I’ve been musing recently on what it’s all about. I mean, what is the point of running around giving performances, writing books and articles, injecting a bit of storytelling into various leadership programmes? What difference does any of it make? The world is going to hell in a handcart and I spend my time trying to persuade people that they should spend more time telling and listening to stories!
But in the midst of this despair and self-pity, I recall that two men who have inspired me in different ways have both died within the past few weeks. My personal acquaintance with each was slight. The first was archetypal psychologist James Hillman; the second was singer-songwriter Jackie Leven. Both men poured their lives into their work. They too may have wondered occasionally what it was all about but that didn’t stop them writing or making music.
I met James a decade ago when he hosted an intimate conversation about Shakespeare’s Tempest. His opening remark still rings in my ears: “Let us consider what constitutes right conduct when the ship is going down?” I no longer recall the detail of what followed but I do remember his passionate energy and iconoclastic questioning of our comfortable assumptions about the ways of the world. He was already in his mid-seventies and I still look to him as a role-model for male elderhood.
Jackie was a fellow participant in a Wild Dance event for men in the 1990s. It was my first exposure to any kind of “menswork” and I was frankly terrified. Jackie took me under his wing that day and listened appreciatively as I spoke about feeling that I had spent much of my life hiding the fire in my belly. He listened and he challenged me to stop hiding it; he was close behind me as I symbolically stood in front of the whole group and unveiled the light from a torch (a borrowed bicycle lamp as I remember) from under my clothing and claimed my place as a man among men.
So I have particular reasons to be grateful to both men who touched my life in ways that were highly significant for me but probably unknown to them. They were simply being themselves and doing their work. They left their mark in a myriad of unintended and unexpected ways. The world is richer for their lives and poorer for their passing. I salute them and give thanks.
In lighting a candle for each of them I am reminded of a saying of Confucius: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Then I think back to where this post began and I realise that is what it’s all about.