This is really Coming Clean. Full Circlewas once the title of my book Involution, about the omnipresence of memory guiding events. Here you have it. Full Circle in a day.
In the cross hairs of today the past came tumbling in. Not only my own, but the wider circumstances of echoes, of history and the continuing influences of the present past. Nothing is ever incidental, or accidental, everything contributes. They all take a particular shape by being connected to me, and what that shows is dominantly the ‘yes’: But ‘no’ is always present because their correlations are not simple. So there is more to them and if clear for one, that means for everyone.
I will lay out ingredients. Starting with today.
First thing: I opened a blog post from Sivan Butler-Rotholz’s site called As it Ought to Be. The poem she published was called
HOPE, TRUTH, FEAR, AND MY SPIRITUAL QUEST. YES! By Stephanie Wellen Levine.
I had never heard of Stephanie Levine The poem searches for the spiritual meaning to be found in everyday encounters and asks (more than once) ‘Isn’t there more?’
I was so taken with it I re-posted it on here ( see below). I then turned to other work, notably some preparation for ‘selling myself’ to possible agents by writing a literary CV in bullet points. One of those bullet points was this:
Surviving an unrepentant cross-dressing Nazi landlady in Bavaria. Her name was Frau F***, she played Schubert on a windup gramophone, and sailed off in a Mercedes Cabriolet to preserve medieval Regensburg from modernity and take tea with Herbert Von Karajan.
Frau Fick (yes German meaning as discreetly indicated) was the widow of a Roderich Fick who worked on Hitler’s Berghof with Albert Speer. While staying in her eleventh century mill I encountered unadulterated Nazism within a short drive of Dachau concentration camp. So I refreshed my facts by reading about Speer who largely escaped the death sentence by acknowledging that he should have known about the holocaust but chose not to. So for him it was ‘no’ but actually really ‘yes’.
While reading this entry in Wikipedia a pop up happened alerting me to a new post from Watkins Bookshop where a lecturer called Philip Pegler was talking about his new biography of a man called Martin Israel. He had been married by Martin Israel ( once he had turned priest) and adopted him as a spiritual mentor and guide. The book was about how to deal with evil and exorcism, and during this lecture he mentioned that the esteemed Martin Israel was not immune to possession and once had had to deliver an Easter sermon while confronted throughout with it.
It happens I knew Martin Israel very well, and I was, I suspect, the ‘evil’ that sat throughout his Good Friday Service. I too had adopted him as a spiritual mentor from a distance ( I was awaiting a divorce in Mexico). He wrote frequently to exhort me to maintain my spiritual path and secure my ‘radiant spirit’ It was giving me rather a hard time. When I reached England and called on him to ask for his help in recovering from a profound series of mystical experiences he summoned the police and committed me to a mental hospital. I escaped and, believing he had mistaken my appeal, ( which was for a referral to a whitewashed room in a monastery where I could recover- since he gave retreats at all of them and held the keys so to speak) I returned to his flat in Kensington. Before I was even admitted over the threshold he re-called the police and I was recommitted on a police order without a single word being exchanged. In one of the most notorious mental hospitals in Epsom I was shackled to a bed with wrist bands in a locked ward. The day room was filled with the terminally deranged in strait jackets and catatonics. If I escaped I would be returned compulsorily. I was threatened with a frontal lobotomy and nobody knew I was there!
So much for the spiritual ‘loving’ Martin Israel. He had abused not only my trust but his position as a lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons. He was not a clinician but was prepared to end my sentient life! On the authority of his letterhead. At the time it was incomprehensible, but very frightening.
Shortly after he became truly ill, and incapacitated, requiring round the clock nursing but nothing medically wrong was discovered. He recovered slowly and took orders in the Anglican Church. When I had first met Martin Israel at a conference on Nature Man and God at Culham College, Oxford he was verbally violent about any religious orthodoxy. ‘These people have not begun to wake up’ he said of the assembled clergymen, one of which, the Chairman Richard Milford, had been Chancellor of Lincoln and Master of the Temple, who became a close friend of mine after the Conference. It was he and his wife who rescued me before the lobotomy after Martin Israel has written to them to say they should have nothing to do with me ever again. They ignored that and instead collected me from the hospital and asked me to drive them home!
Which brings me back to the Good Friday Service in Sherborne Abbey: I went to show Martin Israel my ‘recovered’ rational sanity and as I filed past him at the door I held out a hand ’Hello Martin’ I said. He looked straight through me without a sign of recognition. ‘I knew but I chose not to know’ Yes and No. He took the next hand proffered.
That next hand belonged to a woman who had taught me Theology in South Africa. I had not seen her for twenty five years, nor expected her to be there, but she had recognised me and hastened up behind.
‘Do you know him?’
‘I did once’ I said.
‘Well he didn’t recognise you!’ she said, sceptical. Martin Israel was too important to know her ex pupil.
‘Yes he did; he chose not to acknowledge it’ I said.
Yes and No.
Fifteen years after this service this my mother died in Swaziland and I went to bury her. The presiding woman priest at her funeral service had been in Swaziland for only three years. Although she had ruined the occasion ( another story) I invited her to lunch to thank her. On the bank of a sullen river, in a valley of oppressive heat with cicadas almost drowning the narrative, this priest told me she had formerly been a nurse and nursed Martin Israel during this collapsed state during which he had no control of bodily functions, but it was clear he was phobic about women physically. She was convinced his illness was due to repressed homosexuality to which he could not reconcile himself. Her view was that the priesthood was a shelter from himself. Whether true or not it helped me. Yes and No
My mother dies: I go from England to Swaziland to meet the only person who could corroborate my own near death/destruction and offer an explanation that made sense.
After listening to the eulogy in Philip Pegler’s lecture today about a man now being lionised and while wondering whether to write about this I received an email from a long standing virtual friend. Brian George has been the most generous supporter of my writing and we have communicated constantly for perhaps three years. He simply wrote to say that he did not realise I knew the poet Stephanie Wellen Levine but that she was a frequent visitor to his salon in Boston. He assumed I must! I had merely read her poem this morning. Yes and No.
Many years ago I wrote an imaginative story ‘The Obituary’ about a memorial service for Martin Israel when I knew he had died. My way of laying him to rest ( and getting small restitution). Since I had had no knowledge of him since that dreadful time I set it in a part of London that I know well. During this lecture today in which Philip Pegler was pegging out Martin Israel’s last years he named the church at which Martin Israel presided ‘Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road’. The reason I know the area well is because my daughter was at The Royal College of Music, almost opposite. That was where the service happened in the story. So again today I discovered I wrote truth, without any knowledge of Martin Israel’s terminal career as a priest. Holy Trinity is right where I planted him. I knew but I did not know. Yes and No.
Evil denied, knowledge denied, mistaken identities all gathered up to weave with unerring synchronicity the links in the chain. It began with a poem and called up friends, the past and the clearest signposts of well thumbed evil in Bavaria. You could not put it in a novel and be taken seriously!
Mindblowing. Even though I knew all of that. When it strikes so coherently it affirms the Yes Yes Yes. As it Ought to Be. As it is.
P.S. The Milford’s ( my rescuers) daughter married the son of the Founder of Watkins Bookshop, and I gave a talk there three years ago. Nothing is for Nothing.
Addendum ( I hope you will read this because it changes everything.)
Many readers known to me, and perhaps a few that might find their way here will find this searing and personal post inappropriate. The conventions of blogs is to keep it light, general and, if personal, undemanding of emotional investment. I took some courage to defy all those because the circumstances of split second synchronicity arrested me and catapulted me back to a time when thought and outer event were constant companions. Hence the accusation of insanity. The co-ordinates to which I was (at that time) privy made living in time impossible. The ‘Power of Now’ when it is all there is ( for all its theoretical hype and mindfulness applications) is like being buffeted in a stormy sea. There is no anchorage if past and present are all equally available and indistinguishable. So MY first reason for sharing it was because it came as a reminder of the richest inspiration for my life and my work. If you recall I have called Involution ‘The Book that Wrote the Life’.
BUT to implicate the role of Martin Israel and more immediately to make his biographer Philip Pegler aware of an aspect that I suspected he might not know- might prefer not to know-was almost an act of cruelty. Why did I decide to contact him? I thought long and hard before I did but in the end gave him the choice to know- if he wanted to, precisely because my own illusions about Martin Israel’s infallibility had so endangered me (and punished others). My experience of Martin was not Philip’s, and I had to trust that he would sustain his own even when accepting mine differed. It was a huge risk that he might perceive me embittered or pointlessly destructive. What I hoped was to balance what had, from his lecture, seemed an unquestioning admiring and devoted eulogy.
I took a chance and he rewarded that risk with extraordinary generosity. Let me quote from his response. First of all – thank you for taking the trouble to write as you did. It cannot have been easy after all you have been through, and although you may find this difficult to believe, I am very glad you did so. I much appreciated the searing honesty of your carefully considered communication, even though it made distinctly uncomfortable reading late at night. It is quite true that I have long respected and admired Martin, feeling grateful for the wise counsel and support I have received over the years, but I would never wish to slip into the trap of heedless admiration of anyone. I have had far too much salutary experience of my own for that.
Philip went on.
Reading your extraordinarily gripping narrative, I can now properly understand just why you are so infuriated to hear anything approaching a eulogy, such as my talk must have come over to you. You see, until now I have never had reason to doubt Martin’s integrity as you have, but I must emphasise that I have also never been under the illusion that he was perfect – and indeed he never claimed to be so in his prolific writings, acknowledging his own failings and irascibility on numerous occasions.
Your well written account of events is thoroughly convincing and I would not presume to discountenance its veracity or evade darker aspects of Marin’s personality, including the probability of his repressed sexuality. Are you aware that he was physically abused as a child by his own father and openly acknowledged it with great sorrow towards the end of his life? He claimed to be a natural celibate, which may have been true enough as far as it went, but would also seem to represent an escape from a deeper part of his all too human nature, which he could not bear to face.
What this candour and ‘meeting with Philip’ has done is to offer not merely explanation, but to offer me the chance of compassionate forgiveness, and to dissolve the hard knots of gnawing perplexity. From some deep and buried horror of his past Martin felt the need to eradicate me. It was a rejection of himself, and I move from the prevailing anger that has dogged my life to pity and forgiveness.
For that I am truly thankful, truly liberated, and grateful for a secondary rescue, not from insanity but from bitter anger. I trusted the wrong man at the wrong time, and perhaps in the wrong way, with insufficient understanding of his vulnerability. It does not exonerate what he did but I must take some responsibility for tying my tossing craft to a deeply damaged tether. It broke. That’s all.