The Old Man Speaks at St.

Tally: An Intuitive Life, by Mary Clark, based on the life and ideas of Paul Johnston (PJ), was published by All Things That Matter Press in 2013. Paul Johnston, known to himself as PJ, the Old Man, The Professor of Love, The Artist, the ghost of his wife’s husband, and The Writer, came to St. Clement’s Church, 423 West 46th Street, NYC in July 1978. He was invited to speak on his 79th birthday by Richard Spiegel, director of the Poetry Festival.

PJ came to Greenwich Village in 1919 and spent the rest of his life there and in the towns of Woodstock, New York, and Silvermine, Connecticut. At St. Clement’s, he read some of his work and recited the following Bohemian poem by Robert Claremont: “When I’m dead with my hat in my hand To the hungry worms I’ll say I still don’t understand.” One of his favorite sayings was: “The end of the world has come and gone, and none the wiser.” He believed civilization had come to an end at the turn of the Century, a year after his birth in 1899. People today are diverted, he said, from living consciously and fully alive by the amusements of civilization. They are “educated out of their minds,” and unable to think for themselves. Many “would prefer to be primitive than to live as if dead in civilization.” But awareness of this reality is “among the least of cognizances” since it is repressed and evaded, often with the help of civilization’s diversions and the human ability to rationalize even a meaningless existence. PJ met his “body sickness” with a sense of humor, along with impatience and hysteria. As he aged, he faced death and contemplated the great questions: what is a human being, is it possible to have a meaningful life, to be decent and alive in modern society, to live with other human beings, what are we each individually responsible for and how do we honestly evaluate our actions and their consequences, and where do we come from and where, if anywhere, are we going? His “persistence of existence” vexed him because he felt he had “lived past his destiny.” It was a cruel joke to have to go on. These lines from Chaucer sum this up: Not even Death, alas, will take my life So, like a wretched prisoner at strife Within himself, I walk alone and wait . . . Retaining a sense of irony about his circumstances: poverty, old age, loneliness and chronic pain, he said that the Angel of Death had visited him and moved on, not “tarrying” because there were “so many other old gents adying.” PJ came to a deep belief that his consciousness had contributed to universal knowledge and his life was of value after all. He certainly influenced me and remains part of my consciousness to this day.

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