For four hours each weekend evening, I work as a companion to an elderly gentleman in the dementia ward of an assisted living facility. There, I sit at the dining table with him, and five other residents, most of whom (at that table) are in the earlier stages of that disease. Last night, as the meal began, there were the full complement of six, plus myself making seven. Another lady, who often sits with this group, came a little late.
I pushed my chair back, so as to be near my charge, and suggested that the seventh lady pull up a chair in my spot. She demurred, saying that the staff would only permit six at a table; and she took a place by herself at a table for two, nearby.
Some minutes later, one of the ladies, who doesn't realize how far her dementia is progressing--and who apparently was quite intelligent "in the day"--insisted that I should push my chair back to make room. I patiently explained to her that there were already six residents at the table, and neither would it be allowed, nor would the seventh lady do it, as she had already refused. I counted off the people at the table, getting six plus myself; she counted off, and got the number she wanted.
Then, one of the ladies at the main table got up for some reason, and, seating herself at a different table, never returned; so there was an empty spot. I suggested that the one sitting off by herself, could now join us.
But the smart one insisted that I still needed to move my chair back (even though there was an empty spot).
I told myself, "Just forget it--these people are insane, after all."
At that moment, I had an epiphany regarding this blog.
And I was really going to leave it there, but, I persist.
As I continue to type in the dozens of letters from New York City written in 1847 by my past-life self, Mathew Franklin Whittier, signing as "X.F.W.," I have run across his report of a sculpture by Hiram Powers called "The Greek Slave." I was familiar with it, because Mathew mentioned it a few years later, writing for both the Boston "Weekly Museum," and the Boston "Carpet-Bag." In the "Museum," he penned a Mrs. Partington-like sketch of a young lady telling her hard-of-hearing grandmother about it, such that the old lady was misinterpreting everything; while in the "Carpet-Bag," he offered a poem-within-a-poem, in tribute to the statue.
Writing for the Boston "Chronotype" from New York City in 1847, he writes in glowing praise of the work; and then, in the following edition, he casually mentions that he visits it daily.
Now, here is where, having Mathew's own higher mind--and also, having intuitive access to his subconscious mind (especially where strong emotions are present)--I know the deeper back-story. This may not be of interest to anyone else, but it fascinates me to understand the context of what, to other people, might just seem odd, or a bit exaggerated.
The Greek Slave looks very much like Mathew's late wife and soul-mate, Abby. At this point, in 1847, it has been over six years since her passing; and if I'm not mistaken, he had given away the only portrait he had of her, in a fit of Stoicism, but also because he couldn't bear to have it around. Now, with only his memory to go on, he is powerfully drawn to any portrait, and especially to any scuplture, which looks like her. I have already demonstrated that the bust of Pallas, i.e. Athena, which was discovered at the Herculaneum site, reminded him somewhat of Abby. Likewise, in the "Carpet-Bag," during the same series of poems in which he writes of the Greek Slave, he says (in so many words) that a depiction of a statue of the Nymph of Lurleiburg reminded him of her, just before she died, when she was grieving the loss of their second child. In fact, in this instance, he reports having a spirit contact with Abby on-the-spot, as well as a vistation dream with her that night.
But, apparently, the Greek Slave reminds him vividly of Abby when she was at the peak of her youthful health and beauty. He can't stay away--he goes to gaze on her for half an hour every day--perhaps at lunchtime. Not that anyone will ever know. He can only speak of the artistic merit of the piece. But, just as B.P. Shillaber, when mocking Mathew (after Mathew had confided in him), has "Blifkins the Martyr" trying to communicate telepathically with the bust of Pallas; here, Mathew just slips in that Hiram Powers--like Mathew--is a follower of the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. I know that Mathew follows Swedenborg, because I have a long essay in which he defends him against a detractor, in another paper. These are the elements of the esoteric philosophy that Abby tried to teach him, which he was finally able to accept--first, the Greek Stoic philosophers; and then, Swedenborg.
Because the Greek Slave is unclothed, it is almost too intimate a thing to share, this secret knowledge of Mathew's motivation. Mathew saw Abby as an angel, and as a young queen. Of course he was sexually attracted to her, but she was so spiritual, in his eyes, that his attraction was raised to a level of aesthetic admiration. To him, she was like Athena, a goddess of wisdom. Being able to be physically intimate with her, was an unbelievable privilege. Abby, herself, used to admonish him about praising her like that. In a letter to Mathew's sister not long after their marriage, she teasingly says that Mathew can read her letter because he is a "privileged child, now," which was a secret reference to his feeling this way. (I seem to remember that he had teased her about being a privileged child, because of her upper-class background--so that when she permitted their sexual intimacy, and he told her how privileged he felt, she countered that, now, he was a "privileged child.") And in one of her own short stories, being autobiographical for her relationship with him, she indicates that at first she distrusted all that praise as false flattery. Later--perhaps much later--she realized that he was entirely sincere. But we have seen Abby's own understanding of herself, in her portrayal of the young Irish prodigy, Mary Mahony. She knew she was beautiful, but it was her mind, and her wish to make a positive, lasting difference in the world, that was important to her.
As near as I can tell, Mathew tried to re-establish his relationship with Abby, across the Great Divide, around this time in 1847. Like Gifford Pinchot, the 28th governor of Pennsylvania, he was able to sustain it for some years, and then fell away from it. Perhaps it was the fraud and human weakness that eventually entered into the Spiritualist movement which triggered his native skepticism; perhaps it was being "outed" as the writer of his satirical series, "Ethan Spike," at which time he was blacklisted and fell into poverty. But I think what happened is that he couldn't prevent himself from periodically falling in love with young women who looked like Abby; and that after a few such disastrous side-tracks, he felt he had betrayed her so shamefully, that he didn't deserve to be her partner. Eventually, he seems to have taken up a sad philosophy of practicality, marrying a woman on that basis who turned out (as I gather) to be coldly Machiavellian, in the name of practicality. For Mathew, a philosophy of practicality was an unnatural stance adopted in response to life's disappointments; but it was part-and-parcel of who she was.
In this lifetime, I am getting it right. After having recapitulated all of these same mistakes, in 2010 I remarried Abby across the Divide, and I'll be remaining faithful to her until I cross over, and can rejoin her. We all incarnate to make right our former mistakes.
I had in mind to reproduce some of Mathew's writings on the Greek Slave. There is his glowing report to his friend Elizur Wright, the editor of the "Chronotype," in 1847; there is the humorous piece in the "Museum"; there is the magnificent poem-within-a-poem in the "Carpet-Bag. Then there is Mathew's first published love poem to Abby, setting forth her spiritual beauty; and another seeming parody of bad writing, in which he describes each of her features as being "exquisite."
I don't know. I'm not sure anyone would read it all; and somehow, I can't just present a small piece of it. Plus, this is kind of intimate.*
In any case, I'm not sure that I can convince anyone that there are now only five residents at the table, so that the sixth one can come join us.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*These will all be in my books.
Music opening this page: "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,"
interpretation on hammered dulcimer by Ted Yoder