Something rather wonderful, unexpected and bizarre has happened. In tracking down the set of books for the independent seminar I am taking this summer, I have stumbled upon the work of my mother’s mentors. I had a notion that they might be relevant and related to the field that I’ve landed in, but I had no idea just how close this connection would be.
When I was growing up, I would ask my mother about her time at college, and she would talk lovingly of several people: Floyd Henry Allport and Dan Katz, and some others whom I don’t remember so well, some of whom she didn’t adore so much. Floyd Henry Allport, I have discovered, was the father of social psychology. I am studying Org Comm and Technology, and I work in technology in higher ed, but all these ideas fall within similar territory.
My mother was all but dissertation, and had done very well in her college career, and it was a great mystery why she never finished her degree. She said it was because she had given birth to me, whom she adored and was the best thing that ever happened to her (God, how she loved me!) and because my father needed her to work for his business. But that answer never fully satisfied.
I was raised in a very secular home, where only other people, weak people, needed to believe on God. We didn’t need to, because we were smarter and stronger than that, and we had Floyd and his theories about structure: grand important theories about how the world was. She would try to explain them to me, late at night, tucking me into bed, as I now talk to my son about how God loves us, and we love him, and how the Trinity is like the body, mind and spirit. And how we are a part of God, and there is a part of God in us, and that it’s all good. She would talk of time being spiral, of people all being interconnected, and how things just happened, in a random way, without us being able to control it. Much of my younger life was influenced by this theology of random fate. It lead me to do many foolish and reckless things, and ultimately, for her to regret that she had not raised me in a religion, with all the comforts and guidance that structure has to offer.
My mother eventually returned to college mid-life, to seminary to become a minister. She baptized me only weeks before she passed away from leukemia, with water she had collected herself from the Holy Land. She fought cancer for 10 years, and had been inspired to go back to college after a chemo drug-induced white light experience where God told her to get back to her real work. At first, she thought it was going back to social psychology to finish her dissertation. Somehow, it became about going to seminary, which I believe was about her trying to accept that God loved her, despite her faults. In any case, it was a brave and noble journey, and I was damn proud of what she accomplished, and who she became.
Still, this mystery of social psychology was the religion of my childhood. There was a truth to it, a truth I still feel and sense, of patterns and order, and the balance of disorder, that is not couched in traditionally religious terms. But to me, science and religion seem like parallel metaphors. I am at a conference for learning and technology, where there there is talk of disruption, and doing, and making, and social justice. How strange, how beautiful, the connections of thought, experience, matter, and life.
So, a few days ago, I am on a plane to Boston, excited to tour MIT and Harvard, and I am reading a book that I’ve been assigned by Karl Weick, a lovely little 1960′s book with a modern orange and blue torn paper design cover, and one of the first references is to Floyd Henry Allport. And then another by Daniel Katz, yes, that Dan Katz. And the language, and the ideas, yes, they are so familiar, and yet, I am seeing them now from an adult’s eyes. Not a child’s. More critically, perhaps, but they still have meaning. I have to stop and catch my breath, and look out the window at the infinite, patient clouds, who know how much I need to know my mother’s mind.
Before the trip, I skyped with my brother, who was living with my mother still when she had her white light experience. I asked him to confirm the part about her first thinking she needed to finish her dissertation. He said “oh yeah, that’s what she was talking about all right. She was like, manic. She was talking a blue streak. But she wasn’t making any sense, at least to me.” We both remembered that the doctors had called it a psychotic break. They changed her chemo drugs and she was much better after that, and decided that it wasn’t her dissertation, but seminary as the next step for her.
But here I am, twenty years after her white light experience, and nearly fifty years after she gave up academia to become a homemaker, at a hotel in Cambridge, having danced to 80′s music last night with the academic technology director from MIT. I am awed and inspired by the creativity of the MIT students and teachers, and Harvard seemed not so different from my dear home at the 40 Acres in Austin.
Tomorrow, I am going to hook up with my mother’s partner. She was with my mother all through those years from seminary to preacher to Sunnyside, where she died. We are going to visit my mother’s grave together. I haven’t been there since we buried her. Faye says she has some of my mother’s old papers to give me. I can’t wait to see what’s in them.
My mother has been gone twelve years. Yet I feel her closer to her tonight than I have in eons.
And I am still awed that I can blog about this, and post it right now, for all the world to see, even if no one looks. It is here. It is real data and evidence of a personal phenomena, made possible and transparent through technology and academia, despite all our faults.
Because fundamentally, I think all of us, artists and scientists, believers and biologists, we are aiming for the same truth, through different methods, different perspectives, different histories and cultures. And this internet technology, the reality of digital (and physical) networks, holds the promise of bringing this truth, and us, all together.
And that is the way that I believe time and the universe works.
Namaste to you for reading this far, and may all the forces of nature be with you, now and throughout your spiral journal through time.