Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Commentary on "Letter to Eugene England"

Event: 1 February 1966
Updated: November 2, 2006

Letter to Eugene England

Gene: re-entry?
Closing scenes
The work’s begun.
Wanting everything to know;
Knowing too much to tell.
Listening inside
For what will one day
Come outside.

Wanting to tell,
To share,
To offer.

Refused with smiles
And frowns:
Endured by those
Whose words claim knowing.

Tired inside
But wiser out.
Streams of words
Are turning into trickles
While glances take more place
And I become a serpent
With slits for eyes
To those once close.

But were they close in heart?
I think it no,
Else they would not have
Seized the Sign:
Usurped my place.

Where is the Red Man
That I should sing?
Why Columbia in dream?

She is my friend
But fears my love;
But why?
Because she fears her own?

Next in time
Are those of Rodina.
Then to Judah
And last the princely line.
Who knows these mysteries
And destinies
With certainty?
Who really knows
The face of God
Or unseen world?

Friend, I seek you truly.
Are you inside
And tired with me?
But what is my wish?
To serve right now.
But be specific:
Get to work
And win that place and time
To build for new emerging age.

Songs will rend the air
While hearts unite
To leap ahead
Of desolation coming.

And we will walk to Zion
Through its ruins. 

Santa Monica 
1 Feb 66 
(Op. 16)

Commentary on Letter to Eugene England. [A response to England family's request for my contribution to their 2006 memorial project about their father, one of my closest friends.]

Dear Rebecca. This is the last item in my mind for adding to your “Remembering Eugene England” project. It is now more than 40 years since I wrote this “poem” as a letter to your dad. I don’t now recall if I ever sent it to him, in which case you would have it somewhere.

The time was January 1966. Dialogue: A Journal for Mormon Thought was in utero, and I was living in a Santa Monica garage of a new found friend whom I’d recently met at Big Sur Hot Springs (eventually Esalen Institute). My new friend’s name was Russell Pratt, a descendant of one of the Pratt brothers Parley or Orson, but not LDS. We hit it off as kindred souls at that mystical place in a northern California coastal forest. Only a few weeks earlier I had quit the Church after having become homeless, family-less, jobless, reputation-less and almost friendless. [See my 2006 SL Sunstone Symposium paper Annealing and Healing].

I say “almost friendless” because your dad never faltered as my friend, as his letters to me, now in your hands, reveal. He was a beacon of light and I wrote this “letter-poem” after having just met Clifford Cummings, a member of the Pasadena stake presidency. I don’t recall how or why we met, but Cliff’s attitude reminded me of Gene’s. I dimly recall that we met as fellow scientists at a company called Electro-Optical, a spin off from Cal Tech or JPL. I was looking for a job and he was an executive for that company. I don’t recall how I became aware of his being LDS, but he urged me to reconsider my decision to quit the Church. I began to do just that.

Hence the first line in the poem: “Gene: re-entry?” I wanted to report my thinking to Gene, but became confused whether I could communicate meaningfully with him—or whether he would believe me.  He would often appear in my dreams, which accounts for the line “Friend, I seek you truly. Are you inside and tired with me?” Although he was my contemporary, he was also my mentor—and disciplinarian father.

So, here is my letter trying to tell him something of what had been happening in my life since we last talked on the phone the previous August and he expressed concern for what I was telling him regarding what had been happening to me that summer. He was primarily concerned with my “pride”. This “letter” therefore is addressing Gene’s concern--trying to say something substantive, but guarded and using provocative images: “… I become a serpent with slits for eyes to those once close…”

Most of this letter is trying to say something about what I was seeing within myself in those days, whether as a visionary or a crackpot. Hard to tell, isn’t it?

“Next in time are those of Rodina...” clearly refers to a long-time search for my Slavic roots [“Rodina” is Russian for homeland], which was completed in 1995 when my brother found our dad’s long lost family in his old home town of Melitopol, Ukraine. This discovery completed that search. The next year I spent 3 weeks in Ukraine getting personally acquainted with all those relatives, and we have been in contact ever since.

“Then to Judah and last the princely line.”  The time sequence is out of whack here. I don’t know about the “Judah” part, but the “princely line” refers to a revelatory experience I’d had the previous July 25, which began my confrontation with Church authority, which is why I’d called your dad one late night that previous August. That revelatory experience was a mind-blowing surprise response to my prayer to know what lay behind the then policy of the Church regarding the Negro. Because of what had been happening to me the previous few weeks, it never occurred to me that the Lord would not answer my question. In the document that came out of me that early July morning, the word “priesthood” is never mentioned.

“But what is my wish?”  What was my most earnest desire then? “To serve…”
Obviously I was not a very effective servant in the outer world. Your dad was the example to me of the kind of service I valued most.

“…build for new emerging age”.  I’d like to think that Dialogue is a significant cornerstone of this “emerging age” and that the uniting of hearts is exemplified in your Eugene England Memorial activities. Gene was an effective worker in the exterior society, while I had been relegated to the inner world and shadow of our common culture.

“And we will walk to Zion through its ruins…”  God only knows what this means! Stuff is still pending after 9/11 and who knows what or where this “Zion” is? Perhaps it is still somewhere in our cultural shadow--our Zarahemla?!

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