Myth has portrayed the rainbow as the highway over which the psyche’s supernal emissaries bring their messages to consciousness. ~ The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism
The soul-spark, the little wisp of divine light that never burns more brightly than when it has to struggle against the invading darkness. What would the rainbow be were it not limned against the lowering cloud?
~ C. G. Jung, the Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, On the Nature of the Psyche, 8. General Considerations and Prospects paragraph 430
A dream, not mine (mine will come later). This is Jung’s dream:
Only the gods can walk rainbow bridges in safety; mere mortals fall and meet their death for the rainbow is only a lovely semblance that spans the sky, and not a highway for human beings with bodies. ~ C. G. Jung Psychology and Alchemy pp. 58, Chapter 2, paragraph 69.
I don’t know how to tell this story, or if this story can even be told.
Maybe this is a story of the things that we cling to through dark times, or maybe it is a story of new worlds that emerge from disasters, or it could be a story of omens and portents – or just as legitimately one of superstition and magical thinking. Or maybe it is yet another story about how the psyche and our dreaming life can offer care and consolation. Or maybe it is simply a story written to thank someone for a deeply cherished gift, when I have no other way to demonstrate my gratitude.
Whatever kind of story it is, it starts a long long time ago and I have to reach all the way back to tell it.
Winter, 1988: New York City
I don’t remember much about that visit except that we hadn’t gotten along very well. We were clearly on each other’s nerves the way that only friends in their mid-twenties who have known each other since they were fourteen can. And we didn’t hide it either. I was hanging around with a bunch of Yalies – smoking filter-less cigarettes -and discussing the history of German expressionist film and theater over neat scotch. I could see how disappointed he was in what I had become.
Tommy arrived fashionable and fabulous and ready to go dancing. He wanted to see musicals that I, with my new found pseudo-sophistication, now considered mainstream and pedestrian. He refused to see the subtitled foreign films or performance art pieces that were on my must-see list. (Why didn’t I just get us tickets to see Ludlam in The Ridiculous Theater? That would have been so delicious for us both.) He wanted me to look preppy and middle class instead of depressive and thrift-store revolutionary. He wanted to dress me up so we could go HAVE FUN and meet cute guys.
It was the first time that we had been in the same place without being able to come together. We were 24 years old, totally cocky and completely insufferable. And our life paths were diverging in a way we could never have imagined in high school.
It wasn’t as though we never fought. Rooming together in Los Angeles had not been conflict free. I was a slob – an Oscar to his Felix -and we’d had our share of squabbles about joint finances, household chores and plenty of expressed and unexpressed disapproval of each others’ boyfriends.
Winter, 1984: Los Angeles
We lived in “off campus” housing together. We threw great parties. Tommy would dress me up – find something for me to wear – usually mixing and matching out of my deplorable wardrobe and his. And we would go dancing. He’d sneak me in into the boys town clubs in West Hollywood since I didn’t have a fake id, and he did.
And we would dance – we had been dancing together since we were fourteen – partnered in high school musicals and summer stock. We would go home too late, buzzed and flushed, sweaty and swing by a little bakery in Glendale, grab a carton of cold milk and a bag of warm apple fritters fresh from the oven at 2:00am – and sit in the living room watching old movies licking the sugar off of our fingers until we fell asleep on our thrift store couches.
This is what adults did, we thought.
Later that year Tommy came down with a mysterious fever – Now it would be diagnosed right away – the fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes that signal the “primary HIV infection syndrome.” In 1984 we thought it was some weird flu. Or sun poisoning from at day at the beach. I called campus health services – who told us to administer aspirin and Tylenol every hour. I wrapped him in a damp cool sheet – put him in my bed – and sat up all night checking on him.
We planned that if he ever got what was at the time a mysterious “gay disease” that we would empty all the cash out of our savings accounts and we would travel around the world with whatever time he had left.
Summer 1982: Small Town Southern California
We forged our friendship over musical theater: we were “triple threat” actors/singers/dancers and usually paired together like matching salt and pepper shakers. We danced and sang crawling all over each other -completely safe with each other’s bodies with no sexual threat to separate us. I remember sweltering summers – dancing on hard cement getting shin splints while choreographers hollered: – “Again! No! Stop! What are you doing my dear! ?! Again from the beginning!” Tommy would grab me and throw me – spin me and catch me – high up in the air on a tottery platform three feet wide and twelve feet high in the sky and I was never frightened.
He would never drop me. He would never let me fall. It never even entered my mind. I could trust him like my own breath.
Fall 1994: New York City
I had been aware for several years that Tommy’s lifestyle involved more substances than were healthful, especially with his HIV status- that he partied too much and stayed up too late and in general was not caring for his precarious health. He’d reassure me: “I look great!” He’d met (another) really really cute guy, he was making a lot of money, he got a new print modeling contact – he had a cute new studio apartment… I always hung up more worried than comforted by his cheer.
Today on the phone his voice was totally different. He was vulnerable – unraveling – He told me that he missed me – he said he had no other friend like me (he’d never said anything so overtly affectionate or emotional about our friendship and that frightened me even more.)
He asked after my mother – and told me that he wanted me to thank her for him- he’d often thought of her kindness and affection for him – He began crying after a while – panicking. He told me he felt contaminated – “There is something inside my body that is trying to kill me!”
I pleaded with him to get to sufficient medical care – people were surviving now with these new meds, protease inhibitors, why wasn’t he taking them?! – My urgency or directive advice shut him down. His tears cut off, he said he was just being silly and dramatic and he hurried to get off of the phone.
I wish I had listened quietly and better, and maybe told him that I was scared too – that I didn’t want to accept death as a possibility either – I needed him to be in this world with me even if we had grown apart – just to know that he was there – That the thought that he had a fatal illness was almost as intolerable to me as it was to him.
I had no way of knowing that this would be my last and only chance to ever share these feelings with him. I couldn’t know that he would never call me or let me know his whereabouts ever again. I didn’t know that this was my only chance to say goodbye.
Spring, 1996 : New York City
When I received the call informing me that Tommy had died- I couldn’t breathe. Those in our closest circles had not heard from him in too long. The silence told me it was coming – and he had died a only a two weeks before we began to fan out to find news of him. Yet it was still so horrible, inconceivable – I knew many people who have died of this disease – patients, friends, colleagues – and many more who were now surviving. But I always hoped – somehow believed – that Tommy would be exempt – that I simply needed him too much for anything like this to really happen.
For many weeks I carried around an unspoken nonsensical fantasy that Tommy had actually met some handsome older man, fit and wealthy and graying at the temples – who was keeping Tommy in the lifestyle that he aspired to. And that Tommy was just too aware of how judgmental I would be about it to call me. I could almost convince myself that this “death-thing” was a ruse to cover his tracks so the truth wouldn’t be found out.
I comforted myself with the picture of the first moment I met Tommy:
Fall, 1979: Small Town Southern California
We are sophomores in high school – neither of us native Californians. It is an audition/talent show to determine placement in drama classes the first week of school. We are the only people in the room who are not tan. The other boys his age are bigger, hairier and more developed – and he is still a boy – skinny, pale – with freckled skin and graceful fingers. He is wearing a red-checkered shirt like an Italian tablecloth – and a straw cowboy hat. He looks ridiculous. He gets up on stage and I can’t remember what he does – A silly country song? A comic monologue? But I laugh – really hard. Because he is really funny- and I tell him so when he gets off stage near me.
I’m heading up to the stage next to embarrass myself too. I am sick to my stomach stage fright. I start talking loudly into a pretend telephone and I look out in the audience for the boy in the checkered shirt- who’s name I do not know – and he is laughing. Really hard.
The terror dissolves and I am safe.
Sept 13th, 2001 New York City
Three days earlier I had watched, along with millions of other New Yorkers, 3,000 people burn to ashes in front of my eyes. I ran straightaway to a hospital where my husband worked, and volunteered there for the day at the hospital gates – as thousands and thousands of people queued up – to ask about missing friends and family members. I cross checked the names of the missing with a single sheet which listed maybe seventeen names attached to a clip board, a shockingly short list of ER admissions considering the scope what we had all just witnessed. It was unfathomable to consider, that soon after the collapse, that so many thousands had disappeared into smoke and dust. The world had flipped upside down since breakfast. It was only just past noon. I told every single searcher that their loved one was had not been admitted. And the crowd continued on in shock, in single file, winding their way further uptown, toward the next hospital.
Pliny said that the rainbow foretold a heavy winter or a war. ~ Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend
When cell phone signals were rerouted away from the great shattered antennae, and the phones began working again, I called my psychotherapy clients, those who worked or lived downtown first: A teenager whose elderly frail father worked in the courthouse, a child whose non-custodial father owned a business on the subway level of the trade center, a woman who had just started a new job in the financial district. Along with every other New Yorker who lived downtown, I tried to ignore the relentless un-ignorable smell, a stench that would persist for months – the smell of burning jet fuel and melting iron, the smell of flesh and death and shattered glass that hung in the sky, a bright orange haze at sunset, covering everything with a layer of glass twinkling dust and ash.
Tibetean Buddhism speaks of the rainbow body – in which the body dissolves in rainbow colored light – leaving only hair and nails behind.” ~ The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism
So now, three nights after the attack, after seeing what clients I could in this upside down world – I put on the stereo and stretched out on the living room floor as the sun set and I began to dream:
I am matronly, white haired, in my 50’s living in a large old house, with a porch and a garden out front. I am still married to David, still a psychotherapist. I am a mother of a teenage boy, although I only see his dark head passing by in the periphery.
I am myself – but more so. There is an ease about me that is elusive to me at the age of 37. I am plumper, softer. The sharp and brittle aspects of my personality have been worn down and burned away. I am mellowed, wiser maybe than I have known myself to be.
I answer the doorbell and I see Tommy is visiting, who has been dead for the past five years. The realizations about mellowing and settling in to myself are recognizable to me only when Tommy comes in. I feel these things as he sees them in me.
I am initially nervous about how he will view my corny, Quakerly life. But he is not bored, or disappointed or contemptuous I can’t stop hugging him – even though I know he still not the “huggy” type – it has been so long since I have seen him. And although I know he is dead, this visit feels vivid, crystalline, more real than waking life. I grab his arm. I sit next to him on the couch. I am aware that this can only be a brief visit. He can only stay for an afternoon.
He is still goofy and hilarious. Mugging and wearing a foolish hat for effect. He’s still fussy about clothes and accessories, still cruising for cute guys, still full of hedonistic hankerings. But in the dream his appetites and love of pleasure are not self-destructive but relieving, refreshing life-affirming.
In dream-time I am now many years older than he is, more settled down and my capacity for abandoning myself to play has grown rusty. But being near him makes me laugh harder than I have in a long time, tears streaming down my face, gasping for the next breath. I relish my food and drink more, feel more beautiful, more alive.
He seems happier, more grounded and giving, more empathic and more whole since his death. He is more sensitive to his own sadness, and the sadness of others.
He tells me he has made us an appointment for a manicure. I resist and tell him I have never had a manicure in my life and moreover I have never wanted a manicure. He drags me off to the salon anyway: “A manicure WILL make you feel better.” I’m overwhelmed with love and gratitude for the effort he has made throughout this visit.
I sense his loneliness. And I know, although he doesn’t say it, that he didn’t come only for me – but because the bridge between the living and the dead has opened wide as thousands of souls walk across it – and he came over to comfort himself a little too.
I relish his visit I feel loved as we can only in the presence of our oldest friends – relieved – and then he is gone….
A big dream. An unforgettable dream. A dream that feels more real that waking life. A dream that persists and is carried in my heart for years and years, that I return to, that I share with others who also grieved his loss. A dream I recount to my mother, who also loved this young man and had supported him through his tumultuous coming-out processes and had celebrated him and watched him grow.
A dream, that in my more superstitious moments, made me wonder what linked this projected future to the days following September 11th? Was it a warning? What would happen when I was 50? Would the road of the dead open wide again when I reached the life-stage shown to me in the dream? A disaster? My own death?
Or was the function of the dream to comfort me? To show me myself as I hoped to be one day, in a life I had not yet begun to imagine for myself: – A mother, living more gently, with a garden, in an old house away from the city?
A dream that I would return to over and over and wonder about as my future unfolds – as I grow white-haired, and plumper. As I become an adoptive parent to a dark haired boy.
A dream that comforts and guides me for decades about who I have the potential to become – as life chips away at my brittle bits, and breaks the sharp edges off of my capacity for self-righteousness and petty bitchiness. A dream that teaches me something ineffable about death and mourning and the connections we can sustain with a lost-life that we have cherished. A glimpse of the treasure that might await me at the other end of the rainbow.
A daughter joins the family.
My practice grows.
My marriage deepens.
Friendships emerge and recede, new ones blossom.
Family members and friends die and are mourned.
My mother joins us in the city, increasingly disabled and fragile.
I watch my dark headed children out-grow our city lives.
“Like two trout in a goldfish bowl.” my husband says.
We find a home outside of the city – an old house with a porch for my husband and a garden for me, a climbing tree for my daughter, a work-shop for my son, an accessible and private space to convert into an apartment for Grandma.
And the greatest luxury for a die-hard New Yorker: bathrooms for all.
We prepare to leave the city we have called home for thirty years
April 4, 2015
Tommy visits while I sleep again, and although I dream of him often, this dream has the weight and stunning clarity of his earlier visit:
I am looking through a lens or viewfinder. Zooming through a fancy lobby – of a hotel or an office building. There are large signs pointing to what is ahead and I ignore them. I am certain I know where I am headed. The viewer travels toward annex off to the east – it opens into a small – tiny amphitheater- behind the stage is a river, and deep valleys.
When I reach the stage Tommy is performing. He is singing a lovely, well-rehearsed number – at first I think it is “Over the Rainbow” but I realize that it is a different but similar song “Look to the Rainbow.”
“On the day I was born, said my father said he,
I’ve an elegant legacy waiting for ye
‘Tis a rhyme for your lips, and a song for your heart
To sing it whenever the world falls apart…
Look, look, look to the rainbow,
Follow it over the hill and stream.
Look, Look, look to the rainbow.
Follow the fellow who follows a dream.
So I bundled my heart, and I roamed the world free,
To the East with the lark, to the West with the sea.
And I searched all the earth, and I scanned all the skies
And I found it at last in my own true love’s eyes.
Follow the fellow, follow the fellow
Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”
He was a good singer in life, I think to myself, but better since death, his voice fuller. And something about the song, which I’ve always though of as trite is suddenly moving and lovely, haunting.
I tell the woman sitting next to me that I have seen this before. It is one of my favorites. I tell her that this performance runs perpetually.
Tommy finishes the song and says “This is a important song to listen to and contemplate when you can’t find any comfort around you and you need to pull inward.”
Tommy’s performance is over but he is still nearby –and I recall the specific sensation of waiting and milling around backstage for someone after the show to emerge from the dressing room. The woman next to me tells me categorically that Tommy is dead. I become enraged at her: “Of course he is dead, but he is not ‘dead’ at all in the way you think. I can “tune into” him anytime I like. I can TALK to him ANYTIME I LIKE and I DO, and I tell her that it is not in anyway her place to tell me anything at all about my ongoing relationship with my oldest friend whether he is dead or not.
I carried the dream and the song around inside of me for several weeks – like a smooth cool stone in my pocket, a worry bead, turning it over and over – even though I couldn’t know what was coming, or how much comfort I would need in the weeks and months ahead.
“A rainbow is to be used as a bridge. But one must go under it, and not over it. Whoever goes over it will fall and be killed.” ~ C. G. Jung Psychology and Alchemy pp. 58, Chapter 2, paragraph 69.
A house for sale.
Packing up our home, my children’s lives, my mother’s home.
A move to transitional, temporary quarters.
For the Arawak of South America: When (a rainbow) appears on land it is an evil spirit searching for a victim. ~ Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend
My mother’s rapidly and violently collapsing health
The horror of a terminal diagnosis.
Coordinating care, battling doctors,
Refusing nonsensical and contraindicated procedures,
Preparing for end of school and end of life.
Managing hospice care and final family visits,
Morphine, vomit and shit,
Sleeplessness, fear, exhaustion,
Relentless panic at the intensity and volume of the tasks ahead of me,
Resistance and rage,
Primitive denial and collusion,
Securing medical and end of life support in a new state, a new community
Frustration and tantrums,
Hypervigilance and unfathomable overwhelm.
Doctors incapable of naming the truth, death, that is staring us in the face.
Insufficient insurance and financial anxiety,
Obstacles to basic care.
And the grief of children: as they leave the only home, friendships, and community they have ever known, as they complete their diorama’s and year end projects on Viking ships and the Norse Gods, their grandmother will die away a little each day as we are all sucked up in a spinning cyclone.
They will lose almost everything at once.
Except us. Except each other.
Among the Semang of Malays the places where a rainbow touches earth are unhealthy. ~ Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend
And their Imo, a cherished chosen auntie/sister, a woman who selflessly and lovingly helped to care for my mother during an earlier phase of illness and disability would discover that she too was contending with her own difficult to diagnose, hard to treat cancer.
And while this all unfolds we must close on an old house and a new one, put our belonging in storage, tour new schools, interview babysitters, pay the bills, and act like psychotherapists.
Our household will be strained beyond anything we have ever known.
The bridge collapses under the destructive weight of the giants – and the gods are unable to preserve it ~ John Lindow, Norse Mythology; a Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs
I will encounter my own limitations and my insufficiency on every front: as I face down the impossibility of caring for my children, my parent, my friends and my clients. I will spend most of my time trying not to feel wholly failed as a mother, a daughter, a friend, a psychotherapist as I stumble and stagger from one challenge, trauma, crisis, grief to another. I must contend with my utter finiteness through this whirlwind of crisis– attempting to address all these needs, and leave profound needs, all around me, unfulfilled or overlooked.
Including my own.
And I will try, usually unsuccessfully, not to tear myself apart about the things I cannot do.
Underneath the rainbow I’ll peel away my skin
And when I’m done with peeling I’ll let you back in,
Somewhere under the Rainbow.
Underneath the black clouds
There’s sunshine on my floor
And with my nails I’m peeling it
To use it for my skin
~ Somewhere under the Rainbow lyrics – Stephen Jones
When you pass underneath the rainbow everything you have ever come to know about yourself and the world around you will be challenged.
“In Europe it is believed anyone passing under a rainbow will be transformed, man into woman, woman into man.” ~ Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend
I am consumed. I cry and rail and fret at the relentlessness of if all. I don’t know how to do this much, for so many people, for so long, on top of all of my own core-maternal-conflicts – my mother, my motherhood, my children, my childhood.
As a psychotherapist: I am cancelling appointments as medical realities and legal, contractual demands shift on a dime, with little notice. I am logistically less reliable than I have ever been before. I am noticeably exhausted. My bandwidth is narrow. My energies for penetrating interpretations are limited.
But: the hours that I spend in my office are the sweetest and most relieving – I have no decisions to make. I must do nothing but sit and be present for the people who have come to me. I am stripped of anything superfluous. AlI have to give is my time and my presence. I can do that. That is all I can do. I can care, and listen, and breathe and nod, and remember. That is it. I can go on being, with and for my therapeutic partners. And nothing else. Nothing extra.
There is nothing else.
Some clients feel abandoned. Some are enraged. Some feel fearful or annoyed. Some worry about me. Some ask. Some don’t. Some are patient, cutting me a break, and others can cut me no slack at all without harming themselves. Some I tell. Some I protect. Some I don’t trust, and with others we are intimate enough that I don’t trust myself to name what is occurring to me in a detached, processed way. Most offer me an escape into a world of stories that are not my own, that relieve me and give me solace from the mountain of impossibilities and unknowables that flood my own life.
I am hanging on to each moment with white knuckles. Every minute of every day I must negotiate the simultaneous pressures to fall to pieces and to function at the peak of my capacities.
I may have ignored the early signs but in just a few weeks the meaning of the dream had become crystal clear: I would have to sing myself some internal consolation while the world fell apart.
I download Dinah Washington singing Look to the Rainbow and listen to it, or sing it to myself in an endless loop – as I move and work, and change soiled linens and pack and un-pack boxes, and coordinate care and contact care managers and evaluate our finances and try to figure out what to do if she collapses into total medical dependency sooner than we think, or lives longer than we are prepared for needing more care than we can provide or afford.
I am simultaneously my best and my worst at all times. But I know that what offers me the greatest comfort is to be in authentic relationship. It is the deepest comfort I know- whatever I can or cannot do for my mother, my children, my clients I can at least keep my heart wide open – and thankfully, it is also what is most required of me.
The second I step out of the office and back into life, or am pulled out by an emergency: I am humming, or singing to myself, or listening to Dinah:
“So I bundled my heart, and I roamed the world free,
To the East with the lark, to the West with the sea…”
Rainbows are bridges between this world and the next.
In Norse mythology, the rainbow is Bilröst, or AEsir-bridge: separating and connecting the “world of humans and the world of the gods or between earth and heaven” ~ John Lindo. Norse Mythology: a Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs
In the Prosaic Edda the rainbow bridge makes the “best of” list – it is the very “best of bridges”:
Asked about the path to heaven from earth, H’ar tells Gylfi/Gangleri that it is made Bilröst, that the gods made it, and that it may be called the rainbow… it is very strong, and made with great skill and knowledge but it will break wheh the sons of Muspell (Giants) ride over it. Nothing can survive the harrying of the sons of Muspell, and describing the end of times, Ragnarök, Bilröst will break.~ John Lindo. Norse Mythology: a Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs
I am reminded of these mythic tales by my kids – as we work together in in our temporary, transitional housing – as one lifetime collapses out from under us and we fling ourselves blindly toward a new world – as I help construct Viking ships of balsa wood and proof-read school reports on Rangarök, the end of times.
The rainbow is a potent, burning transitional place – a shimmering fiery Third created at the intersection of two distinct realities, two disparate worlds.
A synthetic Hegelian Third perhaps, or if you prefer, a vibrant manifestation of Winnicottian transitional phenomena.
For Winnicott transitional phenomena are first seen in early infancy, in our first attempts to self-soothe – by sucking our thumbs, by ruthlessly loving a blankie or teddy bear. Or by singing ourselves songs:
An infant’s babbling and the way in which an older child goes over a repertory of songs and tunes while preparing for sleep come within the intermediate area as transitional phenomena. ~ D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality, pp 2 Chapter 1 Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena
Winnicott is not particularly interested in the object itself -but in the ways that we instinctively use such transitional objects – as a bridge – to transcend the empty space between the absent omnipotent Comforter and our small, finite distressed selves.
Transitional phenomena lead us to a third space: “an intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute. It is an area that is not challenged, because no claim is made on its behalf except that is shall exists as a resting-place for the individual engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet interrelated. – D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality, pp 2
~ D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality , Chapter 1 Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena, Figure 2
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad articulates a similar construct:
There are two states for man – the state in this world, and the state in the next; there is also a third state, the state intermediate between those two which can be likened to a dream. While in the intermediate state a man experiences both the other states, that in this world, and that in the next.
In some form or another most of us rely upon transitional phenomena throughout our lives. Dreams and creative processes are in themselves a transitional phenomena, as is psychotherapy. They simultaneously rise up from within us, but they feel as though they exist outside of us as well. Transitional phenomena bridge the gulf between worlds – between our unconscious selves and consciousness, between brain and mind, between this world and the next, between past and present.
Dreams, and songs and rainbows (and teddy bears and blankies and all other transitional phenomena) are objects of a certain kind – objects which seem to our perceptions to almost have autonomy from our will, some inherent agency.
“It must seem… to give warmth, or to move, or to have texture or to do something that seems to show it has a vitality of its own” ~ D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality , Chapter 1 Transitional Objects and TransitionalPhenomena, pp, 5
Was the song I was given as a transitional object a gift from my own psyche? Or a message from a friend long dead? Was I merely processing some subtle intuitive awareness of my mother’s impending deterioration and death by focusing instead on the death of a childhood friend?
Was the dream that produced the song an external or an internal event? A subjective experience or objective reality?
This is exactly the paradoxical nature of transitional phenomena. The rainbow is a bridge that is simultaneously substantial and insubstantial. Transitional phenomena are Both/And, not Either/Or.
So, I don’t concern myself with whether or not Tommy came to visit, with whether or not my psyche dredged up the lyrics of an old Broadway musical I had once danced in when I was young,
I only know that it offered powerful consolation during a protracted period of labor and distress.
“Should an adult make claims on us for our acceptance of the objectivity of his subjective phenomena we discern or diagnose madness. If, however, the adult can manage to enjoy the personal intermediate area without making claims, then we can acknowledge our own corresponding intermediate areas, and are pleased to find a degree of overlapping, that is to say common experience between members of a group in art, or religion or philosophy. ~ D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality pp 14
I make no such claims, and find such claims – in either direction – to interpret such experiences as merely subjective or merely objective to miss the point entirely, sucking away the mystery and consolation of transitional phenomena.
Jung resisted making such claims as well and interpreted his own dream of the destruction of mortals upon the rainbow bridge as reminder to remain humble and grounded in the face of seemingly “spiritual” experiences:
We should not rise above the earth with the aid of “spiritual” intuitions and run away from hard reality, as so often happens with people who have brilliant intuitions. We can never reach the level of our intuitions and should therefore not identify ourselves with them. Only the gods can pass over the rainbow bridge: mortal men must stick to the earth and are subject to its laws. ~ C. G. Jung Psychology and Alchemy pp. 114, Chapter 3, paragraph 148.
This June, at age 51, a white haired, softer, plumper, me, a mother to two dark-headed tweens, moved into a large old house with a porch and a garden out front.
A few weeks later my mother peacefully, with great consciousness, acceptance and clarity crossed over the bridge that the rest of us had passed under.
Now may it not be that, under certain conditions, something quite new, different from anything that one knows, may come over the mental horizon, something as dazzling and splendid as a rainbow…? ~ C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, Appendix The Miller Fantasies
And the very next day, the Supreme Court of the United States declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and the world, as I knew it, exploded in celebration of legitimized enfranchised love – a day that Tommy, who had contracted HIV at the peak of the AIDS crisis under a president who ignored tens of thousands of deaths for six years before mentioning the word AIDS in public – could certainly never have imagined. A day where he would have been present in my heart and in my thoughts even if he had never sung to me in my sleep.
…Follow the fellow, follow the fellow.
Follow the fellow who follows a dream…
A day of uncanny consolation as I walked through a world that was suddenly (and would remain so for weeks) completely enveloped in rainbows.
And I am for ever changed by the labors of those who have traversed the road of the dead in both directions and grateful to my oldest, dearest friend for sending over a gift of such unsurpassing love and comfort.
~ Look to The Rainbow, from Finnian’s Rainbow, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg