“Why does a rolling stone gather no moss?”
“Because it is moving. Moss can only grow on something that is still.”
The woman who had asked the question looked at me in surprise.
“What is the matter?”
“No one has ever answered it that way before,” she said.
“Well, that is the answer,” I replied. Years ago in 1969 in a book titled YOU FOREVER by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa (an English plumber who said his body had been taken over by the transmigrated soul of a Tibetan Lama) I had read it.
“There is nothing wrong with you,” she said.
The year was 1981 just after the suicide of my brother Michael.
The setting was McMaster Psychiatric Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
“When you turn thirty-four everyone you know is going to turn against you. You are going to celebrate your thirty-fifth birthday in a psychiatric hospital after you lose someone very close to you. Don’t worry about it. When you come out you will become the richest man on earth,” said the man across the table from me in the Parkside Tavern in Toronto in 1964. His name was Billy Veltzell.
I had met him my first night in Toronto. That morning my high school principal (in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) had called me into his office. He said, “You have entirely the wrong attitude. If you leave this school today you will starve in two weeks.”
I left his office, borrowed some money from a friend, Cathy Roney, and caught the bus to Toronto where I thought I had a friend.
Turned out I was wrong about the friend. I had just enough money in my pocket for a beer. Drinking age was 21. I was 17.
No sooner had the waiter dropped a beer in front of me than the police walked in. “Drink your beer and talk with me,” said a man at the next table.
After the police left he said, “You are new in town. Do you have a place?” His name was Billy Veltzell.
“You should not have gone home with that man last night. He is a bad person,” said a much better dressed man the next night. He said he was a film producer. I wanted to work in the movies. He said he would help me get a job.
“There is a bed in the basement,” he said when we got to his place out in the middle of nowhere.
“Turn around,” he said when I got to the bottom of a very narrow stairwell.
I turned to see him standing at the top of the stairs with a hammer in his hand.
“Give me what I want or I will kill you,” he said.
“Had I warned you yesterday would you have believed me?” said Billy the next night.
“Not yesterday but from now on, yes,” I told him.
When, a short time later, Billy told me he was psychic and said I would be celebrating my 35th birthday in a psychiatric hospital after losing someone very close to me I laughed. Who can tell what tomorrow will bring?
Well, Billy could.
After I turned thirty-four just about everyone I knew turned against me. At the time I was running the first Cineforum which was at 12 Mercer Street in Toronto down by where the CN Tower now stands. It was an exhausting year.
By the end of April I had been given an ultimatum: seek psychiatric help or we will leave.
Those words I had laughed at so long ago echoed in my mind.
In front of me was a small copy of THE NEW TESTAMENT which I had found in the home of my uncle Douglas in Ottawa. He had studied to be a priest before entering the civil service where he rose to become Director General of Public Works Canada. I did not know it then but that was a uniquely powerful translation.
I opened it at random. My eyes fell to Jesus saying, “If you walk with me your father, your mother, your brothers, your sisters, everyone you know will turn against you. ..You shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake. But if you continue with me you will possess your self.”
Most translations say there “you will be saved,” or “you will find salvation,” or some such. None are as specific as this one was.
I thought about self possession. I realized that until we possess our self we possess nothing. I realized that the only thing we can truly possess is our self.
In that moment everything Jesus taught took on a new, clearer, more pregnant meaning.
It takes self possession to turn the other cheek. It takes self possession to walk the extra mile when someone forces us to walk one. It takes self possession to do good to those who do evil to us. All these things I saw now as exercises which help us to develop self possession.
On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus had said, “You do not take my life. I lay it down. I will pick it up.”
I realized that, in theory, it should be possible to so much possess our self that we can lay down our life and pick it up again.
All of this came to me in a burst of seconds.
I said to myself, “Your family, your friends, just about everyone you know has already turned against you. If you add this nothing will change and it is a better reason than all the rest for bearing with it.”
Morris Wolfe taught film studies at The Ontario College of Art in Toronto. He offered storage for my film library and an office. “You will be a great asset for the students,” he said.
Harry Stinson’s family ran THE GROANING BOARD RESTAURANT in Toronto. I had shown films there with great success. They were moving to a new location which would open in September of 1981. Harry wanted me to run a program there.
I decided to shut down for the summer. I figured at least one of these offers should come through. As it turned out neither did but that was Destiny.
My sister Kathy said I could store my stuff in her basement. Kathy’s husband Steve, an ambulance driver, and my younger brothers Mark and Michael came in to move my stuff. Michael, who was also called “Igor,” literally had a death’s head over his face. “That boy is not long for this world,” I said to myself.
On May 20, 1981 I moved to Hamilton. Michael was in the basement at my mother’s house writing something. He looked at peace. “Whatever was bothering him he has worked his way through it,” I thought.
The next morning, a Saturday (May 21, 1981) at my sister’s I felt an explosion of pain burst through my chest. I was seized by an overwhelming need for the arms of my mother.
I found out later that when people resolve to kill themselves a calm settles over them. I found out also that when young men die violent deaths in combat they are seized by an overwhelming need for the arms of their mother. Psychically I was linked to my brother at his moment of death.
Of course, I did not know that then.
That night at my sister’s we were watching a movie on television titled THE BEAST MUST DIE. It ends with the main character putting a rifle in his mouth.
At that moment the phone rang.
My sister answered it. As she said, “Something terrible has happened to our brother,” the man in the movie pulled the trigger. His movie suicide and the information of my brother’s death came at the same moment.
“Stay away from that girl,” said my mother at Michael’s wake.
“Why?” I asked.
“He drank with her at three in the morning. She shaved his head,” my mother said.
I knew then that if anyone loved my brother it was her and that if anyone knew what was going on she was the one.
Intuitively I grabbed a razor, a can of shaving cream and the biggest bottle of hard liquor I could find.
“Come with me,” I said to her.
We went down the street to my brother Richard’s house. There we drank, she shaved my head and, as who talks more than a barber, she poured herself out.
I knew swiftly why Michael had done what he had done.
My lover of seven years had decided to leave. When people decide to leave us they make up their mind about six months to a year before they tell us. In the time between the decision to leave us and the decision t0 tell us they are leaving they lie through their teeth to themselves about what a rotten person we are to justify their departure. By chance, during that time, I had read much on the process of divorce. Everything I read compared it to the sudden suicide of a close family member. I did not know it but my brother had walked through the same Hell I had.
My sister’s brother was an ambulance driver. He called the hospital he drove for. The head shrink told him that it was not unusual for one suicide in a family to trigger another.
“For his own safety the family should commit him,” Steve had been told.
That was how, against my will, I came to find myself being asked, “Why does a rolling stone gather no moss?”
After the doctor who had first spoke with me left a long time passed.
Then a second one came in. We spoke a bit and then she asked, “Why does a rolling stone gather no moss?”
“There is nothing wrong with you,” she said as she left.
A much longer passage of time ensued.
A third doctor walked in. We talked. Then she asked, “Why does a rolling stone gather no moss?”
After I answered she left. A much longer passage of time followed. Then she came back.
“Well, we see nothing wrong with you but your family insists you stay here. We would like you to commit yourself.”
I refused to do that as I did not want Billy’s prediction of so many years before to come true. If it did it meant that neither I nor anyone else is in control of our lives. All of us are puppets on the strings of Fate.
When I said I would not do that she replied, “The family has the right to commit you against your will for ten days for observation.”
Destiny had won.
As I walked out of the elevator on to the psychiatric ward my first thought was, “You know you are not crazy but the rest of these people must be or they would not be here.” My second thought was, “I’ll bet everyone who comes in here has had the same thought.”
I was taken to the psychiatrist in charge. We spoke. After a bit he said, “Why does a rolling stone gather no moss?”
I replied. When I finished to his satisfaction I asked that I not be given drugs of any kind while there. He agreed that I would not be given drugs. “I would like you to speak with my assistant,” he said, adding, “She will see that you are settled.”
I spoke with her for a bit. Then she asked, “Why does a rolling stone gather no moss?”
I said to her, “I am not complaining but I have been in here since early this morning. I have not had breakfast, lunch nor a coffee. I have answered this question several times before. I am just explaining that if I make a mistake it is because I am tired.”
“You have answered this question before?” She said.
In that moment I knew that where I had thought there was order there was chaos.
“We will get you something to eat,” she said.
She got me some food and a coffee. After that she showed me where I was to sleep.
“Get in line for your medication,” I was told the next morning.
“The doctor I spoke with said I would not be given drugs,” I said.
“Get in line,” I was told.
Security guards were called.
I was stripped naked and taken to a room with a plastic bubble in the door so that staff could look in without having to open the door.
I was there for three days and nights like Jesus in the tomb. The lights were left on the full time.
“This is supposed to help?” I said to myself.
I had one question. How the fuck could Billy had known this was to come to be?
When I got the answer I got freedom.
As for the drugs, well, let them give me all that they wanted to. After my experiences at Rochdale College I knew that no drug could harm me.
On my 35th birthday as I cut the cake my sister Kathy had brought in to the hospital the psychiatrist in charge walked over.
“Do you know what is wrong with you?” he said.
“Nothing. I am on time and on schedule. I am right where I am supposed to be,” I replied.
Shortly after I discovered I could leave if I chose to. I left. It took a long time for the effect of the drugs I had been given to wear off. While they were wearing off I scared a lot of people. That’s another story.