Turning Point, Part II

[This continues the first chapter of my autobiography. If you have not read the first installment, posted yesterday, you do need to in order to follow the story here.]

After I had graduated with my M.A. in Poetry from San Francisco State in June of 1968, I went to John Gildersleeve, then the Managing Editor at W. H. Freeman and Co., for whom I had done some freelance editing, and asked if he had an opening for me.

“Ordinarily I wouldn’t,” he said, “but there is a possibility.”

So, because Elmarie Hutchinson had asked if she could freelance instead of being on staff, John hired me to fill her position. For the next five years, it was the almost perfect job. For me it was relatively easy and stress-free. Not only was I good at it, but I also worked with some of the most brilliant scientists in the world, some of whom, like Fred Hoyle, had been my heroes during my teens. It also left me ample time and energy to work on our creating of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn—but I’ll come back to that.

In early 1973, just after my oldest daughter, Maeve Adair, was born (on January 12), Alta asked me if I had thought any more about going back to school to get my Ph.D. Sitting at a traffic light in Berkeley, I made the decision to do so at that instant. Maeve’s birth had forced me to grow up a little more; it was now or never. I also knew from talking with friends that at the Graduate Theological Union I would be able to design my own doctoral program, instead of being forced to study what someone else thought I should be interested in.

But I needed letters of recommendation, and almost every teacher I’d worked with had passed on, moved on, or become otherwise unreachable. Wondering what to do, I remembered the advice I’d given to Elmarie a year or so earlier. Having rejoined the staff, she had decided she needed to go earn her Ph.D. in genetics. (Publishing is one of the very few industries in which having a Ph.D. is considered an advantage rather than a disability.) But she too had lost touch with previous teachers and was wondering what to do.

“Elly,” I said, “you’ve only been working with some of the greatest geneticists in the world. Ask them. They know what your abilities are.”

“Oh,” she said. “I wouldn’t ever have considered imposing on them.”

“I don’t think they’ll consider it an imposition,” I said.

And they didn’t. The Freeman authors were generally very grateful for our work on their behalf. She asked; they wrote; she later received her Ph.D. from the University of California.

Now I needed to take my own advice. The major barrier I was facing was that the GTU worked in cooperation with the University of California, to which I needed to be admitted as a graduate student. So it came to pass that my application included letters of recommendation from John Archibald Wheeler, then the world’s greatest expert on the mathematics of relativity; Sir Fred Hoyle, astronomer and science-fiction author; and James Schevill, whom I had studied with at SF State (Wayne was later much impressed by my having the letter from Schevill, whom he considered to be one of the greatest religious dramatists of the century). Soon after I had mailed all that, I received a phone call, at 10:00 p.m., from a UC administrator, saying essentially, “You’re in! You’re in!” I did feel very smug about that.

During the last half of 1973, I studied a Greek textbook for about an hour a day, on the commuter bus from Oakland to San Francisco and back. As a result, when I began my program at the GTU in January of 1974, I could already read the New Testament in its original language, as well as the Septuagint. A translation is always someone’s opinion about what the original meant.

I resigned from Freeman at the end of 1973. Richard Warrington, then the President, was quite supportive. He commented that for the very talented people who were good editors, working there was merely a way station. I took the $5000 I had accrued in my retirement fund and prepaid for my entire doctoral program. (Those 1974 dollars were equivalent to about $50,000 now in buying power.)

Just before I began my program, Mary Hogue, a secretary at Freeman and the divorced wife of Harlan Hogue, who was somehow still a professor at the Episcopalian seminary within the GTU, recommended that I immediately look up her old friend, Wayne Rood. I did find him in a hallway on the first day of classes, gave him Mary’s regards—he was glad to hear about her—and asked if I could please enroll in his seminar on creativity.

“Well, it’s already too full, but come on,” he said.

There were 16 people in the seminar—a huge class for that graduate program—and a very varied crowd they were. There was Jim Gauer, an ex-Jesuit who had done undercover labor-union organizing in South Korea and who went down to Hollywood to edit a film whenever he ran out of money. Kent Nerburn was a sculptor who could articulate the creative process of his work. I wish I could remember all the details of the lives that were shared. The discussions were wide-ranging and intriguing. By the end of the quarter I had asked Wayne if he would be the chair of my doctoral committee. He accepted and said, “As your political commissar, my job is now to make sure you get your degree.” The GTU, staffed almost entirely by ordained ministers, operated with rules far more ethical and compassionate than the rules at many other schools.

At the end of the quarter, the seminar went for a weekend retreat at a campground in Marin County. On the first evening, after the Roods had gone off to their cabin and the rest of us were sitting before the fireplace in the lodge’s main hall, in the midst of the conversation, one of the others said to me, quite hesitantly, “Aidan, do you know there are rumors going around the school that you’re involved with witchcraft?”

I thought for a moment, then said, “Well, the reason for the rumors is that they’re essentially true.”

There was a silence. Someone asked, “So, what are you into? Dark forces?”

“No,” I said. “Goddess worship.”

The group erupted into laughter, and Kent said, “Heck, I worship a goddess myself.”

Phil Mullins, who would become a philosophy professor, hunkered down into the couch, chewed on his pipe, and said, “People are so damned interesting.”

Much conversation followed, with me giving an overview of the history, theology, and practices of Gardnerian Witchcraft. They were fascinated, but they offered to not mention any of it to Wayne. Although we all loved and trusted him already, no one was sure just how he might take it.

Wayne was an amazing man in many ways. He was raised as a Seventh-Day Baptist, a tiny dissenting sect from England, with one seminary, in West Virginia. He earned his doctorate in historical theology, but little theater was his avocational passion; when he got tired of the traditional lecturing format, he began using theater as a vehicle for teaching theology. I composed and helped perform incidental music for performances of Auden’s For the Time Being that he directed in late 1976.

During a course on, essentially, educational psychology and pastoral counseling, Wayne told us his autobiography, explaining that, at graduate level, students must understand who the teacher is in order to understand why the subject matter of the course is important to him. He told us of the day when, walking down along Strawberry Creek on the University of California campus, he realized that he needed to become a minister, which he proceeded to do. He told us of the day when bodies began washing up on the seashore by his church in Connecticut, and he realized he needed to volunteer to serve as a chaplain. He told us much about serving for forty months, with no vacations, as a chaplain for a beachhead battalion in the south Pacific (they go in the night before, in order to hold down a beach for the Marines to land on in the morning). When he joined his unit, it had 15,000 men; by the end of the war, it had 300. His unit was scheduled to be among the first to begin the invasion of the main island; Wayne knew he would not have lived through that. But instead, because of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, his was the second unit to begin the occupation.

There are no standard names for what I felt at that moment. Wayne, one of the most admirable human beings I have ever known, this good man, who had touched and improved the lives of thousands of students, was alive because of that appalling evil—perhaps Hiroshima saved more lives than it took, but Nagasaki was pure evil. He commented that he had turned his life over to God early in the war, and when he returned home, he had never bothered to take it back. So when I first saw the Third Step, that decision to turn one’s life over to God, I knew that it could be done.

 

  • Dave Burwasser

    My father-in-law would have been pushed into his first combat in the Main Island invasion and probably would not have survived. My wife exists because of the atomic bombings.

  • anitra

    Wheeler is one of my heroes. You’re fortunate to have had the opportunity to know him. I bet he had a great sense of humor.


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