MYTH AND MORTALITY: TESTING THE STORIES, by Harry Willson, relates the author's field of expertise, that is, mythology, to the field of Death and Dying. Years of counseling the sick and dying, and years of searching with students for answers to life's big questions, have helped him with this task.
The actual work of preparing this book was triggered by the way Willson's parents died: his mother suddenly and easily, doing her self-appointed task which was caring for her ailing husband, and his father slowly and miserably, not believing in the end what he had so assiduously taught others all his life. "His mythology let him down," Willson says. The first twenty-six pages of the book tell that dramatic story -- "Two Deaths One Summer."
Then follow essays entitled, "The Denial of Death," "Our Aging Population," and "We Need a Mythology. The last one introduces the main body of the book, which works through thirty-two different beliefs or metaphors dealing with death, and gives frank evaluations of how helpful they may be for persons confronting death. They are arranged according to the source of the myths under analysis.
Willson deals first with Stories from Infantile Wishing. Then he proceeds to stories from Contemporary Media, from Socio-Political Movements and from Practical Observation. His most striking innovation is the distinction between Stories from Religion, which are designed to preserve Ego, and Stories from Philosophy, which enable us to transcend Ego.
The book ends with an essay, "Whose Task Is This?" in which the author challenges each reader to be in some way ready to be responsible for his or her own departure. Ego is the problem.
Harry Willson's formal schooling include a B.A. in chemistry and math at Lafayette College, Easton, PA, 1953 [summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa], and an M.Dv. [Master of Divinity] in ancient mid-east language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. He also became bilingual, through one year of Spanish Studies at the University of Madrid, and he studied Spanish, literature, philosophy, mythology and theatre arts at the University of New Mexico. He has the Diploma de Espanol como Lengua Extranjera from the University of Salamanca.
He learned more by working: truck farming through high school and college in Williamsport, PA, and jackhammering in Lansdale, PA. He served as student pastor at the Presbyterian Church, Hamburg, NJ, for four years while in seminary.
In 1958 he moved his family to New Mexico, where he served as bi-lingual missionary pastor, in Bernalillo, Alameda and Placitas for eight years. He served as Permanent Clerk of the Presbytery of Rio Grande, Chairman of Enlistments and Candidates, Chairman of the Commission on Race, and Moderator of the Presbytery.
In 1966 he left the church, in sorrow and anger, mostly over its refusal to take a stand against the Vietnam War. He taught school for ten years, at the Albuquerque Academy and at Sandia Preparatory School.
In 1976 he became self-employed, assisting in his wife's business, Draperies by Adela, and managing several businesses of his own, including worm ranching, organic gardening, conducting dream workshops, raising rabbits, selling fireplace inserts and caning chairs. All the while he was building a body of work as a writer. In 1986, he and Adela founded Amador Publishers.
Throughout his life, Harry was an activist in peace and justice causes. In 1965 he answered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s call for clergy to go to Selma, Alabama to assist in voter registration and demonstrations again police brutality in the wake of "Bloody Sunday." He participated in the successful march from Selma to Montgomery on March 25, where he personally witnessed Dr. King deliver his "How Long, Not Long" speech. In later years he joined the movement to stop radioactive dumping in New Mexico. He was a long-time member of the Humanist Society of New Mexico.
Harry's work has been hard to classify, according to genre. He considered his outlook "planetary, unitary, peacemaking, anti-racist and anti-sexist, sensing the importance of the inner, curious, sensual, mythic."
Harry Willson, prolific writer of fiction, satire, social commentary and philosophy, died on March 9, 2010 at the age of 77.read more
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