Reaching Boldly for the Stars
“They live happiest who have forgiven most.”
—Robert Anton Wilson
The intellectual synergy Leary and RAW generated during the Starseed Signals period was one of those high watermarks Hunter S. Thompson described in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas; a wave that tragically crashed to shore with the brutal death of RAW’s 15-year-old daughter, Patricia (Luna in Cosmic Trigger), on October 3rd, 1976, an incident that made headlines in San Francisco-Bay Area newspapers.
This tragedy must have been a true test to RAW’s convictions, seen in light of the views expressed in Starseed Signals about the U.S. penal system, and how he felt that a large portion of the prison population was unjustly incarcerated. The natural reaction to the brutal murder of one’s child naturally elicits, in most of Starseed Signals, a sense of rage and vengeance, however robotic those emotions may be. However, RAW wisely learned along the way that cages exist not only in the physical realm, but in our minds as well, and that the only way to truly free ourselves from these self-imposed prisons, is to let them go. (Easier said than done.) One way of doing this is through the practice of forgiveness, a sentiment RAW shared repeatedly throughout his final years. In retrospect, I now understand why RAW placed such importance on the practice of forgiveness; he realized that the more we can do to unchain those ghosts of the past that haunt us, the freer we can be to live and love.
A proponent of space exploration, life extension and cryogenics, RAW made the bold leap—in the aftermath of his daughter Patricia’s death—to have her brain cryonically preserved. As he informed the San Francisco Examiner: “We thought that if we could make a contribution to science something good could come out of this tragedy… We feel it is a long shot, but it’s our way of expressing our belief in life and our rejection of the casual acceptance of murder and death in our society.” It should be noted that this was the first time in history that an attempt had been made to preserve a human brain.
As much as RAW and Leary tried to push things forward, evolutionary-wise, the more things stay the same. Marijuana—the dreaded killer weed—is still illegal in most states of this great nation, and we are still arguing about the rights of women to decide the fate of their own bodies, while thousands of our young battle ever-changing enemies in undeclared wars without end. Sometimes it seems like two steps forward, three steps back on the evolutionary treadmill. Or to mix metaphors even more, our species is akin to Sisyphus, pushing that rock slowly and painstakingly up the mountain, but never quite making it to the crest, to come rolling back down again like Hunter Thompson’s famous wave that crashed to shore and symbolized the end of a generation’s aspirations. But RAW and Leary were having none of Dr. Thompson’s fatalism, as both remained cheerful and optimistic up until the very end of their lives.
One positive development we can point to is the growing use of medical marijuana to treat cancer and other ailments, such as the post-polio syndrome RAW suffered from most of his adult life, and particularly in his final years when it became increasingly difficult for him to walk on this own, without the aid of others. However, his medical condition in no way slowed down his anti-authoritarian antics. During the 2003 California recall election, RAW tossed his name into the hat, running for Governor on the Guns and Dope Party Ticket, whose platform advocated replacing one third of Congress with ostriches.
Another example was his participation at a pro-medical marijuana rally in Santa Cruz, California on September 17, 2002. At this event, RAW was among a group of medical marijuana patients who, in defiance of a federal court order, picked up their medicinal herb from care providers at a rally that received national media attention.
Many presume that the life of a famous author means never again having to toil again at a nine-to-five job as untold riches pour into your coffers from a never-ending stream of royalty checks cheerfully sent by beneficent publishers. Unfortunately, this was not the case for RAW, at least not the part about untold riches. During those heady years of the mid-seventies, RAW was always a responsible provider for his family, which could be a difficult task at times for a father of four who wants to blaze his own literary path. Starseed Signals was dashed off during those precarious years when poverty persistently nipped at his heels, and RAW had to humble himself for public assistance to make ends meet. But somehow he made it all work while at the same time envisioning a far more noble and interesting future for us all, or at least for those among us willing to venture beyond our own self-imposed human orbits, and reach boldly for the stars.