Saturday, July 31, 2010

Remembering Al Andersen

I got a call this week that I didn't want to get. Dorothy Andersen called from California to tell me that her husband, Al, had passed away last Sunday. He was 91, and had been in frail health for some time.

I first met Al back in 1991, at the FIC fall organizational meetings at Lama Foundation (San Cristobal NM). It was the first time the Fellowship had met in the Southwest and Al came up from Tucson to check us out.

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Al was 22 years old when Pearl Harbor propelled us in to World War II. As a Conscientious Objector, he sat the war out in a federal prison in Danbury CT. Around 1948, he collaborated with Griscom Morgan (who would later become the Director of Community Service, Inc, now called the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, after Griscom's father) to organize a series of gatherings for communities in the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley regions. The momentum generated by these get-togethers ultimately coalesced into the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. (Note the different preposition from the FIC of today—this first incarnation was oriented toward people already living in community, many of whom were COs who wanted to focus what could be done to eliminate the occasion for war.)

That's right, Al was there when the first FIC was founded. Although the dynamism of FIC 1.0 petered out in the '70s, and none of the bunch involved in that original effort were around for the revitalization spearheaded by Charles Betterton in 1986, it was only natural that Al wanted to find out what the new generation was up to, after we'd poured new wine into his old bottle.

True to his ties to the original FIC, Al wanted to know where the current Fellowship stood on the question of social and economic justice. While he was happy that we were promoting cooperation, that wasn't enough. He wanted FIC to take a stand against injustice and US hegemony in the world—never mind that we were a 501c3 and prohibited from taking active political stands.

Over the nearly two decades that we knew each other, Al and I were in the same room together only half a dozen times, generally at some FIC function. The last time I saw him was almost two years ago, at Friends House, a Quaker-based assisted living facility in Santa Rosa, which is where he spent his final years. He had arranged for me to give a talk about how intentional community can be a response to US imperialism. As it turned out, I went head to head with Barrack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic national convention. I was flattered that a dozen or so folks decided to watch Barrack on tape-delay, and listen live to what I had to say.

Throughout the years, Al and I spoke regularly on the phone. He was always working on one analysis or another about contemporary politics, and it was a treat to hear what issue he was working on. In the last year, his attention became split between the theme of US empire, and the possibility that dis-embodied spirits could actively participate in groups from beyond death. Regarding the latter, I told Al that I work extensively with group energy, yet know nothing about dis-embodied entities. (I asked how the living could feel confident that they were working accurately with the views of the dis-embodied, especially if there was disagreement among the living about what those views were. As far as I know, Al was still puzzling that out when the sand ran out of his hourglass.)

While I'm saddened by the loss of a friend, perhaps he'll now have a decent chance to test out the possibilities as a dis-embodied spirit. It pleases me to think that he might be right. Maybe it will turn out that the limiting factor is not so much getting the dis-embodied to speak, as it is teaching the living how to hear—as far as I'm concerned, the world of the living is under-blessed with good listeners.

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