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As a reminder, every Monday, I post an excerpt Landscape with Figures, an unpublished manuscript by my grandmother, Beatrice Allen Page, who I called Muddy. We’re nearing the end of it with only another 35 pages to go. I do have other unpublished works of hers (along with her published works), but none in the style of a journal, so not as easy to break up for weekly posts, so I’m still figuring out if and how to continue with our Mondays With Muddy. I’ll keep you posted, of course. Anyway, here is the next excerpt from the current manuscript:

‘Over at the hairdresser’s I picked up one of the expensive, sophisticated women’s magazines and while sitting under the dryer, I read my horoscope for the month. The prevalence of horoscopes in magazines is another indication of the widespread interest today in the occult and the esoteric, in everything from witchcraft to I Ching.

Why are so many people ‘looking for a sign?’ Are they unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives and decisions? Are they caught in a hopeless bewilderment that makes them grasp at any straw? I suspect most of them would indignantly reject such a suggestion. They probably feel they are seeking not escape from life but greater intensity of life. Instead, however, of searching out the mysteries of existence with patience, humility and awe in the way of previous generations, so many people today see to be looking for a quick and easy road to heaven. Unfortunately a lot of the shortcuts apparently lead to hell.

To dabble in the occult has always been recognized as dangerous. You may stir up demons that get out of hand and take over control. I begin to sound like Mr. Hollis despite the fact the demons to which I’m referring are born and lurk in the dark hollows of the human mind. (As a matter of fact, if I truly believed in a creative, just and loving God, instead of being one of those who are ‘lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,’ I think the Lucifer myth would offer as plausible an explanation as any other I’ve ever heard for the presence of evil in the world.)

But even if I can’t quite accept Mr. Hollis’s belief in demon-possession, I find it is not at all hard for me to believe that hatred is a force that can erupt in some event that has no apparent relationship to the hater. Sometimes when I read about some cold-blooded murder or ghastly accident, the uneasy thought creeps into my mind that I myself may have had something to do with that bloodshed even though it took place thousands of miles away and is utterly abhorrent to me. It is as if some of the rancor, the meanness, the callousness in my own heart and mind seeped through the body of humankind like a poison in the blood and broken out eventually in violence. Not because my personal thoughts and feelings are working some kind of sorcery akin to casting the evil eye on someone, but because we are all more closely related than we realize. I’m not talking about what people mean by ‘collective guilt’ when they blame society for a crime that has been committed by an individual. I mean something much less obvious, something hidden like a malignant cell that proliferates and spreads to another part of the body before it becomes manifest.

If this were true –  and apparently I have almost persuaded myself that it is – then there is a positive as well as a negative side to it: my good will as well as my malice, my joy as well as my despair, could have an influence on some person or some event either near at hand or far away.

I remember now what B. said to me once when her son was in Vietnam: ‘I pray that Bill’s life will be saved. I can’t conceive of a God who would save one boy’s life because he had a mother praying for him  but would let another boy be killed because he didn’t happen to have anyone pray for him. But I do feel an obligation to keep my spirits up as much as possible, not only for Bill’s sake but for all the other boys involved.’ She groped around for words, trying to explain what she meant. ‘I have a conviction that minds touch one another, that moods may set up waves or vibrations that travel great distances in space and time and affect the thoughts and moods of others.’ She smiled a little wryly, I recall. ‘Call it superstition if you like. I’ve no doubt the psychiatrists have an even less flattering word for it.’ And then catching the look on my face, she added, ‘I suppose you, too, think it’s a crazy notion.’

When I assured her that I found some of the evidence for ESP very convincing, she shook her head and said: ‘I mean something more than that. It’s as if all the people in the world were roped together by an invisible rope, climbing a mountain. Each one has to exert all possible effort not to slip, not just for his own sake but because if he loses his footing, it’s going to pull down the next man who’s roped to him, and then the combined weight of the two falling will exert even more of a pull on those on either side of them, and so on. Of course, people will slip from time to time, people who are in more dangerous spots or who may have less strength. That’s all the more reason for those with a firmer footing or more strength to hold tight and keep climbing.’

Her analogy doesn’t answer the age-old question as to why some of us should have ‘a firmer footing,’ i.e., the opportunity to lead lives of freedom and security while others never have a chance to know anything but war and horror, of deprivation and grief. >That question is as unanswerable as ‘Why is that dog for?’