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"Three Eccentric Friends"

I never had an imaginary playmate as a child, but I did have something strangely similar in my way of thinking about Jesus of Nazareth. He was presented to me as a real person and the ideal human being, behaving the way people are supposed to behave. "Be a good boy," meant, "Be like Jesus." "What would Jesus do?" was no joke in those days -- it was a very serious consideration. Decades later I learned that the record which tells what sort of man Jesus was is badly flawed, and later as that entire belief system crumbled, the ideal invisible companion also went away.

But later I found myself with three eccentric friends, each one of whom presents a serious challenge to me and my attempt to live a well-examined life. In a strange way they remind me of Jesus. "Eccentric" means "not having the same center." In a minute you'll see why I call them that.

[1] The first is a fellow-writer, trained as a Jungian clinical psychologist. He has never practiced therapy. He seems to suffer from "ochlophobia," fear of crowds. At least he lives that way, house-sitting somewhere in the isolated reaches of Catron County, or across the state line in Arizona, on The Blue, which is a creek which runs along parallel to the state line, dozens of miles from paved road or village. He needs little income and spends his time reading, and thinking and writing. He's concerned about the long-range survival of our species, and his writing indicates that. A little has been published, but only a fraction of what has been written. His single-mindedness is an inspiration and a challenge to me, but his avoidance of human contact makes him seem extremely strange. He uses his pen-name exclusively. It is "Uncle River," but since he's younger than I, I call him simply, "River."

[2] The second eccentric friend is now deceased. Charles Hyder, astrophysicist, whistle-blower and peace activist, was not afraid to put his body on the line. In the 1980's he sought ways to oppose the very idea of nuclear war. Finally he underwent a public fast of more than 280 days, in Washington, DC, within sight of the White House. He became something of a celebrity in the USSR, but not here. Our media can ignore such a person very effectively.

I met Charles in anti-WIPP gatherings. Charles' science was comprehensible to me, even though the DOE dismissed it without looking at it, filing it under "Public Relations." Charles' summary of what was wrong with WIPP was this "You can't make a safe container for lethal material out of wet salt. WIPP is a plutonium-release mechanism."

We published his book, HUMAN SURVIVAL ON A PLUTONIUM-CONTAMINATED PLANET, in which he pledged a terminal fast, if WIPP should open. WIPP did open, under the auspices of Bill Richardson. Charles' fast lasted 82 days, before he collapsed. In spite of his expressed desire not to be resuscitated, the hospital staff did so, and he lived another several years. I referred to him as a Zen elf, in those last years. He accepted the reality of the fatal consequences of what had happened, which he had tried his best to prevent. He felt at peace, since he had done all that he could. I didn't think I had done all I could. His commitment to science, reality, Truth -- whatever you want to call it -- has been a challenge and an inspiration ever since.

[3] The third eccentric friend is Don Schrader. He is a well-known Albuquerque activist and an avid and well-published writer of Letters to the Editor. He has also been host for thirteen years of a weekly Channel 27 TV program, "Warmly from my Heart." He describes himself as "war-tax refuser, living simply enthusiast, all-raw foods vegan, naked body freedom enthusiast and openly gay man."

He is highly visible, especially in the University area, scantily clad summer and winter, moving from place to place almost exclusively on foot. He is on the front line in demonstrations for peace, environmental protection, equality and human rights.

Don, like my other eccentric friends, is a challenge to me. I'm not required to live as he does, but I am required to align my life with my beliefs and values. I can't help but think he is doing a better job of that than I am.

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Copyright © 2006 Harry Willson

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