"Say 'Nevermore,'" said Shadow. "Fuck You," said Raven. (Neil Gaiman, American Gods)
I laughed when I read this quote. I wish I’d written these words. I’d have them on my tombstone, except that there won’t be a tombstone, because there won’t be a grave. There’s a jar, with a large dragonfly on the lid. I hope all of me fits in that jar, but if not, no matter. There are more jars and I won’t be in any of them for very long.
I digress. I’ve never read Gaiman, but I think it’s time. I suspect he might have something to say to me. I came across this quote by him while reading Chris Grasso’s, Indie Spiritualist, a hallelujah to rebels and misfits and independent travellers on the spiritual path. (Click on Grasso's name to link to his website.) I know little about Grasso, although I know more now, but I couldn’t resist someone who counts Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs among his treasured authors and who has high praise for Sigur Ros (or as Mr. DD calls them, “The Band of the Endless Chord”), a favourite of my son. Gaiman I don’t know at all, except that he’s a well-rounded, popular British author, mostly of fiction, which may explain why I have read nothing by him. I will now.
About that quote: Grasso opens a chapter, “Ignition,” with it, a chapter about sitting in sorrow, with loving kindness and full attention. Grasso has spent his life refusing to be what others expect him to be, often in very destructive ways. That’s left him with a pile of baggage to sort and much healing to do. These days, he channels his energy into spiritual matters, but never takes the easy, well-travelled path. Where once his response to convention may have been reactionary, now it’s considered, because he believes that each being’s journey must be his/her own, not bound by the expectations of others.
Grasso points out that we prefer our heroes and our rebels neat, clean, pretty, young (or at least, well preserved) and nicely packaged, because, among other reasons, it’s safer that way. Rebel-in-a-box fits our capitalist, consumer society; step too far outside that box and you’re something to be feared, dismissed or scorned.
Consider this: that guy who hangs out downtown, sitting on a grate, rocking back and forth while holding a coffee cup for change-while we may feel compassion for him, do we ever think of him as a rebel? Surely, he is one, no matter what has led him to his present condition, no matter whether he suffers for it or-the unthinkable-whether he’s content to be as he is. As we ignore him, or throw something in his cup, do we consider the possibility that he has something to teach us and that something might not be just about charity and loving kindness? As Grasso reminds us, that being is just that, a Being, One of Us and We are One. While it may be easy to see our connections, our humanity with others like us, it’s not so easy to connect with the Unlike, the Unpleasant, The Whatever-Label-We-Give-to-Others, let alone see them as part of ourselves, or as teachers who might guide us on our own journeys. It takes a lot of work. It may take many lifetimes.
That’s what Indie Spiritualist is about, a guide to finding the unique path which only we can walk, that path which leads us back to All. That guide shines light on ugliness, despair and death, as well as joy and delight and transcendence, for they're all part of our spiritual travels. It’s not an easy trip, and it would often be more comfortable for everyone if Rebel or Raven would just give in and say, “Nevermore.” To do so, though, might mean she/he is sacrificing a Truth, the honesty of Raven’s own flight. For Ravens, and Indie Spiritualists everywhere, that sacrifice is not worth the risk of losing one’s way.
Sometimes, Raven has a story to tell. Sometimes, Raven laughs. Sometimes, Raven just squawks. How would we have it otherwise?