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September 2018

Gene Campbell's life story – and a gathering to honour her, Saturday, September 8th 2018


Photo above is of Gene Campbell, participating in the RSCT's Strategic Planning process in September of 2017.

RSCT Distance Learning program leader and Waldorf homeschooling champion, Gene Campbell, crossed the threshold on August 3rd, 2018. There will be a gathering in tribute to her on Sept. 8th in the Toronto Waldorf School music room. The following was written by Gene about her life, some years ago:

Autobiographical Sketches – from Gene Campbell 

If I had not learned to think in the language of logical paradox, I could not weigh the events of my past with any sense of integrity. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times ... " Though I would not wish to repeat my past, I have come to appreciate it. 

CHILDHOOD: 

Early Childhood: 

I was born on September 11, 1945 in my mother's hometown, on an island with deep red earth, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. I arrived the fourth child in four years, Ken, Karon and John having preceded me. In all, we were six, Tim arriving when I was five and Terry when I was ten. 

I took my first steps and spoke my first words in P.E.I. but my first memories emerged after we had moved to Ontario. There we lived on two air force bases, both of them self-contained and protected by fences and a guard house. My first memories were deeply-felt sensory impressions which began a lifelong bond with nature a bond which supported me in many dark moments. 

Yet, while nature embraced me, I have no memory of either of my parents doing so. 

Mother: 

My mother taught me how to suffer 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'. Her ability to endure was a product of the times, of her temperament and of her Roman Catholic roots. She would often conclude a conversation with the words, "Offer it up as penance for your sins." She was a dutiful housewife, homemaker and mother. The strength of her commitment to a then-unhappy marriage provided us with a stable home life built around the rhythms of the religious calendar year. I never doubted the existence of God but I did secretly wish he weren't so demanding. Through it all, I felt the coldness in the pores of my skin and I longed for freedom. "The mother eagle puts thorns in her nest, she is determined that her children will learn fly." 

Activities: 

The fact that we had little money, no television until I was ten, and the expectation that we would provide our own amusements, all worked in my favor creatively. I was never bored. The crafts, drama, singing and nature lore that I learned in Guides and summer camps fueled my play from year to year. 

I especially loved surprises and secret hiding places. Every year before Christmas, I would wrap up objects that I had found in the 'junk drawer' and put them as presents under the tree. The fact that I wrapped and re-wrapped the same gifts year after year was immaterial. It was pure pleasure ... I could barely contain the energy that poured through me. At other times, I would hide small ‘treasures' on the ledge under the dining room table and take great pleasure in having the whole family gathered together and yet be the only one who knew that there was a treasure only inches away. I never told anyone. 

Education: 

My mother wanted more for her children than she had had herself. She sent us all to music lessons and conveyed her deep respect for education. I was fortunate to attend air force schools which offered the finest educational programs in the area. I enjoyed learning but found the form confining. Few report cards failed to mention that I was talkative. I gained enough intellectual discipline and endurance to graduate from university but only began to really appreciate what I had been given through my education when my clarity of thought could be applied to my own life questions. 

The oppression I felt in my childhood served to fine-tune the boundaries of my own freedom. Once a teacher humiliated me by sticking a roll of toilet paper on the thumb I was sucking in class and, knowing that my parents would never oppose her authority, I left it there but claimed myself in the deliberate mess I was making in my notebook while writing with my other hand. 

In high school, a teacher told me to leave the room until I was willing to accept what I saw as an injustice. I walked out and kept on walking the several miles to home with each step convinced that I had crossed a Rubicon. My mother sorted it out by phone and to my surprise, supported my position. And yet, she insisted that I apologize to the teacher. For that I am now grateful as it illustrated that freedom and justice need to be seen in reference to a larger whole. What I would have gained by being right, I would have lost by a pre-mature loss of respect for authority. 

Father: 

My father was a flight sergeant in the air force and was away on course frequently. He was phlegmatic by temperament so that even when he was home, he revealed little of himself. We knew enough not to sit in his chair and not to ask him anything before he had had his supper. He was strong and handsome in his uniform and his love of the water meant that he was always tanned from boating and swimming. Through the strength of his will, he conquered alcoholism, smoking, cancer and a tragic boating accident in which all others were drowned. 

I was not comfortable asking either of my parents for anything. If I wanted anything from my mother, I would try to talk my younger brother into asking. If I wanted anything from my father, I would ask my mother to ask him. If she refused I would rather give up my goal than ask and would 'burn through' the loss or find a way to get it myself. This had the effect of strengthening my creativity and self-sufficiency but weakened my trust in others, especially those in power. This ability to 'burn through' my desires later became a capacity for 'creating a space' in a dilemma in order to ‘listen' to a situation and sense what was really emerging, to stay within a 'death-space’ long enough to receive insight. 

Friends, Lovers, and Other Strangers: 

I had dreams in childhood with a recurring theme: there are things in this world beyond which you can imagine. Every friendship felt like a confirmation of that thought. I spent the first half of my life waiting to be chosen as a friend or lover and feeling blessed when it did occur. But it left me 'walking on eggs', holding my breath waiting for the inevitable ending. 

At nineteen, with mutual affection, I had my first sexual relationship. This was, certainly, beyond what I could have imagined. However, the distance and our different lives, led to what I regarded as a betrayal when he met someone else at university. I imploded the pain and ended up with a serious case of quinsy. I decided that I would remain unaffected in relationships and date as many men as I wanted. Eventually, my first love did return but, sadly, I realized that I could never trust him again and that the naive, wide-eyed girl who had loved him didn't exist anymore. Through many subsequent relationships, I learned a great deal but it took a long time to glimpse why none of them was even remotely substantial: so little of me was actually present within them and I could only hold my breath for so long. 

Pivotal Event: 

I had my train accident on November 9, 1952. My older siblings had encouraged me to join them in jumping on a moving train and I decided to try in spite of the vibration that I felt in my aura. I knew how to skip double-dutch so I began by establishing the rhythm with the clicking wheels and I targeted the spot where the handles on the side of the cars were passing. In order to succeed, it was necessary to jump before you could actually see the handle you would be grabbing so I could not predict that that particular handle would be broken. I fell and my right leg was amputated below the knee. I remained conscious, in shock, protected from the pain. I sat and counted the wheels as they ran over me and, when the train had passed, I tried to fix my leg so no one would know. When I faced the hopelessness of the task, I said a prayer and waited for death. I was in complete wonder when a stranger, Sergeant Paquette, rescued me I was so vulnerable at this point, that if his energy had been harsh, I think I would have slipped away. 

Months later, when I received my first prosthesis, I had to learn to walk all over again. This accident had life-long repercussions as its effects were not simply relegated to memory. Every morning, I have to put on my prosthesis and accommodate its limitations. There was no one capable of understanding the psychological implications of such an experience until I was an adult so I adopted the 'dust yourself off and get on with life' attitude of my parents. But for a long time afterwards, I couldn't catch my breath and I cried alone in the bathroom with the tap running so no one would hear. I couldn't articulate the darkness that descended on my throat and chest ... at times, I was an elective mute. 

When I retired from teaching, 45 years after the accident, I set out to find Sergeant Paquette to express my gratitude and to ensure him that the trauma I had invited him to had been justified by the life I had lived thereafter. I reunited with his family, though he had passed away, and together we dedicated an air force memorial in his memory. 

This accident posed existential questions which have shaped the rest of my life. I could no longer find my way back into the collective illusion that death was an abstraction or into the collective meaning of life. I knew that I could never be perfect and I would always be different. This was a difficult load to carry but it also gave me a unique vantage point and ensured a spiritual dimension in my life. Over the years, I have come to realize how profound the event has been. 

ADULT LIFE: 

Teaching: 

I gladly left home at seventeen, more on my mother's initiative than my own. I wanted to be a teacher but didn't have the financial means. To my amazement, my neighbour, Hub Smith, arranged an air force educational grant for me, something that would never have occurred to my parents. I loved teaching: the children, the creativity, the financial security, the independence. Eventually, I taught every grade from kindergarten to grade 8 and became very skilled at striking the balance between love and discipline, order and chaos, the individual and the whole. 

University: 

As a child, I was an average student with a selective memory but when I began university, I discovered that my perception and reasoning abilities were highly-valued. 

In one philosophy class on existentialism, I had a major turning point: From a deep sleep, I suddenly sat bolt-upright and was thunderstruck by the sense of meaninglessness in the face of certain death. I later phoned my professor and said that if he were going to stir up the shit, he should be there when it hits the fan. Fortunately, he responded out of his own human depths and I found my own way to the central thought that all world views were based on premises, on assumptions and that the individual must assume the burden of responsibility for tracking and distilling meaning from life. 

Gestalt Psychology: 

For all that teaching had given me, it still kept me quite naive. I needed to complete my 'adolescence' and did so in a three-year training program in Gestalt psychology. It appealed to me because it was present-oriented, involved group process and valued creativity and freedom. In the beginning, I didn't know how to track what I really felt and thought but I was more committed to finding the truth of myself that 'playing to an audience' so I learned to 'dance with my own shadow'. Through rejecting the introjections and reclaiming the projections, I began to redefine myself holistically, as a verb rather than a noun. When I saw the intensity of the fear in my life and the price it exacted, I made a pact to face it and unmask it through undertaking life experiments. 

Rudolf Steiner: 

By the end of my Gestalt training, I felt empowered and yet, a thought grew in me that even if I, as an individual, achieved all that could be achieve, it would still not begin to address the spiritual questions posed by life. In 1980, at age 35, I began reading the works of Rudolf Steiner. His words so deeply affected me that I devoured his books and watched as the largest world view and meaning of life unfolded before my mind's eye. It nourished and resonated in the very cells of my body. 

Everything convinced me that I needed to find a group of people with which to manifest these ideas. But after exploring many Waldorf and anthroposophical settings, I realized that very quickly power issues invade and entrenched themselves within structures and that there were few means of continuing to hold them up to scrutiny. I formulated a prayer: May none of my illusions bear fruit. I sought to find ways to incorporate Steiner's ideas in my own initiatives which has led me to form Chiron out of which I offer counseling, workshops and conferences. 

Richard Moss: 

When I met Richard, my life was being consumed by pain which initiated after a car accident at age 33. I was working with every conceivable alternate therapy without success. I had the opportunity to speak with you privately and I asked you only one question: What can justify such pain? You said that you had come from the deathbed of a very holy man and you had never seen such pain and such radiance ... it was all energy and I had to raise it to heart level and ray it out as light. In my continuing work with you in California, I learned to experience this process and to attune to the laws of energy. 

At one point, in passing, our eyes met and in seconds, I was struck by the experience of what would fall away from me if I were to meet that look which was paradoxically the emptiest and the most present that I had encountered. This was another pivotal experience. 

Entrepreneurship: 

After twenty-five years of teaching, the pain in my body was becoming debilitating in spite of all my efforts. The pain chipped away at my grasp on security and only when I felt that I had no other option, did I take a leave of absence without pay. I began to take entrepreneurial risks feeling that I had nothing left to lose. I saw myself in a life and death struggle to create a financial base which no longer required my life forces to maintain. I wasn't quite 20 when I started teaching so my pension was still years away. For seven years, I struggled and acquired a new relationship to money until finally I qualified for my pension. 

During this time I was able to care for my aging parents and to reverse the childhood roles. It was a time of tremendous stress with their needs added to my own but I met each day with a calm regard for necessity and an abiding faith in the things beyond which I could imagine. In retrospect, it was a privilege to be able to complete this cycle in one lifetime. My parents had healed their own marriage and faced life and death with joy, dignity and gratitude. 

Arc of the Soul's Learning: 

In essence, my life has been a spiritual journey from beginning to end. I have had enough pain and challenges to ensure that I did not lose sight of this. At 57, I have founded Chiron, the vehicle through which I can contribute on the world's stage. It has the potential to be big enough and broad enough to accommodate all aspects of my distilled wisdom. I would like it to be the 'child' I will have had out of my love for humanity. 

Editor's postscript: After the events described in these autobiographical sketches, Gene Campbell went on to design and lead the RSCT's Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy Distance Learning program.

Come out to the Sept. 8th event and share your memories of Gene and her work. The event will run from 4-6 pm in the Toronto Waldorf School music room. TWS is located at 9100 Bathurst St., Thornhill. See you there.

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