Thanks to Robin over at the Dharma Bums for the invitation to recall a moment of epiphany--one of those moments when the sign is clear that it's time to change one's life. Rather than take up too much space in the comment column of her blog, I decided to post mine here instead. It's the short version of a longer story, which I'll tell you more about at the end. Here goes:
It's the morning of New Year's Day, January 1, 1992. We're in the middle of an ongoing family crisis and I've heard recently from a professional counselor that if I want to help resolve the crisis, I need to "work on myself." I have no idea, really, what that means, but it strikes me as the last thing in the world that a polite and educated Englishman like myself would want to do. It sounds like the kind of psychobabble I most deplore. Anyway, this morning, the first of the year, I check up on my to-do lists on my desk. One is a list of phone calls needing to be returned. There are five names on the list, and every one is a Peter.
Well, that's part I. I chuckle, a little spooked. I tell myself that this will be "the year of Peter."
Part II, three months later. I find myself in Rome. I have been asked to travel here to write about "Secrets of the Sun", a major light and space installation at the Trajan Market by the Los Angeles-based artist Peter (!) Erskine. (It happens that there's a concurrent exhibition at a major gallery of the Los Angeles-based artist Peter (!) Shelton, one of the artists whose work I most admire. A constellation, then, of three Peters from Los Angeles in St. Peter's city.)
Ellie and I had been in Rome a couple of years before. Amongst the many things we had wanted to see was Michaelangelo's "Moses," one of the great art works of the ages. We had spent hours searching for the right church but--no accidents--had got lost in a maze of alleys and had failed to find it. This time around, I was determined...
Well, we find the church. It's San Pietro in Vincoli. St. Peter in Chains. We find the massive sculpture and stand, awed, behind a crowd of tourists whose guide is speaking in a language I'm not able to identify. Ellie moves off to follow some direction of her own devices and, for reasons unknown, I decide to follow the tour to their next stop. We peer down into a dark crypt chapel and the tour guide gives his spiel. When the group moves on, I take a closer look at what they have been gazing at. It's a reliquary. Contained within, I gather from a plaque, are St. Peter's chains--the chains burst asunder, as the New Testament story tells it, by the angel of the Lord who came to rescue Peter from the jail into which he had been thrown for the audacity of teaching the Christian faith in Roman times.
Well, I was born, according to the Anglican church calendar, on the Feast of St. Peter's Chains--the festival that celebrates the occasion of his release. It's how I got my name. (My father was an Anglican minister, and Peter was the "Rock," remember, who went on to become the foundation stone of the Christian church.) And it came to me--with one of those awesome shudders of realization that seize the entire body at such moments of truth--it came to me as I stood there, alone, gazing down into the crypt, that these were in some irrefutable sense my own chains, the spiritual and psychic and emotional chains that I had been carrying around with me for the whole of my life to date--and that the time had come to shake them off...
... which was the start of everything that led me to where I am in my life today, still working every day to shake off the chains where I find them, still seeking that ultimate liberation from them.
And how about you? Epiphanies, anyone?
(On an unavoidably commercial note, those curious about the continuation of the path I started on that day can find the longer version of the story and the events that followed in my memoir, While I Am Not Afraid: Secrets of a Man's Heart. It was published several years ago, but you can still find a copy on Amazon.com, I believe (from 0.18c, plus shipping! Still, the book does have a four-and-a-half star rating...) Or I'll be happy to send you one. But to cover my costs, including mailing, I'll need a check for $15 from the US or Canada, or $20 from overseas.)