We have not even to risk the adventure alone/ for the heroes of all time have gone before us /The labyrinth is thoroughly known/ We have only to follow the thread of the hero path/ And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god/ And where we had thought to slay another/ we shall slay ourselves/ Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence/ And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
– Joseph Campbell
Many of you have followed my adventure for the last sixteen months, when I moved from my house into Rosy, the RV, on an island just south of Charleston, a place that called to me one night six years ago, on a moonlit beach. My fullness feels so round and complete today that I stutter to speak about the gifts this adventure has given me. It wasn’t love, though I was not deprived of that. It wasn’t riches, for I am richer than I ever imagined, yet I don’t have quite enough money.What happened was something that Joseph Campbell hints at in the quote, which is a beautiful soliloquy in his wise and deeply spiritual voice, at the beginning of the audio edition of The Power of Myth, the interviews with Bill Moyers. As I paint, I listen over and over to this, for it is too rich to grasp in one listening.
So, after the initial thrill of a new life in this idyllic, forested world near the sea, I found myself alone on the island. Isn’t that, in metaphor, what island means anyway? It was my labyrinth. And there were some dark hours. But in the dark, cold, wet night, grace met me. I held tight. As promised, over months, the words rang true.
I found a new center in myself, one I knew all along, a strength, the most compassionate lover, who was waiting for me there. I had to do this journey alone, and what better place than in the quiet of Edisto Island, a place of raw, rivered beauty, whose every metaphor, whose poetic parallel, is so close to paradise it astounds me.
The 16 mile road out to the island from Highway 17 is labyrinthine. The rivers and marshes remind me of the Lowcountry that King David writes about in the Psalms. One passes the Serpentarium, the serpent being the metaphor for new life, for a snake sheds its skin to begin anew. In most cultures the snake is seen as a holy creature, who also curls into a circle, a symbol of continuity, and eternity. Joseph Campbell argues, and he does so skillfully, that our Christian text is most spiritual when seen as literary metaphor. The snake in the garden of Eden served to symbolize knowledge, being awakened. We are now responsible for our own place and experience in the world.
Metaphor in image and word has been my constant companion since I was a teenager. I knew early that I wanted to be an artist, at all costs. Every step of the way, through art school, to working in advertising as a photographer, to teaching Book Arts, mothering, house remodeling. Loving. It is a poem! To see life as a poem, and you in it, is it!
In September I traveled to France, to the mother of all labyrinths, the great gothic Cathedral at Chartres. It was a dream I’d had since college. A new interest in the physical labyrinth had grabbed me, for the metaphor of being lost but found is simply too wonderful. Three days whirled by quickly. I returned home stunned in a way. Art and imagery often does that to me. Later I know what it is all about.
Walking into Chartres was a baptism. I came home a new person. Everything shifted. It was time to take this golden thread out into the world. To share this amazing experience. I am not at all sure how or why, but I know one thing. Trust the call. Do it. Jump.
I have long admired your work and the evocation of the culture/spirit of the Lowcountry. Keep on keeping on.
Thank you so much for writing. And reading. I am deeply grateful for the support. Cheers!
“To see life as a poem, and you in it, is it!” I love this. I’m so happy you had a blessed baptism at Chartres, and that you are modeling self-love for your children and grandchildren. “I found a new center in myself, one I knew all along, a strength, the most compassionate lover, who had been waiting for me there.” Absolutely beautiful.
Thank you, Hadley, not only for your precise reading and for listening, but for sharing in this soulful life, not only as my eldest child, but as a fellow traveler. I love you. Mom
Wow. Very powerful writing. I don’t really know where you were THEN, but I have a clue as to where you are NOW. (Right NOW it seems like you are hovering three feet off of the ground, Charlotte. Maybe you can actually fly!) For me, you are my tour guide, taking me to new places in and out of this world. The journey has only begun! Crash! Clang! All on the bus! We are departing!!!!
Thank you, my friend. Such angelic support like yours is part of this whole, dazzling journey.
I so wish we had had the chance to meet. There are many, many things I would like to discuss with you! I hope that when my husband and I finally find a place to put down roots, that I will also be able to write the poem that is my life, and learn to be at peace with myself.
Thanks, Toni. We will meet. Hey we are. Here! But in person when the time is right. Trust it all! It is good! You are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing, right NOW :) Cheers! Charlotte
What a great peice of writing…I am truly inspired Charlotte. You’re a very good writer. I found myself seeing the pictures of the Lowcountry in my mind as I read along. Thanks for sharing- Kristie
Thank you Kristie. I am just realizing I did not reply to you earlier. I am honored by your visit and comment. Cheers, Charlotte
Reblogged this on Charleston Through an Artist's eye and commented:
I needed to re-read this today. Life is a poem. Everyday is new. The great adventure does continue in my life. How grateful I am.
This is such a passionate and vulnerable essay. As a heart-guarded person, I admire your courage in laying it all out there (tasteully!) in your writing as well as your life. (God knows, I still have a terrible case of the inner Southern Belle! You know what I’m talking about?) May the gracious Lord continue to inspire and sustain you and your calling. Our world is richer for it.
Kim. I am humbled by your comment. Open heartedness is a sweet gift I hope I can keep everyday. Maybe I will get to Fiji to hug you one day. I hope. Your spirit is alive and well in my friendship circle no matter the distance. Thank you, Kim. This means so much. Amazing gifts: friends. wow.
You can’t have been off that long. This was in 2010. That just doesn’t seem right. I got here last night; drove down with Will and took him to Charleston this morning. If it doesn’t storm in the next few minutes, I am going to go get on the tractor and start mowing.
No, it doesn’t seem right. Wish I was there right this minute. Miss you, Pinkney. Thank you for being right here today.