A month after my husband’s death, I wrote that I had discovered the substance of my faith and “found out what’s true for me.” This morning I smiled wryly as I re-read what I wrote then, because I don’t know a damn thing today.
“Little Did He Know . . .”
What I thought I knew then and what I think I know now call to mind a scene in one of my favorite films, Stranger Than Fiction. In this delightful movie about one man’s growth of consciousness, IRS auditor Harold Crick suddenly finds himself the subject of a narration only he can hear. One morning as Harold waits for the bus, things take a grim turn when the narrator foretells Harold’s imminent death.
Alarmed, Harold consults a psychiatrist who tells him he has schizophrenia. He counters by asking what she would advise if he did not have schizophrenia, but was in fact hearing a narrator. In that case, she replies, he should visit an expert in literature. Her recommendation leads Harold to literature professor Jules Hilbert, played by Dustin Hoffman. Professor Hilbert is dismissive of his story until Crick explains that the narrator predicted his death beginning with the phrase, “. . . Little did he know.”
“Little did he know? Little did he know?!” Hilbert exclaims. “I’ve written papers on ‘little did he know.’ I’ve taught classes on ‘little did he know!’” A common literary device, “little did he know” implies the existence of someone who does know. The omniscient writer knows, and wants you to know, explains Hilbert. Theorizing that Harold may be a character in a novel, Hilbert advises him to analyze the narration to determine whether his story is a comedy or tragedy. That way he will know whether he lives or dies in the end.
The Story of My Life
If, like Harold Crick, we saw our lives as novels and ourselves as characters, what sorts of characters would we be? Would the narrative be comedic, tragic, or romantic? Would our lives have epic proportions, or would they be the sorts of novels nobody could finish reading? Would my life make the best-seller list for its tragedies and horrors, or would others find its depressions and black holes unbelievable? Would I enjoy reading my own life, and want to turn the next page?
A writing friend asked recently if I’m writing these days. I answered that I’m not writing at all. What I really meant was that I don’t even feel I’m living my own life. I’m busy and active all the time, but I am not alive to the narrative of my own life. I’m much like Harold Crick, an average person going through an average day by rote. What voice will wake me from this slumber?
A Jungian might describe the sense of bland conventionality I am experiencing as arising developmentally in a metaphorical process the alchemists called the “conjunction” phase of the Great Work. This is a place of fixation in which things congeal. Everything sinks down solidly into the earth, for earth is its element. It is also a phase of copper, bronze, brass, and sometimes gold. One imagines pickaxe-wielding dwarves mining ore deep in the earth.
Coniunctio, the Conjunction, is a stage of humble downfalling. Jungian analyst and writer Marie-Louise von-Franz explains that
The coniunctio happens in the underworld, it happens in the dark when there is no light shining any more. When you are completely out and consciousness is gone, then something is born or generated; in the deepest depression, in the deepest desolation, the new personality is born. When you are at the end of your tether, that is the moment when the coniunctio, the coincidence of opposites, takes place (von Franz, 162).
This all sounds well and good, like an epic adventure or romance in which all the suffering is worthwhile because something magnificent springs from it. The symbols of the coniunctio tell a cautionary tale, however. The symbolic rendering of this phase show the sun and the moon coming closer, so close into the orbit of the other that their shadows meet and the moon is overshadowed by the sun. In the medieval Church, the sun symbolized Christ and the moon the Church, so their union represented the wedding of Christ and His Church. Though on the face of it, this all sounds quite glorious, in fact an eclipse has caused the moon to go dark. Von Franz explains that such a conjunction “is like two loving people where the more love increases, the more doubts and distrust increase too; one is very often afraid, since if one opens one’s heart, the other can do so much harm” (von Franz, 164).
A person is made ready for the coniunctio by the ego’s conflagration and reduction through Calcination, by the displacements of Dissolution, and by the utter breaking apart brought on by Separation. Suffering, loss, and failure deprive us of the ego strength we built during youth and mid-life. We are humbled by our lack of control. Rather than planning and praying for a future dream, we ask only for our daily bread. What nourishes us for this day, for this current task, or for the immediate future is enough.
Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. Toronto, Canada. Inner City Books, 1980. Print.