Virginia St. Claire
"Perchance there was a fairy. There was."
George recently turned forty and has one son. After spending several years as a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church, he is currently in his final year of a PhD program, researching Chicano cultural frames and academic performance. He is looking toward a career in college teaching in history and philosophy of education and minority education issues.
He describes himself as a person who likes other people, enjoys differences, and is flexible if a bit irresponsible. He likes sailing, ping pong, bicycling, watching his son grow up and fantasizing about a trip to Mexico. (Interview: late ‘80s)
George’s inner life:
There was no formal religious upbringing in my family, and our parents allowed us to make our own decisions rationally. Religion was important to me, and I often dragged my parents off to church. I had an intuitive sense that God was part of life in the world, and as far as I knew, religion was the way of getting closer to God.
I had a shirt-pocket sized New Testament which I would read now and then. Somewhere in it I read something like, "Whoever adds to this book gains glory in God." I wondered, "What can I add?" I opened the back jacket and wrote something in crayon. I put a picture of Jesus in the front, and thought, "That's adding to the book, too, and ought to get me another blessing.”
When I'd pray by myself I used informal letter prayers. "Dear God . . . Sincerely, your friend down here." I still pray in notes. I used to bury dead animals I found: "The soul of this departed robin, may it go to heaven." When I was little I'd say ‘thank you’ rather than 'asking' prayers.
Childhood was a pagan time for me. I had a sense of God before I had a sense of religion. I saw God in bushes and rocks. I'd look at a rock and see the unity with the ground, with the surroundings, with myself. Does a rock have individuality? As a child I appreciated and identified it as being alive, unique. The other day I was out by the pond and there was a tree whose roots had been eaten by muskrats and I thought, "The tree has feelings and can be hurt."
As for experiences in childhood of a peculiar nature, when I was about five we were coming back from three years in France. Some of my first memories are of life on the ocean liner crossing the Atlantic. One lovely evening we were on deck. You could look down and see the ocean and, looking across the water, see the sun.
I asked my father for some money and he gave me some centimes. Without telling him why, I pitched the coin overboard, as uncharacteristic as that was to be of me with money. I had the distinct sense that the ocean was somehow alive and giving this small token to such a great live thing was an offering, a gesture. The ocean didn't need my offering and it was minimal, but I paid respect to its presence. All through my life I've felt a deep love and affection for water, large bodies of water, and particularly the oceans. That was a little event.
One of my favorite childhood experiences happened when I was in first grade and we were living in Glen Cove, New York. I was losing teeth—six or seven years old—and we talked about the tooth fairy coming. I firmly believed in the existence of fairies, elves and angels, although I knew that leaving dimes was a hoax.
I sensed that: "Fairies exist."
I thought it would be possible to see fairies—why not? I was convinced they simply avoided my sight for playful reasons and, if one happened to be around, that if I slowly peeked with one eye making it seem I wasn't being obvious, they'd let me see them. At least they wouldn't hide themselves instantly. Some theory. I still believe it.
I went through a series of evenings when I would go to sleep slowly, sneaking peeks with my eyes to see if I could catch one of these little fairies.
One evening I must have dozed off and then woke up again. I was clearly awake. I wasn't dreaming. I decided to open one eye a little bit to see if perchance there was a fairy. There was.
It hovered in the air at the foot of my bed up some feet from the floor. It didn't have a clear distinct form but an elfish form, not with wings, but it sparkled and had wingishness about it. It was translucent, but more toward opaque. I could see through it, but what I could see through it wasn't clear. It was like wavy glass in that what was on the other side might be small or big or somehow different.
This little figure was moving about and it was surrounded by a pinkish aura a few feet in diameter. The aura fluctuated a bit but generally it stayed in a globelike form although it wasn't as clear as that. Little rays emanated from the globe yet didn't emanate but were part of it. There was an energy field lively around it. It hovered there, turning and looking this way and that, doing something.
The fairy's facial features were not as set as in a human face and yet it had a face-type structure with a chin at the bottom and a forehead at the top. It had eyes yet fairy eyes with more eye than a human would have, and there was a nose area but thin. There was a mouth but I'm not sure it was being used as I recall no speech. The face was as if seeing someone's face in memory, seen but not as solid.
I closed my eye and said to myself, "This is great!"
I opened my eye and it was still there. It had moved a bit, but it was still there.
Again I observed it for a while and thought, "I've got this good theory. Everything's fine."
I closed my eye again and the third time I opened it, the fairy was gone.
I do believe in fairies. In fact I have a little book under my bed right now in French—my father was French—A Day in the Life of the Faery Queen.
Another main event happened about that same time. Behind our house, past our backyard, was a small apple orchard where all the kids would get together. It was an old orchard that wasn't being used anymore. The trees were still there, apples would grow on them, and green as they were we would divide up into teams and pitch them at each other from either side of the orchard.
One day I was by myself, bored, and I was climbing one of the apple trees. In the orchard, every so many feet, were water spigots. The pipes stuck up about three feet from the ground and were topped with big handles so adults could easily turn them on. They were old, all rusted, and ornamental. Of course, they didn't have water in them anymore. I was aware that the tree I was climbing in was just above one of these spigots.
"This is the tree with the water spigot," I thought, and realized that I'd climbed out just over the spigot. I wasn't concerned.
Then I realized I was climbing onto some weak dead branches. My feet stood on a dead branch and my hand was holding a dead branch. I don't know why I climbed out like that. I was a great tree climber and wouldn't do anything stupid like that. Nevertheless I was out there.
Suddenly, just after I looked down at that water spigot both branches snapped and I fell back first toward the ground. Many thoughts passed through my mind, the prevailing one being that my back was about to be rammed onto this water spigot.
The thought was there, "Maybe I'll die," but there was nothing I could do about it.
For a moment I blanked out. I didn't ever lose awareness, but my normal perceptions blanked out. The cognitive experience changed.
The next thing I knew, I was swinging above the water spigot. The back of my knees had caught perfectly somehow onto the only other branch between me and the ground so I was swinging there. I had fallen from a tree and caught a branch with the backsides of my legs. My knees had to flex at exactly the right moment. You know, a gymnast has to do a lot of practice to be able to do that.
Neither did I consciously try to do that nor did I know there was another branch there. There I was, swinging above the spigot upside-down, my head tilted back looking at it.
I flexed my muscles, climbed up and dropped down from the branch. I wasn't too far up in the air. I was quite shaken about it, but I also felt tremendous relief.
I thought very clearly then: "If there were ever an experience that would teach me that God or a guardian angel existed, it would surely be this one."
I saw that my life was saved through a strange series of events. I told several people about this, my parents included. They thought it was interesting. Some of my friends were amazed and went out to look at the tree where it had happened. One of my friends, Brian, took the branch that I had been swinging from with my legs looped over and easily broke it off with his own weight. And he hadn't been falling from above. I was doubly impressed that this was a special event.
What was important to me as a child? God was intimately important, but abstract. Running around in the beach sun in clamdiggers—that was important. Learning about the world under a microscope and through a telescope—that was important. Friends to play with—that was important. To have the love of the people around me, my family—that was important. Food was important.
In general I saw the world as a friendly place but it was something of a dichotomy. The world was full of God, yet I was aware of wars going on.
These days I feel a visitor in the material sensory world and wonder, "Why is it this way? It needn't be, but the fact is that it is." The way I look at it now, there are different levels of me and the world—body, earth, air, water. I'm part of the world but as I go inward I am part of only the subtle world, connected to it in unity and being. As a child I felt I was more a part of the world than now, and yet then I didn't have as much ability to objectively look at the world. Now I evaluate my actions and thoughts in childhood as indicating that even then I was a visitor, for in some sense my values and actions were the only right ones for me at the time.
As a Navy child I accepted that, in the matter of world power, the good guys always won. God was at the top and we were right because he was right. As a child I felt I was good.
I had lots of dreams for my life. At different times I wanted to grow up to be an astronomer, a Navy officer, an astronaut, a doctor, and a clergyman. These sound like different dreams but they don't contradict one another but are just different angles on life.
Today my spiritual life is flesh and blood, here and now. I think it's a mistake to stick spirituality in another realm. It's not abstract; the world is a spiritual, powerful, mysterious place. One can enjoy everything because life is a spiritual experience. What this philosophy does is to make me work in the real world as my way for spiritual growth. We all do spiritual practice in waking up in the morning, living, communicating. I practice meditation, and I think learning, teaching and being friendly are also spiritual practice.
More about George’s childhood:
I grew up all over the country because my father was in the Navy, and we moved every two or two and a half years. Primarily we lived on the East and West coasts. We lived for a while in Europe, particularly in France.
Moving so much had an effect on my psychology as I grew up. The children who lived on the bases we lived on were independent because they were always being uprooted. Maybe that made them insecure, too. I could get involved and quickly leave a situation. People would just assume that I'd moved. In sixth grade I had the chicken pox and had to be out of school for a couple of weeks. When I went back everyone was surprised to see me because they had thought, "Well, he must have moved." Since I was back I resumed my position of hall patrol.
There were four children in our family and I was the oldest. I had two brothers and a sister and I was a very happy child. When I think of myself as a child, I picture myself in Coronado, California, eight or nine years old, with lots of curly blond hair and blue-gray eyes. I'm wearing clam diggers and a teeshirt and I run to the beach, kick off my shoes, run on the sand and build a sand castle. I was always running around.
I was an active child, but didn't go out for school teams. I liked to swim and go to the beach, climb trees, bike. I had a lot of friends my age and we would ride around on our bikes, climb trees, throw water balloons at cars.
I was adventuresome to the point where the law was no barrier. Starting at eleven or twelve I tested every boundary to see if it would stand. We lived on Mare Island military base and my friends and I pilfered the Navy's stock of two-by-fours, tarps, cables and pulleys to build tree forts. We sold gun shells at school—they weren't live. Prior to that time I had used a lot of energy adjusting to new places. I was always independent and explored the world around me, but in adolescence I had several brushes with the police. My parents thought I was a hopeless case and were shocked by my behavior.
My family is a group of independent-minded people. My father, being a career Navy man, had the qualities of an officer. He was strict, had very strong values, and clearly delineated right and wrong. He was also very busy and military. "There's work to be done." My mother was the opposite. When I was a child she gave us all as much attention as she could psychologically stand. She was concerned with our being good and helpful. She emphasized moral values rather than value based on the amount of work we put out. My parents' philosophy was that people should be individual and independent, so we didn't do many family activities.
Our independence created diffusion. We're a close family, but different. My sister and I are psychically close. We share perspectives and go through transitions and sometimes even similar types of jobs at the same time. We both went to the University of Wisconsin. My brothers are gentle people, but both did stints in the military. Generally, my brothers are more like my father while my sister and I are more like my mother.
My parents didn't give me much positive reinforcement, and even now because their definition of success doesn't have anything to do with spiritual life, in their eyes I'm not a success. It still grates on me, but I'm learning to make my own judgments.
I wasn't really mischievous growing up though I experimented with household products in the spirit of science. I wanted to see how things worked. Once I put different things of my mother's from the bathroom, perfume and so on, outside to see if they'd freeze. Some did and some didn’t. I was enthusiastic and lively as a child. I'm quieter now than I've ever been, and I'm certainly not quiet! I'm enthusiastic about whatever I do and I do what I'm interested in.
My creativity expressed itself verbally in childhood. I talked to lots of people and enjoyed it. I liked making up stories for my friends and their parents. I did a lot of reading. Normally we don't think of that as creative, but reading as a process is very active. Through books my imagination could interact with the world. When I was young, church was important to me and I think that's creative.
I liked mechanical manipulation of the world and was always taking things apart, building things. I'd build with my erector set or wood and make things with batteries and motors, file pennies into dimes. I liked anything to do with bicycles and added motors to bikes, built go-carts and mini-bikes. When I became a teenager I switched to rebuilding cars and fixing engines on boats. I thought of being a professional mechanic.
I liked outdoor games like tag, dodge ball and hide-and-seek. There was one playground game I especially liked in second grade where we'd divide up into two teams on either side of the school yard. You'd have to run from one side to the other without getting tagged. If you were tagged, you'd have to join the other team. I loved being the last. It was great to dodge around. I was a good runner and very fast through adolescence. I ran on the track team in high school.
Among the children in our family there was a pecking order. The youngest brother and sister were young enough to do what the older brothers said. My brother two years younger and I fought until we reached adolescence. Then we made peace with each other and still get along well. We did a lot together but we had completely separate friends.
My education was eclectic and uneven. School was generally fun but I wasn't a tremendous academic success. It wasn't the center of my focus for either activity or being. Because we moved so often, school was sometimes boring because I would have learned the material the preceding year. And sometimes I was under pressure to catch up. Social studies was the worst because the states we were studying changed—California, New York. It was interesting but there was no context for me. Because learning wasn't repetitive, my grades were poor. The second year in a place was more successful academically than the first and more socially successful, too.
My relationships with other kids were friendly and we shared the role of leader. I felt great being the leader or going along with the gang. After we'd move it would take a while to build a group, six kids would be the maximum.