Lumpkin – The Baby Who Became Tony
I existed long before my conception and birth. What was new was this particular body conceived by a young country girl, fathered by the son of an Italian immigrant to England, and born in Amersham just before the Second World War. It was a completely new configuration.
There are memories of being in the womb, feeling like the yolk of an egg. My genitals were the pulsing centre of that yolk, and they pulsed with gentle pleasure in time with my tiny heart. There was no sense yet of being a person, but there was an integrity that gave a feeling of being something different to other things in my awareness. And I remember love. It came to me in waves as the beating of my small heart roused pleasure in the centre of me, pleasure raised high as my mother’s heart and mine beat together while the two rhythms crossed.
Birth is seldom ever completely commonplace to its witnesses, and certainly not to the baby being born. Sometimes we have the strangely naive attitude that this is a new being who has entered the world. But what is there new in nature? Can we say, if we plant an acorn, that the oak tree growing is new? Well, yes. The body and leaves of the tree will be unique. But millions of years in the lives of other trees are involved in the growth of this particular oak. It cannot, it hasn’t, simply emerged from itself.
Whatever way we explain birth, the baby carries with it the influences of an immense number of men and women who lived, struggled, loved, in the past.
I have memories of my birth. Not as pictures in my mind, like old photographs. I remember through the pain in my guts, and through my feeling response to some situations. I remember because the experience of that birth sometimes wells up like a great tide overwhelming my normal, everyday, self.
My tiny body was born two months early, apparently dead. I was told the doctor threw my body to one side, saying, “Forget the baby. We need to look after the mother.” The doctor’s words were not flung out casually. I was born in the thirties, prior to intensive care units for premature babies – prior to antibiotics. Each of us is a witness to our times. We all exist within a huge web of influences and understandings, and if I try to grasp the view from which the doctor’s words arose, there is sense in what he implied. If we have children and say to one of them as he or she goes out the door, “Be careful”, we don’t need to mention all the things in today’s world that one needs to be careful of. If the child is old enough to manage the streets alone, they can already fill in most of the details about dangers they should avoid, such as drug pushers, muggers, child molesters, and other violent children. So the doctor was saying to my mother, “Within this present social and medical situation your baby has little chance of survival. If it does survive it will be weak. Let this one die and have another one.”
It wasn’t an auspicious beginning, but my grandmother carried off the limp body and managed to provoke breathing.
I have a sense — I cannot call it a clear memory — that in reviving me, my grandmother baptised me in case I died. She blessed me with her love, and marked a cross on my forehead in oil and water. That mark has remained in my being indelibly, having been given with true love. It has opened connections to me with mysteries I might otherwise not have known.
It wasn’t just my body that was impressed with the experience of birth. There are levels of awareness in us right from conception, along with the learning of responses to what is confronted. Not only does the unborn body mature in readiness for birth, so does the awareness, the receptive sentience.
In my 40s, when I traced back troublesome reactions to everyday life events, I discovered memories of the period just after birth. I found the experience of being a tiny vulnerable creature, and as that creature I was very definitely reacting to a feeling of awful exposure, even though I didn’t know myself as Tony.
Remember that in the womb my small being did not need to breathe. Food did not have to be taken in and digested. There was a stable temperature, so no exposure to temperature shifts. My nervous system was geared to survive, and in some way respond to stimuli. There was no assault of powerful and unknown sounds in the womb – sounds such as birdsong, dogs barking, house sounds. Also, in the womb one is buffered against bacterial and viral attack.
A baby is aware of all these in its own way. It has a functioning brain and nervous system that is already learning — not in words, but certainly feeling responses.
What I recall from that early period after birth — recall and put into words by my adult self — is of being afraid I could not survive in this new environment. At the time of my birth there were no intensive care units to plug my tiny body into a drip feed or oxygen tent, or an incubator to keep me warm. Neither were there antibiotics to help fight the deadly diseases so many infants and children of the time were laid low by. At that time premature babies were very likely to die.
So I couldn’t breathe easily. I couldn’t digest easily, and I was deeply anxious about the strange sounds around me. A tremendous feeling response took place in my tiny self. As an adult we would call this a decision. But in my infant self it had nothing to do with thinking or analysing. It was a total feeling and fear response. It was a rejection of life. A turning away from scrambling, struggling, for survival. I didn’t want to be in the world. I wanted to remain in the egg!
The effect this had on my adult behaviour was that I never developed the ambition to “get somewhere in life.” Just existing felt like an enormous struggle, an exhausting struggle. I turned away from opportunities because they needed involvement and participation. I didn’t want to be involved, and often had to crash out of social activities, as I did not have the coping mechanisms to engage in ordinary social events.
There was also, in my budding awareness, a sense of death. Even though my body was ill prepared for life outside the womb, it still functioned strongly enough to stand between me and death. But death felt very close. I needed to be back in the womb, kept warm, protected and given a chance to grow undisturbed. Second-best would have been to be held skin to skin against my mother’s body and breast, a sort of constant drip-feed in a warm environment. Unfortunately that did not happen. She was a working mother dashing back from work to breast feed me.
I gather from these memories, and the feelings accompanying them, that my mother, being young and inexperienced — I was her first and only child — was frightened by my fragility. All her sisters had produced heavy full-term babies. So she may even have felt lacking in some way. And I felt something of this anxiety. My own struggle, and feelings that death was sniffing around me like a waiting hyena, were not held at bay by my mother’s anxiety. As the little budding me existed beyond any sense of time there was no knowledge that things could change, only a feeling of impending doom.
Then a truly life changing event occurred. I have no awareness at all of its place in the sequence of things. But picture if you can this vulnerable and helpless creature, this spark of life and awareness not ready to deal with independent life, retreating from it, yet not wanting to die. And my spark of awareness, my forming sense of myself, is afraid, and feels alone in this fear, alone in the dark, with death as a predator sniffing around. Then suddenly I am picked up and held in arms that are strong; held by a being of love who is not afraid of death, and communicates love and courage to me. Communicates so profoundly that I feel I am in the arms of a higher being, a being who has lifted me out of darkness and fear, and has driven away skulking death itself. So I cry out to this being with the only passionate sound I can make, the panting, weeping of an infant. But if there had been the gift of words I would have been looking into the eyes of this being, crying out, “I love you! I love you! I am bonding with you! I am connecting with you forever!”
When I remembered this, when I re-experienced the moment as an adult, I too bawled like a baby, and felt the exquisite love and strength, the relief from darkness, of those moments. In fact I still weep as I write these words, for that experience was so profound.
That was my second, and most deeply felt experience of love. It was also the first, and perhaps most fundamental, experience of religious awe. It stands as some sort of nucleus in the development of myself as an adult personality. It is a touchstone against which is tested any meeting I have with love. Also, when I first re-experienced this event it was accompanied by a revelation, a certainty, that this was the resurrection.
The wonderfully loving higher being who had the power to lift me beyond the reach of death, was of course my grandmother. She was the mother of 13, some of whom had not survived. My mother was the youngest, born on the eve of the Great War. My grandmother did not have long to live herself, but I think had developed that serenity, not of the mind, for I doubt she was a thinking person, but of the heart, that comes with deep acceptance. I also have a feeling out of these experiences, that she was the heir to the wisdom gathered by a long line of women who were her ancestors. I don’t see this wisdom passed on verbally, because I doubt it was ever put into words. It was passed from eyes to eyes, from heart to heart. It was passed in the passionate responses to hard times and loss and love. And I feel my grandmother baptised me in the essence of it, and I am blessed for all time.
I have wondered a great deal about what was meant by the resurrection. I know it has to do with love. I feel people apply the term to Christ because the Christ being represents, or is a symbol of, a form of love we sense in ourselves occasionally, and sometimes see in other people. It is the type of love that in its weakest form is seen in the love of parents for their children. It shows itself as the giving that enables a mother to almost totally devote herself to the needs of the helpless and completely demanding life of her baby. It is the ability some fathers have to toil year after year to feed and provide for their children.
But that is its weakest form. That love is often partly instinctive, built into us if we are healthy. Its most profound form is seen in those who reach beyond their love for their children and family, and extend it in depth, not just in duty or to be seen to do good, to people who are not their kin, and from whom no financial, sexual or social advantage is expected.
I sense the resurrection as a form of love that transcends the boundaries of kin, and is not afraid of death or risking of one’s own life for the need of another. In essence, this is the story Christianity tells. Although I am personally uncertain about the existence of an historical Jesus, I can see that as humans, we collectively sense there is a profound wonder in such self-sacrificing love. In sensing this we have created a deeply perceptive mythology around it. The mythology tells us that even if we can allow a little of such love into our life, it will give us entrance into becoming aware of an essence — the spirit — that pervades all existence, and to the survival of bodily death.
To some extent I have to acknowledge that by getting my newborn body to start breathing, my grandmother did raise me from the dead. So my unconscious mind has powerful material around which to create its own personal mythology. But the love I experienced I sense as a force beyond that, and has to be acknowledged too.
In our collective myth of Christ we have created, or witnessed, a being who extends love to all living things, and offers a life beyond death in its existence – the mystical body of Christ. Just as my grandmother lifted me from darkness and death, so Christ is said to lift humankind.
My grandmother took over my care soon after I was born. My mother told me that I slept in the same bed as she did, but one morning she woke and couldn’t find me. She panicked, and then discovered I had slipped out the side of the bed, and was as cold as stone. From that point on my grandmother took charge, which probably did nothing for my mother’s confidence.
I have not recovered memories of this period, but from looking at photographs, I grew from a tiny shrunken little creature into a happy and sometimes radiant looking child with blond hair. Things soon changed though. My grandmother died of a stroke before I was two. So suddenly the great love in my life was gone.
This was such a major event in my life that it left massive residues in strata of my psyche. The petrified remains of that event were only uncovered slowly, plunging again and again into the depths to find the heartbreaking remains of that lost love.
From my teens, through to the time of uncovering these buried feelings connected with my grandmother, I had an almost compulsive religious drive. This was never something leading me to attend church or listen to sermons, or study the Bible. It was a direct need to find God as a personal experience. I wanted to communicate, to meet, and to have a direct confrontation.
Understanding of this drive dawned slowly as I developed the skills of mental archaeology, and learned to carefully brush away the debris of years. My first discovery in this old burial mound was anger. I was angry with God – violently angry. Only slowly were the roots of that anger uncovered.
My grandmother died after a second stroke. As a young child I had no foreknowledge of this, so it was a terrible shock suddenly to no longer be able to find her. Literally she was no longer there. I didn’t even see her dead body, and I feel that was a great mistake on the part of my family. Seeing her corpse would have given me a tangible experience of her death. Lacking that experience she had simply disappeared mysteriously. I was left to seek an answer to this, and when I asked where she had gone was told that my grandmother had gone back to God.
When that one sentence was lifted out of the darkness of years, along with the emotions buried with it, the anger and the compulsive religious search were understood. I was angry with God for taking away the person I loved. I was searching for God because, according to what I had been told, in finding God I would find my grandmother.
It’s crazy how the mind and emotions work, but logical too. As a child I didn’t have the equipment to question the information I had been given. So it was buried intact, still channelling the energy of my drives and emotions until I managed to uncover it and re-evaluate it against a much wider database of experience and information.
Isn’t love a strange and terrible thing to keep a child held to its determined search through the long years into adulthood? Some ghost, some spirit of that small boy that I was, remained waiting in a corner of myself. Waiting and hoping for the return of his beloved grandmother. Waiting and bearing the weight of that waiting each day, gradually becoming walled up in a dungeon of debris dropped by the passing years.
The vulnerable and beautiful spirit of that child, buried in the shadows of myself, was the hidden artist behind much of the beauty and tragedy in the love story of my life. It became known to me in a dream as Lumpkin.
That’s how I waited out the years with my mother. Because I had been so close to my grandmother, in some ways my mother was a stranger. Living with her left the love child in me constantly waiting to go home. There was a feeling in me that if I could wait through this day, maybe today, or the next day, I could go home. If not today, maybe tomorrow I could be with my grandmother!
That feeling of desperate waiting, of feeling I was never “at home”, of constantly wondering where home was, lasted most of my life. A dream I experienced in Italy in 2000 shows the depth and dilemma of this. In the dream I was driving home along a country road. Ahead of me the road forked and I took the right-hand fork. I drove a little further and arrived home. It was a lovely house in its own grounds. My wife and children were happy to see me and came to greet me warmly. But something was wrong. I had no sense that these people were my family. This was not my home, and I hurried away, back to the fork in the road. There I took the left fork. Again I arrived home – another lovely house, another wife and children who warmly greeted me as husband and father. But there was still no feeling in me that I was home. Again I must go to look for where I belonged.
That dream sums up the feelings that haunted me most of my life, and the split shown by the forked road. As with the religious drive, the feeling arose because of my desire to be once more with my grandmother. After all, it was a desire etched into me over many years. Strangely enough, at the time this memory really surfaced, I was living with a friend, being homeless at the time. On the very day it came to light my friend told me I would have to find somewhere else to live. It was so strange it was almost comical.
Therefore, before ever I had any real sense of time or identity, those early experiences set patterns in me that have influenced the rest of my life. My prematurity, with its consequences of unreadiness for an outgoing life that would grasp the world and its opportunities, left a yearning, and I think an open door, to enter into the mysterious in the worlds of the mind and spirit. I wasn’t looking outward to the world. All my energy was flowing backwards into the life of the womb and its dark mystery. And there were negative aspects to that, such as lack of worldly ambition and a failure to understand the needs and functions of placing oneself well in the world to gain financial and social benefits.
What I have gained though, is an extraordinarily rich inner life. I suppose it was also a major factor in my becoming well-known in connection with dreams. Also, for never having any sense that I ought to absorb the subjects offered through schooling, as given by the establishment. But I believe there are other factors not mentioned, that played a big part in that.
The other main pattern put in place by my infant years, was the foundations upon which would be built a terror of losing the one I loved and the compulsion to be loved as desperately and urgently as I myself loved. In this way the scene was set for the drama of my destiny to unfold.