath Of A Stroke

Here I lie, tight packed as in my Mother's womb
I laid with restlessness a full lifetime ago.
But still entirely I, altho I have no room
To move about and at my will to come and go.
But now -- I wander, freely in my mind
The long road thru the crowding mists of time,
And pause in my journeying now and then
To live the happy times again
Made bright indeed by sunset's glow!

by Elizabeth Sandy

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