Picking Up the Pieces
The total breakdown of my marriage that came to light over that weekend
with Tanya and Sherman would have forced me to reassess my life and goals even if soul-searching hadn’t already become
for me an avocation. By now, we had been to mainstream Ph.D. and M.S.W.-type marriage counselors and Diane had been in treatment
with two different psychoanalysts. Nevertheless, and despite the shambles we had made of our marriage, neither one of us seemed
ready to call it a marital day.
Tanya and Sherman, meanwhile, were assuring us that the “healing” of our relationship had already begun.
If we wanted to accelerate the process, they and several other couples were forming what amounted to a live-in support group
for dysfunctional families. In, of all places, a town called Normal, Illinois.
They described it as a community in which, under Mr. Dillon’s ultimate
authority, the participants would pursue their individual spiritual development while reconstituting their marriages and family
lives. It seemed a unique opportunity to turn our adversity to advantage. With one stroke, we could make a clean physical
break from our sordid past and begin a new spiritual adventure.
When Sarah answered the door on my next visit, her greeting was, “Going somewhere?
Come in and tell me about it.” In spite of some misgivings about Tanya and Sherman, she was respectful of Tanya’s
psychic gift and never questioned the reality of Mr. Dillon. She also intimated that we would gain much from this experience
in the wilds of Central Illinois.
For our families and friends, we tried to make the transition as respectable looking as possible. There were plenty
of good reasons to be moving out of Chicago in the spring of 1983. I told my academic colleagues it was time for me to return
to private practice and that I preferred to do so in a smaller-town environment. There was so much crime and traffic in the
city! And with the equity we had accrued in our tiny, three-bedroom house, we would be able to afford a veritable palace in
Normal. All these things of course were true, but beside the point.
Like us, the other couples moving to Tanya and Sherman’s community were struggling,
to one degree or another, to hold their marriages together. About half (including Sherman) were Jewish. There was another
lawyer, another psychiatric social worker, a psychology professor, a medical school professor and, a bit later, a dentist.
Along with our collective emotional baggage, we shared an egalitarian vision of communal living and psychological self-help.
We purchased five large homes on the
same block of a nice residential neighborhood. We developed a home-schooling program for the children. The idea was to create
a close-knit community in which our kids would be surrounded by a nurturing extended family. We would all feel welcome in
any of the five households. And we’d be knowledgeable of and engaged in each others’ personal and familial processes.
To that end, but also for economic
reasons, we lived two to three families per household. For while some of us had arrived in Normal with money in the bank,
the group also included waiters, delivery-people, construction workers and lots of kids. As a result, our mission to save
our marriages came also to entail forging community under these emotionally dire but adventuresome circumstances, across social
and economic lines. Just as husbands and wives were recommitting to each other as eternal soulmates, our families were undertaking
to share all aspects of the communal burden – social, psychological, spiritual and economic.
Neither Diane nor I had ever been involved in anything
so radical. But we were doing this together. We were once again on the same team. And we believed that we were finally
turning our dysfunctional relationship into something truly noble – not just for ourselves, but also for our 7-year-old
As I recall these
early, halcyon days in the community, I am still struck by our bold idealism. Here we were, eventually 40 or so adults, many
of us professionally if not interpersonally accomplished, committing ourselves and our resources to a common vision of marital
and communal life that we were learning and inventing as we went along. We were going to help each other uproot all vestiges
of selfishness, pride, deceitfulness and self-suppression. We would work diligently, within each relationship and household,
to handle every interpersonal conflict and every practical challenge of daily living at the inspired level we had all experienced
during our weekend sessions with Tanya and Sherman.
And for the first year or so, while we were able to live off our savings, it was truly an exhilarating experience.