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  • Karl Thunemann

The Vengeful Meditator

Sometimes confession must be good for the soul. I fear I have misled the reader in painting this blog as a memoir of my forty-plus years as a meditator. Well, I did start meditating circa 1973, and ever since I have regarded myself as a meditator. There have been many lapses, weeks or months when I neglected to meditate and seldom thought about it. I do not defend these wayward periods, but as forgiveness is a hallmark of loving-kindness, I forgive myself.

One of these periods still gnaws at me. For a time—was it weeks? More likely months—I was captive to a fantasy of assassinating three members of my extended family. I never developed a concrete plan. Indeed, although I would need a gun, I never bent my mind to acquiring one or learning how to shoot. I didn’t even fantasize about seeing my targets recoil in that fleeting moment before they ceased to be. No, it would be more like pointing my finger and saying, Bang, I wish you dead. A fantasy: the power of negative thinking.

I have put off my plan to write about these murderous thoughts. I do not feel justified in naming my targets. All three have long since died. They are mourned, not despised. Who was I to intrude my judgment?

Some considerations have put off my plan to write about these murderous thoughts. I do not feel justified in naming my targets. All three have long since died. They are mourned, not despised. Who was I to intrude my judgment? At the time, I was convinced that they had treated people I loved with monstrous cruelty, both physical and emotional. But in the end I softened and changed. I reconciled with all three. There were no words of confrontation. I still thought there had been cruelty, but time had obscured the details. Somehow I had learned to love them.

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While I did not think about guns, I did think about transportation. My plan required making two stops in another state, Whether I used my own car or a rental, I would be easy to trace. Still, my fantasy extended itself.: If I remained at large, I would return home and assassinate two newspaper executives. Their sins did not warrant capital punishment, but their willful cruelty toward subordinates had spawned fierce resentment. Dispatching them would make me a folk hero to journalists in my state. (Him? Who wudda thunk it?) I envisioned prison visits, even a ballad of commemoration.

I cannot pinpoint exactly when this occurred, but I can place it roughly. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the country experienced a tsunami of recovered memories of sexual abuse, manifested in fresh diagnoses of multiple personality disorders, blamed on sexual abuse during childhood. We learned to think in terms of dissociative personality disorder instead of multiple personalities. Overnight, it seemed the country had gone from a handful of such cases to many thousands. For many families it was a time of contention and tumult.

When exactly was that niche in time? Pondering, I can see that my malevolent fantasy must have appeared contemporaneously with my debut as a hospice volunteer. Maybe my fantasy was a forerunner. As my month-long training to be a volunteer neared an end, my anxiety peaked. I had been so excited about this work. But maybe I was not ready. I presented this quandary to my then-therapist. He suggested that I go ahead with the hospice work: Maybe it would contain a solution.

So I went ahead. The beginning was rocky. My first two clients died before I ever met them. When I came to visit my third, he lay in a hospital bed in his living room—still, slack-jawed, almost as if awaiting my arrival to trigger his departure. But he was to live for many months—long enough to fulfill his need for his wife’s care, and to meet her need to care for him.

I also worked Sunday mornings in the hospice center. I felt as if I had joined a spiritual community. The nurses were its heart, and I learned a great deal from them. I learned to see them as the “chosen” within this world that was now mine. Everything was new, as I was among the initial volunteers of the just-opened center. Soon I was regularly included on the volunteers’ panel to orient still newer volunteers. My strength was my willingness to talk—with humor—about the mistakes I had made and the lessons they impressed upon me.

This epistle has taken an unexpected turn, as if I had forgotten how my murderous fantasies must have been overwhelmed by my introduction to this healing community. The details of this showdown have vanished, and many remain unavailable. Had I stopped meditating? When did I resume? Were my visions of assassination thrust aside, or did they just dwindle away, finding no nourishment in this environment? I suspect they were transformed.

Toward the end of my three-year sojourn at the hospice, a small boy lived at the center. He would have been a toddler, except that he had drowned and was considered brain dead. He seemed cherubic, and other volunteers—many of them Catholics—loved to hold him. They envisioned his mute spirit coming to life and circling the quiet rooms of the center, high along its walls.

I was wary of this boy and held him just once—for most of a three-hour shift. I could not see him as himself. I projected my own lost and vanquished inner children onto him. The visions that had tormented me before the hospice were still present, even if they had subsided for now. Seeing my inner selves brought to life through this boy now strikes me as one of my earliest encounters with the soul, though the idea did not occur to me then.

 I have no recollection of deciding to set my vengeful fantasies aside. I do not think I will write about them again, though I know how surprising life can be. I may write about hospice life—about the administrative crisis that gripped the center, and more. I no longer volunteer there, but living in a cooperative community where the average age is well north of 80 (last year alone we experienced more than 15 deaths among our 150 residents), I believe we are all called to live as if we were hospice volunteers, even if our primary client is seen only in a mirror. 


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