So many years have passed since I was a troubled, tormented young man in Boston in Mel Lyman's time, "when God walked on the earth." Now the times belong to new generations and I become an elder, wondering if there is still, anywhere, that intense, driving search for Truth which characterized the sixties. Or is everything lost in mazes of Easternism, New Ageism, shamanism, Jesusism, not to mention good old-fashioned materialism, and what have you, all of which and more I've pursued and lived in my long search to heal the deep wounds that Mel first uncovered inside me.
I wish I could write honestly of my pain and fear in those years as I believe it could help so many today, especially young people.
There seemed a sharp division in those years between "hip" and "straight." "Hip" came from black culture where a silent recognition of the white man's rigidity passed between understanding members via subtle body movements and facial expressions. The black man knew that punishment awaited his crossing of the taboo line, that the white man's geniality concealed his readiness to deliver that punishment. The white poets and folksingers who adopted hipness in the fifties shared a similar awareness of venturing into taboo territory. By the late sixties, the rebellion against straight society encompassed the civil rights movement and the anti-war protest movement. And the "hippies" discovered free love, free sex, and free drugs.
Mel Lyman reminded everyone that nothing is free. But for the hippies there could be no authority figures; everyone was equal. The patriarchy which was responsible for 6000 years of war had to be abolished. If you just simply accepted chaos and disorder and didn't get paranoid, sooner or later a true brotherhood and sisterhood would emerge in a natural way. The hippies hated Mel Lyman for "telling it like it is," the name of his biweekly column in Boston's Avatar, an "underground" newspaper. They hated Mel for telling them that all growth comes with pain.
Mel violated the code of hipness: if you knew the truth you didn't speak it blatantly. If you had to communicate you did it snidely, sarcastically, or else in some full-blown, outrageously "over-the-top" theatricality. Not directly, simply, sincerely.
Any of Mel's followers must be brainwashed, weak people who could not make it on their own.
I knew differently. Mel's people scared me because the potential within myself frightened me the raw power of it could be there so abruptly, the sweetness of it tempted so enticingly. Why did I resist?
I was just like most. Every time I came up to the big step I ran away "to get my own shit together." Maybe we were spoiled because our parents protected us too much, giving us too much materially. Maybe we were too frozen by the threat of nuclear annihilation and unprepared by a generation which didn't speak of inner feelings. Courage meant throwing yourself onto the front lines somewhere, on one side or the other. I'd been involved in both the civil rights and anti-war movements . Yet I couldn't equate courage with dealing with feelings, even though I recognized that both sides to the conflicts of the times were too angry, and that there had to be a greater truth than that anger.
I had a mind which I was supposed to put to work somehow. I had a special gift. I'd been valedictorian of my high school class in 1964, going off to college with a chorus of expectations following behind. Within a few short years I'd been shattered by disappointments in love, in seeing through the empty facade of college intellectualism, in a fall into drug addiction followed by a nervous breakdown. I dwelt in a valley of shame and fear and hope.
"Learn to get outside your mind," Joey Goldfarb, one of Mel's followers, told me. It was one of many nuggets I received on Fort Hill. "Learn to work with feeling." But the feelings I followed were the weaker ones nostalgia for my boyhood country home, and self-pity ("that most delicious of sensations," as E.L. Doctorow has his Emma Goldman tell a young man in "Ragtime"). And self-pity and nostalgia are truly more sensations than they are feelings, reactive and self-protective more than active. "God is feeling." My feeling for God in those years was a tiny spark in the darkness.
Thank God that spark never died, and with it an inner prompting, to which I could rarely ever give voice. When I did it was like another man lived inside me, wiser, more profound than I could house in my immature personality. At these rare moments I seemed to scare away my friends yet those who were attracted to me, who could have helped me, I in turn repelled. Years later I read in Henry Miller (paraphrasing), "We flee from those who would teach us, into the arms of those who only bring us down." The self nature is perverse. On Fort Hill I was told once, "Alex, you have a lot of self to work through."
All these years later I have come through. I have a serenity that people everywhere want a piece of.
Mel Lyman, like D.H. Lawrence before him, beggars all criticism and analysis. Who remembers any of Lawrence's critics? Yet the man shines like a solitary star in a dark heaven. Mel was even less acknowledged than Lawrence.
I can't surpass Mel or even come close to his SUSTAINED expression of Truth. I think of him every day. Some one or another of his stories or statements, or one from those close to him, becomes my companion for a day or longer. "So, maybe THAT'S what he meant by that!"
There were those like me who needed him the most. I had a sunspot storm on my old Virgo soul Virgo the doubting Thomas. I lived on Pluto and everything and everyone got shoveled into that black hole of our zodiac. Everyone but Mel who had passed through that vortex so many times ....not that I believe it was easy for him.
I remember once I was standing with 5 or 6 guys in the Fort Hill parking lot, waiting for a decision on whether to go buy more sheetrock, when I saw Mel coming out the door of number 6. He took a few steps down the stairs, stopped, and seemed to reconsider. In a movement so utterly graceful he spun around and went back into the house. I don't believe any of the other men saw him. Did he sense how painful it was for me to be near him? I was so incredibly nervous whenever I was on the hill, inexplicably so. I felt I would turn inside out.
We all want explanation, clarity, self-containment. No one likes it when "jack gets out of his box," as they say where I live now. But we want self-containment and clarity before self-exposure. That's our big lie.
The next time I saw Mel, a few days later, was the last time for me. It was a view from a distance as he shot baskets with a young woman. I don't usually see auras, but both times when I saw Mel he had a glow and a power. The air around him was vibrant, translucent.
A friend described meeting Mel, surprising me because I had thought he was more comfortable with him: "When he looks at me my blood runs cold. Everything comes out, things I never wanted to say."
There will be more such men of God, spurned, hated, feared and ridiculed by most, a source of great joy for a very few, as Mel became for me. Indeed, as he was even back then, inside my fear, where I couldn't seem to reach consciously.
I never wanted to believe that "the era of the Holy Ghost is still 500 years ahead," as Lawrence prophesied. Surely I would see it in my own time. All that matters to me now is to follow God, who as Mel once wrote (and despite my perhaps too solemn words here), is "really a pretty funny old man."
242 Golden Park
Williams, IN 47470