Friday, February 28, 2014

Reunion by Fire

One of the most horrible-wonderful stories I ever read was “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Anderson. I reread it recently- as the child lit the last match to keep warm and succumbs to hypothermia and starvation she sees her dead grandmother appear alive before her in a way reminiscent of the flame’s warmth and hope. It’s interesting that fire can represent this kind of warmth and hope but also the terrible wrath implicit in the fires of hell. 
Cold or hot will do but not lukewarm, I’ve read. In this world we can slip off into complacent holding patterns which threaten an inertia to numb and anesthetize our yearning for deep love, connection and true comfort. Reconciliation and reunion seem to require the love of beauty and origin or the suffering  that renders inadequate coping with disappointment for what it is. One cannot live life selling matches, passing on the potential of life commercially without feeling any of the heat and light of ensouled reunion with our naked essence or another’s. In this way moments surrounding death are more drenched in life than those long holding periods where we work to avoid what is called “bad” and work to accumulate what is called “good.” How long can one tolerate a separation from life, from soul, from origin? How long can one go without laying eyes on the sun?

The wrathful fires of hell seem to embody God’s rage at our capacity to forget our origin, our divine source, forget him, forget ourselves - for we are his work. Unlike snowflakes that melt soon after they’ve graced creation with their beauty, humans in their unique and specific formulation can decide to either hold true to their manifestation and its implicit longing and risk or erase themselves because the pain of authentic life burns and tears too greatly. 

Even some who have succumbed to psychological dismemberment due to the heartbreak of disappointment have recovered, at last for a while, to be reunited with their endowed glory. The story of Jean, a schizophrenic child treated by Erik Erikson, shows how, with heroic love and courage her mother helps her integrate her body and senses into her consciousness after natal separation trauma undermined her hope of having her need for love met and caused her to erase her humanity, her human vulnerability. With support Jean’s fingers became her allies in creating a sense of an ordered, trustworthy and wonderful world as well as a feeling of being worthy of love. First came finger plays that represented the peace she’s made with the world, and not long after that her mother realized she was playing familiar tunes on the xylophone. Before long she became a consummate, sensitive and versatile piano player. 

Jean didn’t ever recover normalcy, she couldn’t habituate by generalizing a sense of trust to her world and she never developed normal social skills. After many years her difficult behavior necessitated her institutionalization. Those years when she lived at home and had healed enough to learn piano and vibrate with the music of the world mirror an earlier time when, even though she could tolerate no human connection, she ecstatically danced with her beloved eggbeaters and other safely non-human objects. While she lost humanity, she never lost love, and lived with more love raging inside her than most sanely habituated individuals ever will. Surprisingly, to read about Jean as described by Erikson is to catch the fire of life again. 

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