Healing Power of Myth: Personal Reflections
fall 2001, about the only real feeling I had was anger; otherwise I was
numb. In the summer of 2000 I had found myself in the hospital for eight
days, diagnosed with endocarditis which is an infection of the heart wall.
Its a silly disease arising from an infection in the bloodstream.
In my case, I had a strain of bacteria in my bloodstream that had nested
above a valve on my heart; it looked like cauliflower on the echocardiograms.
This particular strain of bacteria exists in just about every humans
mouth. I have a small heart defect, what many would call a heart murmur,
which made me more vulnerable. Its the kind of thing many might have,
where you take antibiotics prior to having your teeth cleaned. I took them;
they apparently failed. A few months later, Im in the hospital.
In short, I was working too hard and ran myself near into-the-ground the
month of that dental appointment. I got my teeth cleaned. Thats all.
The antibiotics failed; my system just wasnt up to the task and I
was vulnerable. I almost worked myself to death. The time between the dental
appointment and the hospitalization was one of steadily, but subtly, declining
energy. I began to fall asleep at my desk. I finally went for a physical
at a practice set up to do physicals and got a misdiagnosis. Later, I went
to a doctor for an initial visit in order to get set up with a local physician.
I brought the report from the physical. Halfway through the appointment
as I am describing my symptoms, she leaves the room. Turns out she called
the head of infectious diseases at the local hospital. I went to the hospital
and had about a gallon of blood taken out of me for cultures.
That day, my left hip began to hurt. Fortuitous, that. My doctor keyed into
that. It got steadily worse over the course of the day. After I had been
to the hospital, I climbed the stairs to my apartment and got inside the
door. Lying on the floor because I was exhausted from dragging my left leg
up the stairs and my general lack of energy, I fell asleep until my wife
came in. The next morning I couldnt get out of bed and the paramedics
took me in. Eight days spent in the bed and barrels of intravenous antibiotic
fluids later, I left the hospital with a walker, a pump that kept antibiotics
in my system 24/7 and a limp. I did get rid of the walker and the pump.
So, this brings us to late fall 2001. I worked then at a large, international
investment bank. While I didnt work in lower Manhattan, a lot of people
I know did. I was in Midtown Manhattan on September 11th. I got to Grand
Central from Time Square as quickly as I could and caught the last train
before the city was shut-down. I needed to be home; I never have figured
out if I was a coward.
So, feeling completely a wreck, fairly sure that I was headed for somewhere
I didnt want to go, I called the employee assistance program for a
referral to a therapist. I went to a guy who listened and told me something
to the effect of sounds like you are having a mid-life crisis.
Mid-life crisis? I was 30. But, apparently a serious illness can have a
similar effects on a person he explained. Not to mention, he said, he was
seeing a lot of people in my industry those days who were dealing with varying
degrees of depression following the attack. We had lost friends, colleagues,
rivals. We had walked those halls; we had drunk heavily at Windows On the
World, pretending we were Masters of the Universe. We could have been there.
He recommended I read The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. I did and as
I followed his recounting of the shared themes of these myths, of the various
archetypes, I came to understand a message that life is a journey, a struggle.
Always has been, always will be. The reward of this journey isnt wisdom,
or enlightenment, or anything of the sort, it is, as Campbell so famously
put it, not about the meaning of life, but the feeling of life.
I needed to feel alive.
Healing is a process, one that in some instances may never be complete.
My journey has continued. Ive taken up climbing. I now have a daughter
through whom I came to truly hear the voice of the Gods. Like everyone else,
I have bad days and times when I feel depressed, or angry, or frustrated,
but Ive come to accept that this is part of the deal, part of the
package. So are the days when my hip hurts and the limp is worse. I just
now try to not to be angry about being angry, or frustrated by feeling frustrated.
Why is this relevant to you? It may not be, but as I continue to build my
practice, my spirituality, I am looking at how Ive gotten to where
I am now. As I close my first year of being consciously Pagan, I look back
and realize that I may have found my way onto this path through a therapist
who knew that the power of myth could heal. Through understanding ancient
tales of how humans relate to the cosmos, tales so true that they are timeless,
I came to grasp that all we have is the feeling of life and therefore it
is life itself that is sacred. My Pagan belief was thus unknowingly born.
Our religion, with its embrace of the sacredness of life, the conscious
contact with the divine in each moment of our lives, allows, nay, compels
us to feel alive in each moment. Grasp that and you can heal yourself.