Wayne: Danger- Drama and Dilemma
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
Many students called my office, “The Shrine,” because of the plethora of rainbows, geodes, driftwood art and “precious moment” photos of Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Mendocino. I also had a small “dream catcher” that some consider a symbol of unity among the various Indian Nations, and a general symbol of identification with Native American or First Nations cultures.
Wayne arrived in the Biodesign Class with a rich Choctaw heritage, a keen curiosity, a big heart, and an open mind. For 35 years I have wondered if we met because of the dream catcher; stranger things have happened.
He discovered a recently published little book, “Jonathan Livingston Sea Gull, which, along with The Class, started him on a spiritual quest that continues to this day.
During the 24 years of Biodesign trips, I only had one student climb a tree, flap his arms like a bird and croak like a raven. It was also the only event that can only be described as a uniquely astonishing mystery. For those who have read BOFAW, it should be clear why “Wayne’s Story,” (chap 29) presented some difficult challenges. Including it would likely mean that the book would be excluded from many reading lists and most public schools and universities. The post-renaissance decline of spirituality has been accelerated by increased materialism and secular humanism. Events like his do not “belong in a science class” because they can not be “proven, predicted or replicated.” It was, nevertheless, provocative, exciting, and scary.
Galileo regarded the story of Adam and Eve as an allegory representing the time in man’s history when he became aware of the difference between good and evil. It is clear to me, that along with that knowledge, Adam incorrectly assumed that whatever “he” believed must be the truth. I am guessing that, simply because I suffer from the same affliction. What reasonable person would go around intentionally believing the “wrong” stuff? We may know Einstein’s adage by memory, and yet, when we encounter mysterious events like Wayne’s, that may conflict with what we believe or that can not be explained, we often respond with fear, anger, doubt even derision.
In Margaret Wise Brown’s classic children’s story, “The Golden Egg,” the bunny struggles with the frustration of dealing with “the unknown” in a playful manner. Unfortunately, the history of man is much bleaker. People have been, and still are persecuted, even slaughtered, for what they believe.
Especially in the early years of Biodesign, I was so excited about what the students were thinking and asking that I naively assumed that we had risen to a level of humanity that “free thinking” would not only be allowed, but encouraged. Over and over I was surprised to discover that a few students, parents, colleagues and administrators, who claimed to be “liberated thinkers”, were only liberal with their own, often narrow-minded, beliefs. Many of the great men and women, who we studied, were marginalized as quaint or obsolete and not relevant to “progressive education.”
I struggled for months wondering whether to include Wayne’s story or not. I knew it was scary when I shared it with one Biodesign Class, around a Mendocino campfire, and I suspected that it would be challenging, even scary for some BOFAW readers. It has been. I will never know how many readers have been frightened, angered, confused, or “offended,” but I do know that some have been. Many have responded about favorite chapters up to chap. 29, and then dropped off the radar screen. Self-described Christians, perhaps understandably, have responded in a highly positive manner, which has only added to my dilemma. For over 20 years I reminded critics and supporters that I was a teacher and not an evangelist or recruiter for any brand of religion. I encouraged students to think on their own, and try to filter out bias or prejudice (including mine). This is exactly what Socrates, Descartes and Maslow had recommended. However, I anticipated that a certain segment of readers would incorrectly infer that Wayne’s Story was just another poorly veiled attempt to recruit Christians. It was not. It was included because it actually happened, and it represents precisely the element of “mystery” that Einstein was referring to. I don’t fault them. I also found the story to be scary, provocative and inexplicably mysterious. In a huge irony, when Wayne began exploring his own spirituality, he deduced that “God was not logical.” Reading his story leads me to agree with his original assumption.
When the final draft of the manuscript was complete, I sought advice from several trusted friends, from a wide variety of beliefs. I asked whether the chapter should be included or not. The response was emphatic, and unanimous; all agreed that it should be.
Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined ever writing a book. Even more remotely would be the possibility that I would follow Loren Eiseley so closely that I would experience similar prejudice and rejection. He received “harsh letters of castigation” from scientists, denouncing him for being too religious. He received equally harsh letters from religious folks, who denounced him for being too scientific.
“Most people, it seems, distrust all images but their own.”
“We search and bicker and disagree; the eternal form eludes us.”
Wayne’s story has been released into the Cosmos. If it causes the book to be burned or banned, it certainly won’t be the first time for this to happen. Although it has caused me some frustration and despair, it has also provided great excitement. I join with Einstein in celebrating the pure mystery of it. As for my scientific critics?—unlike the bunny in The Golden Egg, they will eternally refuse to accept the fact that there are things, “Out There” that will never be explained scientifically. This is something that their super-inflated egos will simply not allow.