Saturday, May 26, 2007

Fellowship of Friends Reunion Day

With no real regard for appearances, I did manage to press a short sleeve shirt for today. Loaded up a few things in case I accept Cathie’s offer of a room in Grass Valley. Packed a sleeping bag, pillow, change of clothes, toiletries, my home-made guacamole and bags of tortilla chips.

Off about 11:00 a.m. It was cold and I bundled up with fleece layers (no electric vest.) Traffic heavy on I-80, and "required" that I "split lanes".

By Sacramento, it was too warm, and I had to strip down. Running the gas tank nearly empty, I found my way to the Schoolhouse in Columbia, just off California's Highway 49, "The Gold Rush Highway". Arrived at the same time as my friends Klaus and Margaret of San Rafael. I was surprised to see the schoolhouse parking lot nearly full, as I hadn't really any concept of what to expect at this "reunion". Among the first friends I met, "Dara, Cathie and Karl" (all organizers of the event, and official greeters.) It took a long time to recognize "Ames", his mop of dark hair now almost completely white.

Looking around, "Karl, Cathie, Ramona, Charles? No wait, Charles is over there. Who is that? Leave it." Later I realize, "it’s Rick, Charles’ brother!" I haven’t seen him in over 30 years. Santa Barbara, circa 1974.

Not wishing to have my hands occupied, I never did take advantage of the fabulous potluck buffet. (The Fellowship culture developed some amazing chefs!) I simply helped myself to a glass of wine. ("Claude" and "Elizabeth" being the others hovering near the wine table, and “photographing me”.)

Over the course of the afternoon, there were perhaps 120 visitors. I knew most, maybe half casual acquaintances, and the other half friends with whom I had worked closely. Most I hadn't seen in 25 years or more. It was remarkable how the individual mannerisms we shared with each other instantaneously resurfaced, with slight variations depending on the person we were with.

Conversations that were interrupted 25 years ago could almost be resumed without missing a beat. At least that's how it felt. It was easy to joke with those we always joked with, easy to be careful and considered with those around whom we were more reserved.

Most have moved on from the teaching and practices of "The Fourth Way", Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. But everyone carries the lessons and memories of those days. While most present struck me as still vital and growing, a few individuals displayed a troubling disconnection from reality. Casualties of life's tortuous path.

As sunset approached, I took out my camera. (Others were taking pictures and I felt some responsibility to contribute.) I took a photo of “Christine” (Julia E.) Then Elizabeth L. told me not to take her picture. I thought about it, then put the camera away. Yes, maybe a camera just reduces this experience to a superficial level.

With nightfall, it became very difficult to identify people, and I started to drift, disconnected. I asked Cathie, Ramona and Ames if there were some way I could help (needing to "do" something!) Folded and stowed chairs, but soon decided it was time to go.

Others were taking leave, many with plans to gather for breakfast at Ramona's house tomorrow morning, where the reunion and conversations would resume.

Though Cathie offered a room, I decided not to stay overnight. Since I had a sleeping bag, someone suggested I could just camp in the Schoolhouse. "No one is going to kick you out!" I considered that might be the best, most rewarding (and perhaps least characteristic) action on my part. But my answer to tension is often to ride. And tension there was. The day had indeed been quite overwhelming, and I didn't feel capable of handling much more of this emotional energy.

As I collected my dishes, I noted with some satisfaction, that early on, my large bowl of guacamole had been scraped nearly clean.

Slowly driving the dark and winding mountain roads, I was filled with an intense sadness and loneliness. I had just faced many people who, until a few hours ago, still existed as twenty-somethings (my daughter’s age!) in "my mind's eye". But standing before me today were old, weathered and weary (still recognizable!) friends. Seeing lifetimes so compressed, the obvious extrapolation is "the next stage is death."

My god! How can one reconcile this shock? In our reuniting, there is the glimmer of familiarity, the emotion of times shared, the memory of now-distant youthful and vital friendships. And now, as if in a moment, their youth has been stolen. How utterly unfair it seems!

Marilyn seemed to epitomize this for me. I had not thought of her for perhaps 30 years. Yet her memory was easily elicited: long brown hair, sweet personality, cute and attractive. A sparkle in the eyes. Kind-hearted and modest. Today, she stood there before me, quite a different vision, white-haired, made wise by the years (and still that sparkle in the eyes and voice!) We joked about how she always looked like "one of the Kampions".

It brought tears to my eyes as I drove away, trying to understand the reason, the purpose for this powerfully disarming experience (for everything must have meaning and purpose!)

(Earlier, when I retrieved my camera from the motorcycle, I noticed Margaret seated in her car, weeping. Yes, it was powerful.) I think many of us were indeed left in a delicate emotional state.

I recalled Shakespeare’s 30th Sonnet:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.

"But if the while I think on thee dear friend, all losses are restored and sorrows end." I want to re-dedicate this to my friends.

Early on, Robert ("The Teacher") discouraged us from using the word “love”. The premise being "a machine cannot love. Only conscious beings are capable of 'love'." (Yet we used intellectual terms such as "think", "know", "understand", as if machines that could not love were somehow capable of these other higher functions.) In retrospect, I can see what an emotionally crippling device that had been.

As one of the most extraordinary experiences of our lives (and none will deny this), through a community of dedicated and idealistic individuals with a common dream ("awakening"), a certain brand of consciousness, will and conscience was nurtured. At the same time, we were psychologically disarmed, disheartened and dismembered by a charismatic and probably diabolical leader.

My experience seems to contradict Shakespeare's words,
The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.

In the end, goodness prevails.

If more speak out, current members might see the karmic burden they are now incurring. Perhaps, in respect to those who have passed, and to those who still remain mired in the "institution", we former members have a moral obligation to dismantle this "school" and return its resources to the greater community, to insure they do not simply inure to the benefit of an individual, "the Teacher". A formal position statement should be developed.

As I rode in the dark, I pictured the faces from earlier in the day:

Claude and Elizabeth
William and Kathryn
Charles and Devon
Ames and Nancy
Robert and Pamela
Klaus and Margaret
Rick R.
Anthony P.
Randall O.
James and Mary B.
Susan T.
Marilyn M.
Sheila and Richard S.
Richard and Susan M.
Joel and Jill F.
Karl M.
Steven M.
Sharon S.
Barbara H.
William H.
Diane K.
William S.
Connie T.
Richard B.
Micah and Diana S.
Jonathan W.
Jonathan F.
Katherine A.
Jeffrey K.
Gregory and Midyne S.
Alan S.
Douglas and Katie H.
Shelley M.
Kent A.
William K.
Gregory and Arisha W.
Sandra C. (and her friend Steve)
Sylvia T.
Jules (Julie) C.
Martha P.
Michael and Sharon J.
Pamela B.
Joseph G. and his wife and daughter
Elizabeth L.
Maria Elena H.

(And a number of others who recently left the school.)


Midnight. A stop at "In-N-Out" in Auburn. Yes, I had neglected eating anything at the reunion, and discovered soon after leaving that I was hungry. (This may be a lifetime first: "In-N-Out" two days in a row!)

Outside the restaurant, a limo unloaded a group of high school prom-goers. Tuxes and gowns, and a host of personalities. The rebel among them, not dressed for the occasion (I think he mentioned he graduates next year) acted tough, preying on a passively self-conscious boy, helping himself to the boy's french fries.

By Sacramento, the ride was getting cold, and I stopped at the West Sacramento Truck Center to add two layers of fleece.

Arriving home, I climbed off the bike and noticed something wrong: my "Sealine" duffel bag was gone, the two bungies that had secured it now hanging loosely.

Puzzled, I commented to myself "the son of man hath nowhere to lay his head. No sleep for you! Next time, make sure things are better-secured."

Somewhere between West Sacramento and home, I lost the pack containing my sleeping bag and the "$150-reduced-to-$30 Calvin Klein" down pillow. Well, the sleeping bag has served me well. What has it been, 20 years? And I never did like the right-side zipper and inability to open up the foot area. Hopefully someone will find the pack and make good use of it. Amusingly, the loss of the pillow was the hardest to accept, since I had found it quite recently and it was the "perfect" size for tent-camping.

This was the only photo I took at the Memorial Day Weekend reunion of "Fellowship of Friends" members. I had known "Julia" back in the 70s, when we both joined the "Los Angeles Center", then briefly shared a "teaching house" in Mar Vista.

Somehow, the idea of taking photos at the gathering suddenly seemed to diminish the experience. After this one, I packed the camera away.

(August 12, 2011 note: a new blog has been created to dig into the sinister background story of the Fellowship of Friends.)

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