Exploring

James celebrates his 90th birthday today. To mark the event we’re posting this additional reflection. Happy Birthday, James!

On November 11th I reach my ninetieth year. I find it hard to believe as there is still so much yet to be discovered. As I look back over my life, I am aware of a long avenue of people who have appeared, often at crucial moments, to point a way forward, or deflect me from some action that could have been harmful. And, importantly, there have been those who have not hesitated to hold up a mirror so that I might see clearly my mistakes and faults – one is indeed blessed if one has friends who are not afraid to speak the truth. I also marvel at how many of these encounters seem almost planned, as though part of an intended pattern.

I recall how, at the age of twenty-one, when I was in state close to a breakdown, I happened to be passing a Catholic church in Ogle Street in London, a church I had never before visited, and I chose to go in and make my Confession. The priest suggested I make contact with a psychotherapist in Gloucester Place. And so began many years of Jungian analysis. It was Dr Franz Elkisch who helped assemble the bits of my jig-saw so that I could discover the person I was meant to be. Time and again such meetings and encounters have happened. As Joseph Campbell expressed it so memorably, ‘One has only to know and trust and the ageless guardians will appear.’

Lest I seem complacent, all this needs to be set against a background of financial insecurity, some successes, some failures, betrayals, disappointments, doors slamming in one’s face … That also is part of the journey for each of us – how we deal with setbacks, pain and difficulty.

I have been re-reading Cicero on Old Age. At one point he says, ‘As I approach nearer to death I seem as it were to be coming to port at last after a long voyage.’  His words remind me of a painting by Margaret Neve, entitled Home-Coming. In the foreground are five robed figures, their backs to us, waiting. In the sky is an enormous full moon, its circle reflected on the surface of the sea, and in the centre of that circle of moonlight is a ship with many sails is approaching land, coming in to harbour. Is this Ulysses returning from his many voyages, or is it each of us returning home when our time comes?

Cicero followed no religion for he was a Stoic, but he seems aware of deeper possibilities beyond death when he writes,

The soul, in fact, is of heavenly origin, forced down from its home in the highest and, so to speak, buried in earth. I used to be told that Pythagoras and almost all natives of our old country, never doubted that we had souls drafted from the Universal Divine Intelligence. I used, besides, to have pointed out to me the discourse delivered by Socrates on the last day of his life, upon the immortality of the soul – Socrates who was pronounced by the oracle at Delphi to be the wisest of men. I need say no more!

For myself, however many more years I have to live on this earth, I have no fear of dying. How is this, you may ask? Many decades ago, in a dream, I was shown a boat that looked like a curled leaf. I was told that this was the vessel in which I had come to earth and that in it I would find a return ticket. I knew then that when the time comes I shall return to the place from whence I came. It was on telling this dream to Dr Elkisch that he declared, ‘Your analysis is now ended.’

Interestingly, some decades later, I experienced a variation of this dream. In it I was show oval-shaped boats, fragile as leaves, and I was invited to lie down in one. Then I was removed to a great distance and shown the whole earth, which appeared like a circle made of leaves – a complete mandala made up of the essence of all beings, inter-leaved and inter-woven. There was nothing solemn or portentous about the dream: everything in it appeared wholly natural and simple.

Joseph Campbell writes, ‘What is unknown is the fulfilment of your own unique life, the like of which has never existed on earth. And you are the only one to do it.’ Elsewhere he also writes, ‘Move, move, move into the Transcendent! Get rid of the life you have planned in order to have the life that is waiting to be yours.’

I am aware at this age of how far I have travelled; but I am also aware of journeys yet to go, for, as T.S. Eliot tells us in The Four Quartets, ‘ Old men should be explorers still.’   

12 thoughts on “Exploring”

  1. Wishing you a very Hapopy Birthday and thanking you for being one of those people who points the way forward for others. I am truly grateful for all that you communicate and share through your writing. Although we have never met, I feel a friendship between us and again, I am so grateful. With love, Elizabeth

  2. Happy Birthday, James, just to let you know I have moved from Bodenham to Ledgemoor, near Weobley and taken on a large garden with orchard plus 2.5 acres of paddocks, I hope to have a fraction of your stamina to build a wild garden and food forest using permaculture methods over the coming years.
    I have found Ledgemoor a delightful village full of friendly folk, who have taken this newly widowed pensioner under their wings.
    I still try to live by the advice of St Paul, “Let brotherly love continue, always entertain strangers, for thereby we entertain Angels unawares” I thank the late John Hensher for passing this on to me and it has always brought a host of Angels into my life, I have been blessed by all the people we met over the years from visiting Bleddfa, initiated by my much missed lovely late wife and companion Lys who attended retreats, poetry, and art gatherings over the last 30 years. Much Love Brian

  3. Dear James, Happy Birthday.
    You have gently touched so many lives, mine included. Thank you.
    I give you a gift of this poem.

    Long Wave by Sean O’Brien

    Whether you stay or go, you hear
    The water brushing at the threshold
    And the long wave comes and carries you –
    Home, home, as far as far,
    The compass gathered like a rose
    Into its bud, till you are neither
    Here nor there, or so you almost know
    At dusk and dawn, when time’s the only praise
    That counts, outsailing its creator.
    When the melancholy wave withdraws
    Into a patience you can never share,
    For half a day and half eternity you wish
    To leave yourself marooned and calling
    From the shore, until the long wave comes
    Climbing past death’s stony door again
    And spilling over till it seems
    Like something you might know, but is a wave,
    And not the first word or the last,
    Home, home, as far as far,
    The compass gathered like a rose.

  4. James, my best wishes on this auspicious occasion. On Nov. 15, I’ll celebrate my 87th, only a few years behind you. I would love to have the opportunity to sit and chat with you for awhile, but I have no current plans to visit London. Have a great celebration.

    1. dear Reid, how very good to hear from you and with such ha[ppy memories of that summer workshop up in the hills somewhere, though I forget where!! love from James

  5. Certain objects, by chance, may gain special meaning and continue to retain their significance as time goes by. My A4 size notebook, signed and dated 6 February 1982 has its connotation as a reminder of my destiny – a present from an English director/author I had left the US to meet with in London on 17 May 1980. Being unavailable to confirm with the immigration officer the academic arrangements for his tutorials on playwriting led to my being refused leave to enter the UK: for 3 hours I was interrogated at Heathrow because of my nationality, then escorted by the police and without having my personal documents I was boarded a plane at 13.30 to Tehran where the Revolution that had broken out a year before was still violently purging its opponents to consolidate its hold; my passport was also confiscated and amidst the insecurity and chaos a savage military invasion by the Iraqi army further sealed my fate: being undocumented I was also called up to join the front as a simple soldier. What I witnessed were horrendous; the war and the indifference of the outside world while we were under vicious military attacks; also, being torn between loyalty in time of war and having to return to the UK to finish off my studies was the most torturous experience, then followed nightmares and permanent flashbacks.

    Almost two years later, disoriented I arrived in Britain and met with my tutor at the British Theatre Association in London in February 1982 before embarking on an intensive training there. More memorable than his playwriting tutorials at his home in Belsize Park Gardens or his courtesy, his sincere smile and English tea and a plateful of dried fruit and nuts that always greeted me, was his genuine caring spirit in spite of being too busy: rushing to borrow a car at night, taking me to Agar Grove in London to a Christian family who offered me their small storeroom to live in for the next 6 months; he made every effort to make sure I was alright. He wrote me a note to take to ‘84 Charring Cross Road’, but all I found in the evening at 84 Charing Cross Road was an abandoned old shop almost boarded up – two years of living with uncertainty had left its mark on my mind; eventually I located a theatre where ‘84 Charing Cross Road’ play was being performed. I was given a complimentary ticket and toured the backstage. Having already seen the original bookshop I fell in love with the play.

    Later on when my six month student visa expired in the middle of my training, again it was him and his lawyers who came to my rescue at his expense, but what put me on an entirely new path were his supportive letter of recommendation on my PhD proposal and his letter of introduction to the British Library – a heaven on earth where I would passionately embark on a multidisciplinary research for the next 17 years while struggling with flashbacks and nightmares.

    In retrospect, looking at the Notebook I often wonder: Had this English director been home on 17 May 1980 to answer the Immigration officer’s call, I might have followed a different path; I might have never had to leave Iran but ended up a ‘martyr’ like 100,000s who perished during that savage war in the ’80s. His absence had been a gift from God – his name was: James Roose-Evans.

    I never thought I would one day be around to wish this inspiring human being a happy 90th birthday:

    James, may you have all the blessings, the resilience and the inner peace to continue to celebrate the 11th of November for many years to come! Happy Birthday James! And thank you once again for your hospitality, your moral support and generosity, and for that lovely A4 Notebook!

  6. James,
    As I add my best wishes to the others on your birthday, may I also say thank you for the telling of things, even as you do here, for like the guardians and guideposts projecting you on your journey, your telling of things and your letters answering me many years at a profound moment of my life, are my guideposts that helped shape my journey and helped me to the same place I read here, the life I have always been waiting for, a Self unique yet belonging to all things, a mystery, the dream, the wonder . By being on your journey, and sharing it, you have been instrumental in my journey leading me to dream and wonder and be present to deep things, for which I honour you on this day, this day marking your birth day.
    Peace and blessing be yours.
    Reg

  7. dear good Reg, how I wish we could sit by the fire and talk of this and that! but the link is there, ever since you first wrote. my publisher has asked me to keep a journal undet the title OLDER, whichnhe will then publish. I have two boos coming out, one at the end of this month, entitled BLUE REMEMBERED HILLS- A RADNORSHIRE JOURNEY, and then hopefully for St Valentine;s Day, the second book A SHARED LIFE- Two Men:One Relationship:Half-a-Century= (actually it was 54 years until Hywel died five years ago, but half a century has a better ring to it!) I will alert you when each is out. with affectionate greetings, James

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