3. The Magic of High Places
Mountains climbed and unclimbed:
Whitney, Shasta, McKinley;
We approached these,
Portals to heaven.
Shasta and McKinley we looked at
Wistfully, imagining the climb,
And passed by.
Mount Whitney we set out for one day.
I was full of grand dreams,
But my little brother gave out after half a mile,
Thus saving us from our own
But finally, one summer solstice night,
We climbed high above the Murray Creek valley,
To the top of your Mount Zion.
We spent the night
Looking for shooting stars,
Finding instead the airplanes in their flight paths,
Ten miles up, flashing across the night sky,
Dragging the roar of their jets
Far behind them,
While we attempted to sleep
Among the rocks and weeds.
I no longer remember what we talked about.
But somehow, in my memory
That night marks a boundary for me,
Between a childhood of vague imaginings,
And an adulthood of climbable destinations.
Mountains that we only dream of climbing,
And those within our grasp.
4. The Shaman Must Journey to the Land of the Dead
For much of my childhood
I was troubled by dreams
That you had died.
And then you almost did.
A few weeks ago, I read that
A well-known psychologist, my age,
Had died of what very nearly took you.
And I remembered the trip we made
In 1969 to Ben Lomond:
I think you were feeling unwell, because
I was driving the old white checker cab
That we taken to Alaska two years before.
As we passed through San Jose,
You were stricken, and suddenly
I had to do something and I had never
Had anyone else’s life in my hands before,
And I had to do something.
And so we found the hospital in Los Gatos,
Which was for you the entrance
to the Underworld.
I didn’t see you for a while,
As you journeyed there inside.
I knew you might not come back,
But I hoped and prayed you would.
And when you did, you had traveled
Much farther than we realized.
As a psychotherapist, I am often faced
With the terrible question
Of whether people can ever really change,
In the face of so much that stands in the way:
Fear, addiction, isolation, old injuries.
But there you were, emerging out of the shadows,
Struggling, but carrying with you
Hope, freedom, connection, healing.
Small wonder that you found the road to shamanhood
A few years after that.
You were already well on the way.
And so my terrible question has
An undeniable answer:
Yes, change is possible,
But sometimes you have to
Go through Hell to get there!
-Robert Kingwill Elliott, Jr., 7 September 2002