Perhaps that’s because I’d rather piss off a dragon than annoy Charles.
Perhaps that’s because you do not meet Charles Lawrence. You experience him.
Perhaps that’s because there’s a part of our meeting that, to this day, I still don’t fully comprehend.
But. What the hell! I’m going to try anyway. If I disappear, please see “Perhaps #1” above!
I first experienced Charles at a time when my life was full of questions. My first initiation had shown how foolish it was to question what was happening to me. Yet, I still wanted to know why it was happening…and what I was supposed to do with it.
When Jill Leigh suggested I meet her Manhattan friend, Charles Lawrence, to learn more about shamanism, I jumped at the chance.
Ah-ha, I thought. Someone who will give me the answers I seek.
When the day came for our first encounter, I took the train from Back Bay to Penn Station. For 3 ½ hours, I wrote, revised and rewrote a long list of questions.
Walking down 7th Avenue towards Charles’s Chelsea apartment, I practiced the questions in my head.
By the time, I took the elevator up to his 18th floor corner apartment, I was ready. Questions in hand. Script in mind.
Then everything blew away.
Charles’s apartment was dimly lit and completely silent (which is quite the feat when the windows are open and it’s 6:30 in Manhattan). He was dressed all in black, which made his white shock of hair, his big eyes and his rich, baritone of a voice all the more imposing. He was seated, occupying a chair with such regal flair that I could have sworn it was a throne.
“So!” he announced in a tone that signaled the start of our match. “Tell me what you seek here tonight.”
“I have a list of questions for you. I was thinking you might be able to give me some answers.”
Charles’s face was expressionless. “Such as,” he intoned.
“I want to know what type of shaman I am,” I said.
“Well. What type of shaman do you sense you are?” Charles volleyed.
“That’s why I’m here. I thought you might know.”
Charles sat motionless. Silent.
After a few seconds, I asked “Why was I called?”
“Why do you sense you were called?” he questioned of my question.
“I don’t know. I thought you might know.”
This wasn’t going anywhere. Fast. “What do you think my calling might be?”
With the same disdain in which a cat greets a mouse that is too puny to eat, Charles replied, “How am I supposed to know that? Tell me what you think?”
“Well,” I whispered. “I’ve read….”
Charles sat up in the chair in a way that said this little match was over. “I did not ask you what someone else thinks,” he snapped. “I asked what you think. What do you want to say?”
The truth is, I didn’t know. The truth is, I wasn’t prepared. The truth is, I had shown up looking for someone else to do my work for me. To shine a light down the path of my journey and tell me how it all ends. So that I could walk, knowingly, into the unknown.
Charles just stared. Through me.
After what seemed an eternity, that stare caught the attention of Little Will, who had been watching the whole scene from his favorite tree.
He jumped down off, came up through me, and responded to Charles.
“I want to say that a lot of people didn’t think I’d live past the age of 10,” Little Will said. “I was sick all the time, which meant I didn’t often get to play with other kids. Basically, I was raised around adults. I read adult books, attended adult parties, and went to hear Peggy Lee with my grandmother. I always felt like Patrick Dennis in Mame.”
With that, Little Will left me and went back up his tree.
Looking down, I added, “I was happy as a kid, I think. But I never felt like I belonged.”
Silence. More silence. But now there was a softness around it.
Very deliberately, Charles said that what I had described was consistent. With the way. Some who become shamans. Are raised.
He wasn’t saying I was a shaman. He wasn’t saying I was anything. He never has.
But he was issuing an invitation. To explore. To experience.
And he wasn’t just issuing that invitation to the man who sat on the couch. He was issuing it to Little Will. And it wasn’t just coming from Charles. It was also coming from his own Little Charlie.
Because, here’s the funny thing: Charles Lawrence has been many things to me over the years. A mentor, a teacher, a guide, an ancestral grandfather.
But, at the root of it all, his Little Charlie has been a big brother to my Little Will.
Someone who shares his wisdom, but only in a way that pushes me to discover my own. Someone who believes in me, but cuts me no slack. Even on, especially on, my darkest days.
Stick around and you’ll see what I mean. Even if it does annoy Charles from time to time!