A Sharing by Joseph Shore
Some of you, dear readers, will remember from my earlier sharing on Raising A Child of God, that I had a challenging childhood. My father was an abusive, angry man. I described how he made it a family celebration to drown kittens when I was four years old. I also described how my maternal grandparents offered me a different view of the world which saved me. They were farmers who saw the loving connection between all living things. When you see that, it is not possible to be abusive. As a child, I was caught in a “war” of perception which has accurately been used to refer to the World of Abnormal Rearing. But it was also, from the point of view of ACIM, a war between wrong-minded perception and right-minded perception. My parents modeled the former and my maternal grandparents modeled the latter. I spent as much time as possible with my grandparents.
In the Garden of Eden it was a talking snake that distracted Adam and Eve from perfection. The snake has been talking ever since in us through the process of thought and conditioning. WE are the talking snakes to our children. WE want them to eat of the tree of the “knowledge” of good and evil. That would be our conditioning, our perceptions, our limitations, our fears and prejudices. It is not knowledge at all. It is just our opinions, beliefs and prejudices that we have projected. And we are perfectly content to rob the child of his innocence, his perfection, and leave him with his nakedness before a meaningless world. We are content to receive nothing of the child’s heavenly birth right but make him a clone of our own conditioning! Is this not the heart of cruelty? Is this not a violation? Is this not an attack on God?
After the drowning of the kittens, my childhood years were spent in trying to understand things. I found solace in nature and imagination. It seems to be that abused children often appear to be psychic, perhaps due to dissociation necessary for survival. I could read people as a boy, tell things about them just by looking at them. I did not know it was unusual. Sometimes information about someone would come to me in dreams or visions. Sometimes dreams just clarified my inner conflicts. One of my dreams took place at my grandparent’s house in the country. In the dream, my parents and grandparents were huddled behind the couch with rifles in their hands. They were waiting to ambush my friends who were just pulling up to the house. There was a torrent of gunfire and laughter as they enjoyed killing my friends! I had this dream many times as a boy. The dream came from my life on the farm. We raised chickens from little baby chicks. I would often crawl into the brooder house and play with them. As they grew into chickens in our yard I regarded them as my friends. I was deeply disturbed at the nonchalant way in which my grandparents would kill them for dinner. Grandpa would chop off their heads and grandmother would ring their necks. Then the plucking of feathers, the singeing, the gutting and cutting was horrible for me to witness. I had identified with animals from the horrible drowning of the cats. It was unthinkable to me that we had the right to eat animals! It was so inconsistent. While watching my grandmother work one day in her flower garden I asked her if we should pick some and bring them into the house. She explained that the flowers belonged alive in the garden. If we picked them they would die! I got it! But then why didn’t the chickens belong alive in the chicken yard? It was explained to me in Sunday School that God made the animals just for us to eat them. They didn’t have souls. Somehow this explanation did not sit well with me! I didn’t buy it!
In another recurring dream I would find myself in a mental hospital, strapped to the bed. I was quite sane and did not understand why I was being held. The doctors and nurses would occasionally come in and look at me, but they were the ones who were insane. They laughed hysterically and behaved irrationally. I would often work myself loose from the straps and try to escape but each time I would be caught and taken back. One final time I broke loose and ran down the hall to the escape exit and plunged into daylight. I then could look back and see where I had been held captive. It was the First Baptist Church of Carthage Missouri! I never had that dream again!
In a vision, as a small boy of eight, I was sitting up in the top of a tree in our backyard, a tree I loved climbing. As I was up there my father walked into the back yard, his head in his hands, weeping. I had never seen my father cry but in this vision he was sobbing. In that moment I saw his life and the source of his anger. I spoke to him from the tree top and said, “You are sad because grandpa Shore got sick and you had to leave school, get a job and support the family.” Dad answered, “He sure beat hell out of any potential I ever had.” In his sophomore year in high school, his father, Vernon Shore, had gotten sick. Warren was the oldest of a family of ten and it was up to him to get a job and support the family. He did that but never returned to school. He harbored the perception that he had been victimized his whole life. Other people had quit school and resumed later. Why couldn’t Warren? There were other psychopathological elements in Warren’s personality that gave him his sadism and misogynism but from that day as an eight year old boy I began to understand my father a little and I began to think of forgiveness. I didn’t yet know how I could do it. Nothing had prepared me for what true forgiveness would be like. In my mind, I wanted him punished for his abusive ways, then I would think about forgiving him. Of course that never happened and neither did forgiveness. I clung to my grandpa and grandmother.
I thought the worst thing I could imagine would be the death of my grandfather. But when I was 9 our family moved out of the truck farm house and into the big city of Carthage, about five miles away. I gladly rode my bicycle back out into the country to be with grandmother and grandpa. But then one day Hercules Powder Plant blew up. The explosion could be felt as far away as Tulsa, 120 miles away. The explosion was just a quarter of a mile away from my grandparents’ house. Our family got into the car and drove out to Powder Town to check on my grandparents. We got to within a half mile of them before we met a road block. Dad and a few other men set off walking through the woods to try to reach their house while we drove back to Carthage to wait. They had survived the blast without injury but their house was damaged beyond repair. My childhood paradise had been destroyed. They moved into Carthage after that, at my father’s urging. Things were never the same. They lost that sense of freedom and joy that living in the country brought to them.
I grew up and became an opera singer. It didn’t matter to them. They loved me still. The rest of the clan thought of me as the black sheep in the family and would often say, “Warren and Beulah’s boy ran off to the big city to become an opry sanger. We never could understand what got into him.” Nevertheless grandpa and grandmother still loved me.
In his 80’s grandpa often wondered why he was permitted such a long life. He would often say, “All my friends are dead. Everybody I knew is dead. Why me? Why am I still alive?” But alive he was and still able to plow his small garden and drive his car.
He had a small infection when he was 90 and the doctor wanted to treat him in the hospital just to be careful. It was not supposed to be anything big. The night before he was to go into hospital, he called my grandmother to him and said, “Now Lena, I want you to know I am going to die now.” Grandmother told him, “George, don’t talk like that. You’re not that sick.” But he protested in what for him was a pretty heated way, “I know what I’m talkin’ about Lena. I’m going to die now!” He went into hospital the next day.
I was living in New York and didn’t discover any of this until afterwards. One morning, around 4:00AM or so, I was awakened in the spirit. My body was still asleep, but it was if my spirit were awake and observing. I saw two angels holding my grandpa, one under each arm. They were taking him around the earth to allow him to say goodbye to certain places and people. He wanted to see me. He was young and happy and full of excitement. He looked down and saw me in my apartment asleep and said, “Why there’s Joe down there.” Then he went on his journey. The next day I knew that the worst thing I could imagine had happened. My grandpa had died. I called home and found out that he had indeed passed away about the time that I saw him in spirit. I never had any further visions of my grandpa after that. It was sort of disappointing in a way. But there was such finality about that last vision. Grandmother was inconsolable at the funeral. When the vows say, “till death do we part,” it really means it. Marriage belongs to this earthly realm. It cannot be extended into spirit. When grandmother died not long afterwards, I did not get a parting vision of her, but in the weeks after her death she came to me in dreams many times. She was young and happy and just wanted to contact me. I asked her about how grandpa was and she gave me a very interesting answer that did not fit in with my world view at the time. She said, “I am not with grandpa now. We are all spread out here like stars in the sky according to our distance from God.” I had no idea what she was talking about. Could it be that we are all on our journey back to God? Could it be that there was a time before time when we were all a part of God, all one with Him, all whole, One Garden?
In 1994 I found myself near death from heart disease. I was hearing an internal Voice then and my near death status turned into a four-month-long life review as I waited for the Canadian medical system to put my name at the top of the list for surgery. Back in my hometown of Carthage my father went into the hospital at the end of June for what was supposed to be a minor surgery repair of a hernia. Something told me however that this was the end of the line for Dad. The doctors gave us a progressive litany of worsening prognoses. Finally, they told the family that he was not leaving the hospital. I knew that part of him had faith in a life after death, but I also sensed that part of him was very frightened because he felt that he had failed in some important aspects of his life, one of those being in his relationship with his son. Those failures tore at him very deeply. Involved in my own near-death struggle I could not go to Missouri to be with him. We braced ourselves for the fact that he could die at any time. But I had much unfinished emotional business with Dad which I did not want to leave without closure. I also wanted to help him in his final hours.
I prepared a special time when I would be alone in the house, and began to pray for Dad. I asked God to let him know that I forgave him for all the things between us that he held against himself. I asked God to tell Dad I that it was all right for him to let go and go on if that is what he needed to do, but if he was supposed to fight and stay with us, that was all right too. I wanted him to know that I supported him in his decision, one way or the other. For some reason it was important to me to sing my prayers for him. I do not know how long this final song lasted, quite some time I think, maybe an hour or two. I had little sense of time as I was doing it.
My son, Tom, was to have his birthday in just two days, and I really did not want Dad to die on Tom’s birthday. So he didn’t. Tom had a wonderful birthday. Dad died the following day, July 10, 1994. The night he died, I had an archetypal dream about seeing someone off on a ship. It was Dad. The next morning I thought that he had passed over. Sure enough, he had. I was somewhat disappointed that I had not had a full parting vision but I knew he understood now that everything was OK between us. I just missed the good-bye. Finally, two days later, in the early hours of the morning of his funeral in Missouri, I awoke in the spirit while my body was fast asleep.
I was in a very special kind of railroad station looking for Dad. I was a little kid pushing through enormous crowds of people who were waiting to board this train. I was in a great hurry as I knew this train was about to leave. Then I saw him from behind. I knew it was him. I called to him, “Daddy, Daddy.” He turned around with a big smile all over his face. I ran to him and jumped into his arms. I remember the feeling. I looked into his eyes. I remember those eyes. He was young and looked somewhat differently than in life, but there was no mistaking him. All of the cares and worries, doubts and fears, insecurities and self judgments, were gone from his face. Instead, there was this pure love, all throughout him which gave him his new substance. I hugged him and said, “I love you Daddy.” He squeezed me. I remember that squeeze, and he said, “I love you too.” And then he made a little joke to make sure I knew I wasn’t just dreaming this. He knew I would remember it. He said, “You see, I’m a little thinner now than I used to be.” He was now spirit, not flesh. Then he boarded that train. A few hours later his funeral was conducted in Carthage. The whole town showed up for the funeral. In his later years he had become a beloved figure in that little town. He kept his secrets with him. Whatever punishment he received, he gave himself.
In most people’s childhood there were moments of love and moments of pain. We live with the fact that there was a snake in the garden, but in time, we see that it was beautiful nevertheless. Though unable to forget them, the bad times can never compete with the wonder and beauty of the garden, with flowers that never got cut, with baby chickens and old dogs named Ginger, with the fresh, clean smell of the air after a thunderstorm, with grapes and berries, pecans and pear trees, with sun-ripened watermelons, and corn picked with our own hands, with homemade bread and canned preserves, with quilting bees and a neighborhood awash in friendliness, with trips to the river—for the river was always around us– and returns to the garden, with the best days of family. The garden is my memory. I will hold to that. I wish I could take my garden and give it to others. But to each has been given his own. Not everyone’s garden looks the same, and in some the snake was more present than in others. But if you will look now, there is something of a garden to remember and hold to. When I leave this world I expect to visit the garden once again. I know grandmother and grandpa are waiting there for me. To them it will seem as if they only just arrived, or as if they never left. The tool shed door will still need fixing and the well water will still satisfy. Old Ginger will still follow grandpa’s every step and an old three legged cat, Smokey, will still climb trees. The mimosa tree will still attract the humming birds and the clothes dry clean on the line. And the River will still flow just nearby. The snake did not win. The garden stays, fixed in my heart with love that was true.