BEGINNINGS and ENDINGS
The first picture is of our granddaughter standing triumphantly on her front steps just before leaving for her first day in First Grade. All the preparations have taken place: new clothes, new book bags, countless conversations about what to expect the first day of this most auspicious occasion. She stands holding Miller, her tuxedo cat in her arms, just before kissing him good-by, and just before symbolically closing the door on her early childhood that was so very brief for all of us who delighted sharing her emerging spirit, curiosity, and sense of wonder these past six years.
The second picture is of my wife's aging parents. Now in their eighties, life is collapsing around them, confining him to an Alzheimer's ward, and she to an assisted care community that supports her precarious faltering movement with her ever-present walker. You see in their eyes the familiar memories receding and escaping their reach, leaving embarrassing lacunae in their conversations.
Strange. I feel somewhat disoriented as I place myself between these two pictures. This is what it is like, I think, "to be at sea" and caught in the turbulence that occurs when two strong currents intersect, when the day is drearily foggy with strong chilling winds and cascading waves.
Psychologically it is to be caught between the two very powerful opposites of a beginning and an ending. But I know also that in the back of my mind there is still a force trying to bubble up. That force is the symbolic meaning of these images I see in the pictures.
Each picture re-presents a symbolic image that reaches ancient and universal depths in us. Knowledge of those depths may be used both for understanding and serving one another, but also for exploiting each other politically, economically, and militarily.
For example, take the phrase "morning in America." It suggests a beginning, hope, promise, maybe even an advantageous moment in national life that already has passed by nations, but not America. Those associations so evocative of quite strong emotions may be employed for good or bad. They may be used for political gain and destructive ends, or for the marshaling of efforts for the benefit and well-being of all. All of that is to say that the archetypal image of a "beginning" has the capacity to unleash great energy that may be destructive or beneficial depending upon the "coloration" it is given.
In the same way, at the other end of this spectrum of opposites, the image of an "ending" also has the potential to animate people in bizarre ways. Consider, for example, the image of "ending" as it is conveyed by current preoccupations with "the end of the world."
The archetype can be traced back to our human origins, as all the world's religions have some variation of this notion of an ending for all things. But there are periods in human history when an image of the end of the world erupts with volcanic power and seizes the minds of people. I think we are living in one such time, witnessed by: (1) wide-spread references to the ancient Mayan calendar that supposedly projects the end of the world in December, 2012; (2) interpretations of some prophecies by Nostradamus thought to name 2012 as an end time; (3) blogs, books, and the establishing of particular communities in preparation for civilization's collapse and/or the extinction of the planet; and (4) the best-selling "left-behind" series of books that predicts a rapture in which true believers will be taken up to heaven before the imminent destruction of the world by God, at a date sometime specifically named by many other religious fundamentalist groups.
But enough of these examples that, I hope, point out how an archetypal image can seize the minds of groups of people with unforeseen consequences economically, politically, and socially. To return to my earlier metaphor, this is what happens to us psychologically when we experience ourselves being "at sea," caught in the turbulence of forces acting on us and all around us.
And so, you may wonder, how have I dealt with the turbulence felt in the cross-currents of my two pictures? Let me describe it most briefly like this. When I face my thoughts and feelings, when I do not ignore them or let my attention be diverted , when I get disentangled from the thoughts and feelings, the turbulence clears. It is then not so much that the feelings and thoughts and images have me under their control, but rather that I have them.
The pictures are the same, my feelings are the same; but I am different.