The other day I read a German Fairy Tale (after Grimm); The Man Who Lost His Shadow. Basically the story is this:
A man of modest means enamored by the finer things in life sells his shadow to the Gray Man in exchange for all the gold he could want from a purse that has no bottom. As he acquires more and more things, he gets more deeply upset that others now reject him because he has no shadow—that's too strange for their comprehension. He seeks the Gray man again and asks for his shadow back in exchange for ‘his’ gold. It turns out the Gray Man is really the devil and will only accept the man’s soul in exchange for his shadow. Will the man sell his soul to get it back?
(Fairy tale is from Where Magic Reigns by Gertrude C. Schwebell)
* (Picture attribution at bottom)
According to Psychologist Carl Jung, the shadow is the unknown dark side of the personality, the unconscious. It’s what defines us; what we fight against to become the people we are. It has value. We either resist looking at where our beliefs come from, or we dig deep to face what’s there—a place to be explored, acknowledged and redefined in order for us to become more fully developed. It’s easier to keep the beliefs we’ve been spoon fed than examine them in a wider context.
To explore the shadow, requires honesty. I love author Flannery O’Conner’s quote, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” To put your shadow thoughts out there is courageous and many writers will not do that. They will hedge and only write what is safe. “Don’t rock any boats.” “Don’t reveal your politics.” “Don’t delve into those dark experiences/subjects or you will lose sales.”
But all the guru marketing experts agree with Aesop’s Fable:
In trying to please all, he had pleased none.
So, I’ve been second guessing some of my choices lately about posting articles on political resistance--until last Saturday. A long time friend came up with tears in her eyes and told me I saved her life; that my posts pulled her back from the edge. Her confession confirmed my decision to go there in that direction and write about the Shadow.
I love Pat Conroy’s writing and through all the miasma of political angst of late, I bought one of his books, hoping it would pull me out of my funk, A LOW COUNTRY HEART, Reflections on a Writing Life. I was finally able to make some sense of all my feelings emerging from this political season (everything from numbness to feeling depressed).
The thing affecting me the most, is how people I love and have a close relationships with, whether family or friends, could respond so differently. And now I think it has to do with the unexamined Shadow.
I want to share a quote (because I cannot paraphrase Pat Conroy) from a speech he delivered at PennCenter in 2010:
“So I came to Penn Center fifty years ago, and Penn Center does me high honor tonight. Penn Center led me by the hand to a destiny that made me a teacher; that made me become a teacher of Afro-American history, the first such course taught in a formerly white high school in South Carolina. When a job opened up on an isolate Daufuskie Island, I asked for the job because I wanted to be part of history. I knew I’d be the first white man ever to teach black children in that portion of the world and thought I’d be doing God’s work. I did God’s work with eighteen of his sweetest children.”
An official from the school district visited my school at Daufuskie after I’d been there for a month. After strolling through my class, this man commented, “Too bad they’re all retards.”
“Come back in a month. I’ll have a surprise for you. And don’t ever call my kids that again.”
He returned with four people from the county office the next month. Me and the kids were ready and waiting. My mother had given me one of her cheapo birthday presents that had the fifty greatest classical hits on it—everyone from Beethoven to Handel. Each day, I’d play that record at the end of school.
“Okay, kids, this is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Raise your hands when you hear death knocking at the door. Fall asleep when you hear Brahms’s lullaby. Run for your life, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee’s on the way.”
When those school officials walked into that room, a woman supervisor said that the music I was playing was inappropriate for children this young.
“Sallie Ann,” I said to my introductress in the sixth grade, “This nice lady thinks that music is inappropriate.”
“Perhaps she’d rather listen to Rismsky-Korsakov.” Sallie Ann said “Or perhaps Tchaikosvsky.”
I went straight through the fifty top classical hits and my kids nailed every one of them. The five officials left stunned, and were angry when I offered to test them in front of the kids.
“Most inappropriate,” the same woman said.
“That’s because none of you know the music.”
Last night, my old friend John Gadsen remembered the days of my youth when I was a hothead. I do not think I was a hothead—not then and not now. I thought I was right. I had read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bible. Segregation seemed evil from the time I was a boy. Slavery is an abomination on the American soul, and ineradicable stain on our body politic. But Penn Center lit a fire that has never gone out, and the election of President Barack Obama was one of the happiest days of my life.
You know how my story as a teacher ended. The white boys rose up and got rid of this hotheaded white boy. I never taught again. The white boys won, or so they thought. That superintendent and that school board drove me out of a job and eventually out of Beaufort. But to you, the people of Penn Center, whose ancestors survived the grueling Middle Passage and the heat of cotton fields and the whips of over seers—rejoice with me. I’m living proof that Penn Center can change a white boy’s life. You changed me utterly and I’m forever grateful to you. Yes, I was fired, humiliated, and run out of town because I believed what Martin Luther King believed. Yes, they got me good, Penn Center, but on this joyous night, let me brag to you at last: Didn’t I get those sorry sons of bitches back?”
I think Pat Conroy faced the collective Shadow; the unchallenged beliefs of his surrounding society, and resisted. Sometimes you just have to break some rules in order to stand up for who you are, whatever the consequences.
(For a wonderful movie, see Conrack is a 1974 DeLuxe Color film in Panavision based on his 1972 autobiographical book The Water Is Wide—March 27, 1974.
The novel was remade as The Water Is Wide (2006 film), a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie starring Jeff Hephner. ~Wikipedia)
*Picture taken from: Piercing the Veil of Reality