Through the loss of three of our members and the theft of my billfold from our classroom, our Jungian Studies seminar was learning how to interpret a series of surprising, significant, or traumatic events as waking dreams. The fact that four losses had occurred during our fourth cadre meeting had caused us to look at four symbolically. We had concluded that the energy of our losses just might be suggesting that we pull together as a group, gather our fragmented members, and work to develop a more cohesive and conscious group identity.
On a personal level, these events could be calling us to recollect our own fragments, or to do more sharing of our real selves inside these seminars. One of our members, a therapist, had pointed out that though we were discussing the losses in great detail, it was all intellectual, “coming out of our heads, not our hearts.” She was right, for we weren’t yet speaking in terms of our own experiences or emotions. Another member spoke of his wish for more connectedness among cadre members, more transparency and opportunity for relationship. I saw themes of loss of heart, of relating over ideas and shared experience without the deep showing of one’s soul.
I thought about my part in the drama that had unfolded, the part of The One Whose Billfold Was Stolen. All the practical emblems of my identity had been taken from me. I had already dealt with the practical effects of the theft, but what about the symbolic meanings? What is my identity? How do I show you who I am?
Becoming, being, and acting out of our true selves provides meaning to individual human existence. I was reminded of the Beatitudes, which Jesus concluded by urging people to show themselves, to do their identities, to season the world like salt, to shine in it like lights, to do beautiful actions out of true selves so that everyone around would see the individual’s beauty and glorify God (Matthew 5:13-16).
My classmates who had expressed their longing to connect had spoken truly as far as I was concerned: our class did need to develop more cohesion, more of a group identity, by sharing our individual selves. I too was guilty of withholding myself. I’d made personal connections to the symbols in our waking dream but had said nothing about them to the class. The connections I’d perceived were so personal and close to my heart that I feared I would break down and cry if I shared them openly. Sharing them in a class that still had four more hours of Freud to cover didn’t seem the best use of our time. Even so, I was challenged. In the right context, was I willing to share who I really am out of my own experience? Isn’t this, in fact, all I really have to share other than my ideas?
Four had appeared as a symbol to our class, but I had personal connections to four on the day my billfold was stolen as well. I had taken extra money to Houston with me because I’d intended to buy a birthday present for my daughter Marigold. The amount of money stolen was around $400, another multiple of four. The day of the theft was the Marigold’s birthday. Marigold became my foster daughter when she was eight years old, and I thus became her fourth mother in eight years.
On the day of Marigold’s eighth birthday, I was working as the executive director of a licensed child-placing agency. That day, her third set of parents met with me to discuss how they planned to oust her from their family. “We’re not going to tell her what’s happening today because it’s her birthday,” they’d explained, “We’re having a big party, and she’s having all her friends over. It will be the last time she’ll see them, but she doesn’t know that. Telling her on her birthday just wouldn’t seem right.” We planned how I would pick her and all her things up three weeks later, after having the opportunity to begin working with Marigold on the dissolution of her adoption.
I will never forget sitting across from these wealthy, well-groomed people, outwardly the understanding, supportive professional but inwardly aghast. I’d been astounded at their perceptions of what is right and good, their abandonment of a little girl whose placement in their family could have been saved had they been willing to adapt and grow, a little girl whose ouster I was supposed to handle therapeutically, an eight-year-old child I was supposed to put back together again and replace in another family, who would all live happily ever after. When they came to mind, I realized that these people were like the Transient Black Man with his nice (probably stolen) coat, dirty underneath but with a winning smile and socially acceptable behavior to mask sinister behavior.
I was brewing a mental brew here, concocting some sort of Holmesian infusion that would expose what had been written invisibly. The chemistry continued as I went through the motions of being interviewed by the TSA, met my classmate Frank for dinner, and finally boarded the flight home.
What was the significance of my daughter’s birthday? There were so many fours and multiples of four involved. Suddenly I realized that, though I’d become Marigold’s fourth mother, I was not her fourth mother figure. Her grandmother had spent as much as a year raising her; this would make me, in effect, her fifth mother in four years. This called to mind the alchemical fifth essence, “the spirit of truth” according to medieval physician and alchemist Paracelsus, whom wrote of the fifth essence that
“He is the soul of the world, moving all and preserving all. In his initial earthly form (that is, in his original Satrunine darkness) he is unclean, but he purifies himself progressively during the ascent through his watery, aerial, and fiery forms. Finally, in the fifth essence, he appears as the ‘clarified body.’ This spirit is the secret that has been hidden since the beginning of things” (Jung, CW 13, par. 166).
Some sort of clarity wanted to break forth in me, a spirit of truth where cloudy, unclean elements formerly prevailed. It was about four, mothers, daughters, abandonment, appearing one way but being another, adaptability and growth, responsiveness to the situation at hand rather than reactions to unconscious inner motivators.
What part of me was a Transient Black Man wearing a nice-looking (probably stolen) coat? What part inside me waves goodbye to the receptionist in a friendly way shortly after stealing a billfold? What part within me has a child-ousting appointment with an adoption agency at 2:00 p.m. and a birthday party for the soon-to-be-ousted child at 6:00 p.m.? What civilized, socially acceptable, nice person inside was allowing thieves and abandoners to walk unchallenged through my life? What civilized, socially acceptable, nice behaviors were concealing my inner thief and abandoner?
Barbarians at the Gate
In the pursuit of his ideas he is generally stubborn, headstrong, and quite unamenable to influence. His suggestibility to personal influences is in strange contrast to this. He has only to be convinced of a person’s seeming innocuousness to lay himself open to the most undesirable elements. They seize hold of him from the unconscious. He lets himself be brutalized and exploited in the most ignominious way if only he can be left in peace to pursue his ideas. He simply does not see when he is being plundered behind his back and wronged in practice, [. . .]
As a group, my Jungian Studies cadre had a predominantly introverted thinking temperament. The seeming innocuousness of a smiling stranger had laid us open to thievery. Enthralled with the mystery surrounding our classmate’s disappearance, we’d allowed a stranger to walk among us unchallenged. Like my classmates, I am an introverted thinking type, living so much in my ideas about possibility, healing, personal growth and enlargement, and pursuit of ideals that I’d left myself wide open to exploitation in the most naïve ways.
My stomach began to churn as I made my way down the aisle of the airplane and settled into my seat. As soon as we were in the air, I would close my eyes and begin the disciplines I’ve learned that would allow my soul to speak to me, my self to step up with the symbols of the unconscious and the poetry of the spirit to show me what I needed to see. I knew I didn’t want to see it all, because if I’d wanted to see it I would already have seen it. My dreams wouldn’t have had to be full of it, and my billfold might not have needed to be stolen. My stomach wouldn’t be churning, and I would not already feel close to tears over what I was sure I would soon see about myself.