Make Life a Mythic Journey
“It is always worth itemizing happiness, there is so much of the other thing in life, you had better put down the markers for happiness while you can.”
—-Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture (p. 141)
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
I have been asking the question, “How and where do we find spirituality?” And I have proposed that one place is nature where its awesome, overwhelming beauty can transport us to a transcendent pantheistic place of connection and numinous spirituality. But, a recent experience let to a profound expansion of that view. It occurred at a memorial service for a man I had not seen or had contact with for almost 30 years. His name was Robert Perloff, and he had been a professor at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.
Late last spring, I had a sudden premonition that Bob had died. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from his daughter, Linda, the wife of a former student, confirming that Bob had indeed passed away. Linda was planning a memorial service for her father and invited me to attend. Remembering the lesson I’d taken away from David McCullough’s biography, Truman, on how the late President had always honored his friends and acquaintances by attending their funerals and memorials no matter what, I immediately told Linda “I’ll be there.” “There” was this past August 17 in the atrium of Mervis Hall, the home of the business school at Pitt where Bob had been a professor since 1969.
At the time I was reading Sebastian Barry’s spiritually uplifting novel, The Secret Scripture, and came across the quote above – an inspirational variant on “count your blessings.” It was only then that I became aware of the “happiness” that Bob Perloff had brought into my life back in the mid-1970’s as I struggled to recreate an academic career at Northwestern University after a disastrous false start at Duke. Jung always maintained that the growth of personal consciousness, which he called “individuation,” was our most important life task. It was, ironically, as if Bob’s death had brought me a greater appreciation of life.
When I entered the Mervis Hall atrium, I saw a woman completing the arrangements for the service and immediately recognized her as Linda Perloff, as she simultaneously recognized me. We hugged and exchanged greetings and condolences. I told her that I came to acknowledge Bob’s gifts to me and publicly say “thanks” at last. She said I could make a statement after the formal ceremony and remarks.
It was a very magical memorial service and it made me feel that Bob had not really died, but had just departed to another dimension. His presence there was palpable and the testimonials to him were both deeply moving, especially Linda’s eulogy that brought me to tears, and inspiring. Bob had embraced life fully and had bestowed his gushing enthusiasm and generosity to all he encountered including me.
When I finally spoke, I publicly proclaimed my debt of gratitude to Bob. While many speakers had observed that Bob often encouraged them to work through “the hand they were dealt,” I added that, in fact, Bob was the “hand” that “dealt” me a new lease as an academic psychologist. He had played a major role in both the award of a post-doctoral, research training grant and the publication of an important article in the premiere psychological journal that re-launched my career and carried me through my remaining time as a professor. But, more importantly, I noted by reading the above quote, that he brought happiness to my life as well as those of others. I concluded by turning to the photo of him placed near the lectern and said, “It is long overdue, but ‘thank you, Bob.'” It was then that I felt his spiritual embrace and, although it may have been the lighting, what clearly seemed to me to be a knowing wink.
So, the memorial service for Bob Perloff delivered an unexpected third happiness – contact with what James Hollis and Richard Rohr call the Mystery, a spiritual connection to others that transcends life itself. Finally, as my wife and I took our seats on the plane departing Pittsburgh, a man asked if the window seat next to us was available. He looked remarkably like a younger version of Bob Perloff and he was carrying a copy of Truman by David McCullough.
August 26, 2103