Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Friday, November 22, 2013

Aldous Huxley's Appointment With Eternity on 11/22/63

Laura Archera Huxley

 Though I never met Aldous Huxley, his dystopian novel, Brave New World, had a profound effect on me when I was a member of the Manual Arts Science Fiction and Fantasy Club back in the early '50s. I still recall discussing the influence Huxley and his work had on one of his students, George Orwell (then Eric Blair) and whether novels such as Huxley's and Orwell's1984 could actually be considered science fiction at all.

Both Huxley and C.S. Lewis, who also created a world of his own in Narnia, died fifty years ago today...on such a heavy news day that most newspapers and television broadcasts didn't even  mention their passing.

In 1979 I met Huxley's widow, Laura Archera Huxley, when she visited MacLaren Hall, the Los Angeles County temporary pre-placement residence facility for abused and neglected children. I was the psychiatric social worker for the nursery and Laura had a special interest in infants and toddlers. Laura, in the International Year of the Child, appeared at countless seminars, conferences and universities to promote her projects: Prelude to Conception, Reverence for Life, Project Caressing, Children: Our Ultimate Investment and others. All were devoted to the premise that one baby touches a thousand lives and should be considered an endowment to the world's future.

I'd known of her years earlier, from reading her landmark book, You are Not the Target, one of the earliest of the self-help genre that proliferated through the next couple of decades. The subtitle of the book had intrigued me: Recipes for Living and Loving. One particular recipe I even tried, Dance Naked to Music. I shared the story of how I had secluded myself in my bedroom and played Oscar Levant's recording of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, divested myself of all my clothes and had shimmied about the room for nearly an hour. She'd smiled. She loved a bit of quirkiness, and recounted how she and Huxley had married in 1956 at a drive-in chapel in Yuma, Arizona.

I wrote about Laura and her projects for a Long Beach arts magazine, Uncle Jam, for its October 1979 issue. I described her thusly:
"If anyone is an embodiment of the 'young person over sixty' that Laura Huxley writes and talks about, it is Laura herself. She moves with the agility and grace of a teenage ballerina, speaks with the lilting enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning, and hugs with the artistry and vigor of at top contender, would that there were a world-class competition in this event. She is Ariel incarnate, but earthy, as well."

She visited the MacLaren nursery several times and in turn two or three times I visited her home beneath the Hollywood sign. She wrote about her life with Huxley in This Timeless Moment and never hesitated to introduce her husband's views into our conversations. Once as we sat in her living room, sipping coffee, she told me about how she coped on November 22, 1963. Huxley was dying of cancer and the house was filled with close friends. A roar had gone up in her living room, and when she investigated she learned the president had been assassinated in Dallas. She pleaded that they visitors turn down the sound on the television and returned to her husband's side. She knew he was struggling to let go as his life ebbed. Unable to speak, he scribbled a request for LSD, so she gave him an injection. He began to relax as she held his hand and whispered words of love, urging him to move toward the light.

Among my treasures is a copy of Huxley's The Doors of Perception that Laura inscribed..."For Terry, from her admirer, affectionately, Laura." I also have a framed copy of a letter she sent praising the Uncle Jam article.

Since Kennedy's murder, I've always awakened on November 22 with a vague sense of unease...and then I remember why. The events of that dismal weekend so long ago replay in my mind as my day progresses. Others tell me they have the same sense of dread when they first recognize what day it is. Since I met Laura, though, I also remember how Aldous Huxley, called by many the foremost literary mind of the 20th century, eased toward his own brave new world, soothed and comforted by his wife.

For more reflections on both Huxley and C. S. Lewis:

Aldous Huxley

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