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Living Life Well: 05/01/2020

Imagination, Transformation

After the War, our little family returned to California from our stay in Oklahoma and moved into a broken-down farm at the end of a nearly mile long dirt road - out in West County, towards Bloomfield and Valley Ford. I quickly learned about the creeks, and the fields and woods, and after my chores were done each day I rambled about those hills to my heart's content. It was a simple, rustic country life - we ran water into the house that first year, but for a few more years we still split wood for cooking on an old iron stove, and ate by lamplight.

Then, toward the end of my first year at school, a subtle weakness gradually made its appearance. My illness was at first a silent, invisible force that prowled a while, shadowing my play - before it finally pounced. My parents thought it was spring fever at first, but when Doctor Sharrocks came to our home he quickly saw that it was consumption - tuberculosis - and I was immediately quarantined. These were the days before streptomycin became widely available and, beyond bed rest, treatment and prognosis was at best uncertain.

I most feared being sent away, to some southwestern sanitarium where the emaciated bodies of children were kept in rows of cots in distant dormitories, far from home. Haunting photographs of them conflated in my imagination with photographs of the living skeletons found during the recent liberation of Auschwitz. My despair was that there was nothing left to be done for me - and that nothing afterward would ever be the same again. I wasn't sent away after all - instead, I was relegated to my room for two long years, entirely missing the second and third grades. Dad eventually agreed to have electricity run from the county road to our farm, and things began to change slowly in ways I never expected.

Recently, I've been told that the novel coronavirus has brought us into uncharted territory, but it has always been so: we've never known for certain what was going to happen next. We've always had our opinions, based upon what has happened before, but they were really only assumptions. Some of our assumptions made sense, of course, and seemed reasonable; but sense and reason are based upon experience, and experience is based upon the past - not the future. Meanwhile, here we are - now.

The modern technology of Micro-Computed Tomography has helped us discover what actually takes place on the micron level within the chrysalis, and how the caterpillar that crawled there becomes a butterfly - and learns to fly. During metamorphosis, digestive juices are released that dissolve the cellular structure of what it had been, while special groups of cells called imaginal discs, which had been repressed by hormones to keep them dormant, begin to come to life. They are called imaginal discs because they contain the images of the wings and other features of the butterfly. What had been imagined within the chrysalis becomes realized - that is, made real.

Over time, my fears of being sent away gave way to accepting the fact that I was simply there for the duration. My father would leave my room, saying sadly “here today, and here tomorrow” as the weeks stretched into months, and the seasons passed one after another outside my bedroom window. I felt that same queasy, disoriented sense of an indeterminate suspended animation that's being felt by many of us now, worldwide. However, as with the worm in its cocoon, a great deal is actually taking place, within. As Dad would say - “while shuffling for a new deal, it's time to stack the deck.”

Then, in time, my attention was brought to all that I knew that I had - my body, and this moment. To this day, when washing my hands (over and over again), I remark upon this physical form of myself. I've come to know and love these knuckles that cleverly hinge the phalanges of each finger, and their master, the thumb - in just the way that I had come to know and love the arms and legs of the body that rested in that narrow childhood bed, then. This discovery of the fact of my body became the foundation of my recovery, as I began pressing my feet against the wall at the foot of my bed, wanting to - intending to - walk and run once again.

My sense of my world was not aspirational, but rather awestruck with its gorgeous enormity. There is a photograph of me when my bed was finally brought out into the garden; I am reaching out into the sunlight, shining with enthusiasm and gratitude. In time I returned to the fields and groves of my childhood with a sense of the intimate fullness of nature, and I felt welcomed back with a mutual, intimate regard. My world was changed because I had been changed, and what I saw and knew was new, vibrant, and charged with possibilities.

Health consultant and writer Mike Orsini wrote, “Humans have imaginal discs that lay dormant, until we are ready to proceed through the process of metamorphosis and step into being the person that we are meant to and supposed to be. For humans, our imaginal discs are our gifts, talents, skills, abilities, passions, and interests.” This has everything to do with the implicit, incipient presence of our potency here and now - not the abstract idea of an unreached potential in a distant future, somewhere over the rainbow.

For now, we have all been sent to our rooms to think about how we have come to this place, where we can develop the qualities needed to meet the unfolding challenge of our time. And so we are challenged to make of our quarantine the crucible and petri dish of our transformation, in which we may recognize the possibilities that already exist in the actual - not in the someday future, but here, and now.

A final note: with deep regrets, I've called off the blockbuster party planned for June to celebrate attaining octogenarianhood - noon to dawn at Jack London Village, potluck and open mike. Sad, but appropriate. I hope to do something virtual online, but I'm meanwhile socially distancing while remaining nearby. We'll celebrate my ninetieth in total style - save the date!

Jim Shere is a local writer with a private practice as a counselor in Glen Ellen. You are invited to explore his website at, or email him at

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