I suppose part of the reason I fell completely to pieces when my wife left me is that I was in fact guilty of a great deal that might have justified her action. She knew nothing of these things when she left me, and they were not her motive for leaving. Nonetheless, I immediately confessed them to her. It may have been these sickening facts that sealed our separation and eventual divorce.
Yet I think there was more. I had no foundation at all for my life. My faith in science and knowledge had begun to become cynical and formal. I had failed in astronomy, and was beginning to suspect I would fail at linguistics. My family had failed. Had life any purpose at all?
After a period of complete depression (sleeping fourteen hours a day, for instance), I discovered marijuana. It served as an anaesthetic. It also radicalised me and spoke of the possibility of a world beyond the purely sensual. LSD beckoned but I feared it.
By Christmas, 1968 I was daily dependent on marijuana. I was no longer doing useful University studies. I was angry at Edna, and narrowly escaped committing myself to violent behaviour that would have doomed me, perhaps killed me. By March, 1969, however, an opportunity arose which gave me hope.
For nearly three years I had been doing intense linguistic work on the language of an island in the Western Carolines, the island of Yap. The Yapese language was pretty much the centre of my professional life from early 1966 until 1987, when I did my last writing as a linguist on the subject.
Yap had a powerful personal influence on me, as well. Perhaps no one in our culture escapes Rousseau’s “noble savage,” and the idea that civilisation is a deadening and even corrupting influence on an underlying natural man who is one with his environment and his neighbour. I felt about Yap as a man who believes in the after-life might feel about Heaven. And in March of 1969 it was arranged that I should go to Yap to work as a linguist for three months.
In September I returned, bitterly disillusioned. Yap – and the more traditional aspects of Yap more than the more civilised – proved to be no stranger to original sin. A single incident crystallised my thinking.
A Yapese friend, a boy in his late ’teens, asked me if I would like to go fishing with him, and I said I would love to. He borrowed his older brother’s boat. The brother could not be found to ask permission of, but Waayan was sure it would be all right.
When we returned, he said he had to take the boat back. Half an hour later he returned, minus the boat but with a bruised face and a bloody nose. What had happened? Tharngan had kicked him around for taking his boat without permission.
What deeply disturbed me was the conviction, on hearing Waayan talk about this, that he did not think his treatment wrong, indeed, considered it the normal expected result of what he had done, and a sign of his kinship with Tharngan. He himself anticipated the day when he would be old enough similarly to handle his own younger brother.
I recall thinking, on returning to Honolulu, that we in the West had at least an ideal – I thought of it as love – which was higher than anything I ever saw in Yap, even if we were miserably poor at living up to that ideal. I had loved Yap, and still do. I love the people and the place and the language and would return in a moment if I could do so with honour. I did not find Paradise there.
I began using LSD actively and deliberately, seeking something Beyond. What I discovered first was Susan.
Susan is from Oregon and Washington and she was living in Honolulu on a working holiday. I met her about the end of September and almost immediately asked her to marry me. She did not say ‘no.’ Susan was a Christian (Anglican) but I did not notice that.
As the autumn semester, 1969 neared its end, I knew that I would not be re-enrolling. I had lost my way. Through a friend, I made plans to start working as a taxi driver.
The evening of the 28th of December, 1969, there was to be a party at the house of some friends of mine. No, Sue didn’t want to go – did Candace?
Candace is Sue’s sister. She and their mother were visiting us for Christmas, in order, I suppose, to meet me, as well as to see Susan. I, and many of the others, would be on acid, would that upset her? No, she said, that was cool.
Candace was a Christian of some sort. I thought of Christians as innocent persons living in a coccooned world of pink cherubs and plaster Jesuses. Perhaps some do. Candace had acquired her Christianity in the hippie haunts of the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in about 1967. She had been a brand snatched from the burning. It is strange that Candace’s experiences in the world of drug and crime had no apparent effect on my childish image of Christianity as a sort of fairytale world. I was secretly hoping that exposing her to us shocking acidheads might waken her to a more open world than her narrow piety could imagine. Pride finds strange ground in which to flourish.
I introduced Candace at the party as “a Christian” and sat back to watch the fun, having taken LSD as I had intended. One of the hosts of the party was a young ex-Catholic, now keen Scientologist (I myself had been reading with great interest all the works of L. Ron Hubbard). Greg began to attack Candace’s Christianity. He asked her probing and sneering questions. Candace, as she told me later, had no idea that I was paying any attention to this examination. I was in fact listening with the closest interest. She spoke of the friendship of the Lord Jesus, of never being alone, of His forgiveness of her sins. I was drawn to this. I was drawn to it as to a beautiful “trip,” as a lovely world to live in. It did not occur to me to put it in the same world with electrons, mathematics, buildings, life, death. It was noumenal. Kant prevailed.
Greg asked her if she really believed in Hell, lakes of fire, devils with horns and pitchforks. She replied not with words about Hell but with words about Heaven. She talked about the New Jerusalem, about streets of gold and gates of pearl, about the City where the Lamb dwelt. And she spoke of the Second Coming and of the final judgement.
For the first time I considered the possibility that all of this might not be restricted to the noumenal, that the phaenomenal might meet me with irresistible force. I knew that if any of this were true, it mattered not a whit whether I believed it or not. Judgement was rushing towards me and would not be gainsaid.
My certainty-of-uncertainty was shattered. I began to hallucinate. I knew that this was drug-induced, and yet it was different from anything that had ever happened to me on LSD before. I began to see Candace’s face in the dim room as overlaid by gold leaf. I became convinced that Jesus was standing with her. And I knew that the Accuser was in the darkness behind them. I was placed naked before God and the Devil and called to choose.
I was terrified, but an absolutely new thing had happened to me: I had hope. I interrupted the proceedings to tell her that I, for one, needed to hear more of this. We went to the house of a friend whom I knew to be a Christian. We talked. I prayed a prayer of surrender. Early on the morning of the 29th I dedicated my life to this unknown Jesus.