The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Old self

Shadow Self, by Alan QuigleyWhere does the old self go when one has been changed from one type of person to another? Not away but banished to a limbo in the mind, becoming something subconscious that breaks out only in dreams. It’s probably not that simple, though, because I am consciously aware of how I once behaved and what I once was because of it — a hypocrite, for starters, a sexual exploiter — but my behavior has changed. I’m not that kind of person anymore, because I don’t do those things. I don’t sleep with women other than my wife.

That old self, though, is still in there, and it’s disheartening when he appears in dreams. My old self, acting out. Same old feelings. Same old irresponsible me. Knew in the dream that what I was doing was wrong. Did it anyway. Was admonished by the woman I was with that it’d be better if we didn’t. Did it anyway. Libido in overdrive. Awakened, frightened but also relieved that it was but a dream. Ironically, the same old feelings surged — shame, guilt, fear of being caught, resolving not to do it again. It’s like time travel.

Twenty-two years ago this month it happened. I was caught. The details are dreary and trite. The outcome predictable and tiresome. Domestic upheaval in two households. Upheaval in two churches. True scandal, a stumbling block for many who knew me and her. Anger. Disappointment. Major financial disruption. Priest on the lam.

I was offered a deal, though. Leave the diocese. Patch up the marriage. Get on with your life and career in the church. The marriage was dead, however, and I think my wife and I knew it. For the first time in 14 years of marriage, I heard her say she wanted marital counseling. Sounded like desperation to me. I didn’t believe her. Maybe I should have. Maybe I should have taken the deal, but my guess is that I would have acted out again. I was sicker than anyone thought, sicker than I thought. Patching up the marriage wasn’t going to get me out of hole I had dug for myself. I was deluded enough to believe the woman with whom I was having an affair would become my wife and that we would be happy together. Pipe dream. Dumb, really, but that’s how out of touch I was in June 1982.

A seminary professor once told us that to have lost one’s memory is to have lost one’s mind. There’s more than one way to interpret that. Among other things, it’s a moral standpoint. If an unexamined life is not worth living — and it’s not — then one’s memory must be operative, and not only operative but conscientiously formed. If I were to lose my memory of those things which I ought not to have done, then wouldn’t I simply repeat the mistakes of history? Probably. If dreams are more than simply the mind’s off-loading of transient energy, if they are of God, then perhaps an early-morning dream of one’s old self is a dynamic reminder of what ought not to be — of what one ought never to have been. There’s truth in it, frightening truth. It’s one of the ways I’ve learned to fear hell.

June 11, 2005

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