Concept Exchange Society

ADDENDUM to our November Meeting

An Offering on Spirituality.
by David Burch

A Contribution for our October Meeting

My wife and I spend a lot of time discussing the idea of spirituality, and have thought about it at length, so it is disappointing to me that my conclusions on the topic are so few and so tentative. Our activities make it difficult to avoid the subject; in reading, writing, poetry groups, the topic always arises, and when it's my turn to speak of the spiritual aspects of my life I always pass, uncertain that I know what the group is talking about, or even whether they know what they are talking about. It always leaves me feeling miffed, perhaps deprived; what am I missing?

One of my meager conclusions about the word spirituality is that it probably does not describe or denote anything any more real than does, say, the word angel. That frees me to construct an operational definition whose only criteria are that it be useful, and close enough to what others think they mean when using the word so that they won't feel confused or hurt by my usage of it.

A story that was most influential in my life was Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer. For over fifty years I have returned to it, thought about it, and, besotted by the notion, sought my own secret sharer. I've had two successful marriages and enjoyed deep intimacy in both, but there were always areas of puzzlement, feelings I could not speak. Of course, I understand that all of Conrad's writing must be understood within the framework of his symbology, that everything is metaphor, and that each man is his own and only secret sharer. But at some point a certain amount of stubborn denial is required in life, and I needed a distinct and manifest person, an intellectual and emotional siamese twin. An idea wouldn't be his or mine, but the idea of a single mind-ours. I don't believe such a relationship could have a physiological basis (except, perhaps, in the case of real siamese twins,) so I am going to refer to its occurrence as a spiritual event.

I met Don Fry in 1967, and we fell in love with each other like teenagers. We weren1t able to get enough of each other1s company, ideas, opinions. Both about forty, we had already undergone a couple of mid-life crises. We were quite different: I was a lanky university professor of physics and Don was a short, pudgy telephone company lineman. Like the scarecrow of Oz, he thought he didn't have a brain because he didn't own a diploma, but we found congruence in our attitudes and opinions about poetry, politicians, and people. We had the impression that we were in communication with each other in ways that were almost telepathic, although we weren't so foolish as to undertake any objective test and thus risk losing the magic sense of it.

Although we had our ups and downs over the years, the sense of precise and complete communication never flagged, was always a wonder to us both. Don died in the spring of 1986, and I have thought about him almost daily since. But the captain's "other" in Conrad's story also left him, and maybe that must always be a component. Still, I wish we both could have retained something more than the image of a white sailor's hat, floating shimmering on a dark asian sea.

Oct 8, 1997
David S. Burch

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