Familiar stranger. A paradoxical term I once heard to describe those people who exist in our lives indirectly. A tangible presence as well as an abstraction.
In the Catholic tradition, infants are given an extra set of parents - an antiquated hedging of bets - called "godmother" and "godfather".
My godmother is a familiar stranger.
She has always been a presence in my life though I would be hard-pressed to recall if I have even heard her voice. For some reason, I imagine she sounds like my mother - another Kentucky girl. Growing up in Louisville (pronounced the way a drowning man might sound as he swallows the surface water on the way to the bottom, LEWavll... blub lub...), I like to think the clean air and clean water soften the vocal chords to create that rustic antebellum yodel.
If, in reality, she sounds like she swallowed a box of nails, I wouldn't know.
When my mother tells tales of her past, they invariably find their way back to my godmother, a gal called Bev - so many Kentucky summers ago. I sometimes try to imagine these years. The halcyon days of the late 50's and early 60's - braving the edge of curfew - talking to silver-tongued boys - exhilarating - forever.
A generation removed from my own, the nuances of those times are lost in translation. But the hallmarks of youth, the universal character of it all... these I know. Our childhood years are readily embellished by the vigorous decor of Romance. I know this spell. It is a familiar incantation. Any time I get together with my closest friends, we evoke the spirits of the past as readily and familiar as laughter. My "godmother", a gal named Bev, is the embodiment of this spirit. What a great thing to be.
Carl Jung would say that the very tradition of the godmother is a cultural expression of the dual-mother archetype. This also explains why my sister used to think that she was adopted and had a secret set of parents out there somewhere. Parallel to this, the idea of dual lineage (as seen in examples from Hercules to Christ) is a common social archetype manifesting across cultures and generations.
Ironically, I feel like it is in this collective current of unconscious concepts and ideas and symbols - Carl Jung's ethereal realm of the "collective unconscious" where the spiritual connection of man exists as a part of the universal flow of mysterious entanglement - that my familiar stranger and I are more familiar than strange.
We both have a love of art. Though she is a professional and I am a novice, we both paint.
Art is all about the undercurrents. Symbols. Mood. Perspective. There are very few human endeavors where the subconscious processes harmonize with a conscious act to such a degree. "Art people" can always recognize their own kind -- kindred spirits -- familiar strangers.
So in this way, my godmother, a gal named Bev, has always been a tangible part of my life. In the spirit of brotherhood, sisterhood, and companionship as well as in the spirit of the visionary, the artist, the creative force -- our connections are alive despite the fact that I have never held her hand.