A MEMORIAL TESTAMENT ON THE PASSING OF MAX
It is great to live in a small community, because events reverberate through it and retain a certain stature and dignity because of this. We should be grateful that we are able to mark these rites of passage and crossings of thresholds in a heartfelt way and give them the ceremony they deserve. They mark the milestones along our way.
We are fortunate in many ways to live in a more old style way in our extended family, and in a small community, as one still feels these things and maybe marks them in a more conscious way, rather than just being cut loose into the world.
I was saying to Pam, on the way back from Tralee, after checking to see that Max was with us in the car, (I could smell a cigar being smoked), that it was the end of an era, and that traditionally I was now the head of the family, and that I was going to have to pull up my socks.
Not that Max was ever a patriarch or a dictator. He was really a true democrat. He might have said that, "Mostly everyone else was bossing him around." It's just a sensation of a different phase.
Some of us here, a very few, knew Max as he was when he was a young man, at the peak of his strength and authority. Some of us knew him only as a frail and uncomplaining old guy who was struggling on as best he could.
I feel that often we take a memory into the future of our people as they end up, often old and frail, sometimes very sick, sometimes in pain and feeling undignified in declining health. In Max's case this picture is just so out of kilter with the reality of the inner man, and although he bore his frailty and his pain with courage and patients, I want to paint a picture for all of us of the reality of Max as he was in other phases, so that family is reminded that he was a strong vital guy, and that others who knew him, and perhaps wondered about the more fundamental Max, may know more about him and be able to visualize him more completely.
So I would like to take this opportunity, where I have a captive and polite audience, to introduce you a little more intimately to my dad. To help the people he knew understand him perhaps a little more deeply and, to also maybe brag a little.
To all of us here Max was Max, a member of our small society, who some may have seen as a little eccentric, some may have seen as actually quite weird, and others may have accepted as normal enough. After all, our small society is slowly filling up with more and more weird folk, I've seen a few of them here today.
Max was not normal though, he was actually quite extraordinary, and that he was able to live in fair obscurity is actually quite amazing. If he had been more selfish, more egoistic, or more ruthless, or if he had had pride, if he had had a dilettante attitude in any way, he could have very rapidly had a cult form around him. He had the charisma and the power, but Max believed that everyone should have the space and freedom to find their own path, and though he was not always a patient guy, he was never impatient with things of the soul.
Max was certainly not always patient with talk and planning where temporal concerns were at stake. He was a firm believer that a camel was a horse that had been designed by a committee. 'Let's just get on with it,' was a typical Max statement.
But he was endlessly patient where, what he called, soul-food issues were concerned. He rarely imparted philosophy in words… As a younger man he was a doer, not a talker, and as he read more and developed his understanding he realized that things of the spirit were too complex and individual to be easily defined for handy consumption.
To him soul food was found in any pursuit which fostered the development of character, especially in teenagers and young adults. He was, in his time, the ultimate mentor: an almost mythical figure in some of the Transvaal high school society…. Max and Anne in their thirties…. If Anne was the brains behind the operation, Max had the power to pull conservative catholic schools into new patterns and freedoms of thinking by whisking head masters and mother superiors, teachers and kids, along in his enthusiastic wake. He would rush in where fools might fear to tread, and come out shining.
Max did not really judge anyone harshly, he had been through strange times as a kid, and if he judged anyone it was probably himself, but neither of my folks did ever show much respect for authority figures, especially if they were not worthy of it. This is partly why they managed the audacious lifestyle that they did.
Who my dad respected was kids, especially teenagers: he respected their energy, their enthusiasm, their recklessness, their ability to adapt and to endure, their powers of recuperation, and most of all what he called their potential. If a young person was striving with energy and joy toward anything purposeful he was delighted.
Max had endless confidence in the capabilities and endurance of kids. He was a master at knowing exactly when they had passed the showing off phase and were ready to take on real responsibility, sometimes literally for the lives of others. He would have kids of fourteen belaying groups of climbers up cliffs, the really able ones would be leading pitches, and by sixteen some would be leading parties unsupervised. Never once was he let down.
He would gather a party of kids together, maybe twenty or so girls and boys, ranging in ages from perhaps twelve or thirteen to sixteen, and hike off into the mountains with them for ten day stretches of hiking and climbing, with nothing but sleeping bags and starvation rations on their backs, with no possibility of resupply, and two days hard march from any form of help. in addition he would have an aerial photo and a snake-bite kit, but that was it. the kids would emerge from the mountains ten days later, hungry and tired, and full of a sense of achievement at surviving a true adventure and real hardship, and already asking where the next expedition was going to be.
What amazes me in retrospect, is that the parents allowed their children to go on these expeditions. Perhaps no one else could have done it, but people had such utter confidence in Max that they said a little prayer and handed over their beloved offspring.
Max might have been a sadder man, (a stifled man), had he not found the one person who would aid and abet him in a radical life path. When he spotted my mom he knew immediately that she must be the one. I think in this case it went further than love at first sight. Of course it was not defined, but I am sure it went to a sense of destiny. He must have recognized a fellow maverick, because he would not take no for an answer, and my mom had to break her then fiance's heart.
Whether or not Anne's life would have been easier or more predictable, who can know. I am sure it would have been less scary and less uncertain, but it would have also been way less interesting and way less exciting.
I would have been six, when returning from work in the insurance office depressed, because he had been promoted, and if he accepted, as he said, "It would amount to a life sentence," Anne asked him what he liked to do most in the world. He didn't know, and when she suggested climbing in the mountains he realized she meant hobbies too. The upshot, she persuaded him to do the irresponsible thing and embrace an uncertain, but potentially fulfilling life. Sun Valley was born and carved out of the bush, no electricity or mod cons, with a lot of hard work, a lot of lateral thinking, a lot of courage and determination, some tears and aggravation, but also a huge sense of achievement and purpose.
At first my parents brought adventure to younger kids. I have mentioned the style of thing already, although the mainstay of the operation was resident camps at Sun Valley: our home in our little rift valley. But as interest in the place grew, and as their interest in the development of young minds grew, (you must remember this was back in the stone age), they evolved the courses to challenge older teenagers.
They also began to meet people and make connections with other centers, such as the Findhorn community in Scotland, and a philosophical development began to take place within Sun Valley. No longer was it all just fun and games, but real issues, ethics, human values, conversation, communication, brotherhood, and political considerations became the focus of the camps. In Addition some drug and delinquency rehabilitation, and the inclusion of permanent residents helping to run the show like Will Dorling here. You can imagine how fascinating this was for us young ones growing up in all this, never a dull moment and endlessly interesting.
I cannot even begin to enumerate (it would just take too long) the benefits my parents bought to so many individuals in an ethically and morally damaged society. Some just feeling small changes in their life course or attitudes perhaps, but some so changed that their outlooks would be forever altered.
I know this is supposed to be a remembrance of Max, but my parents literally spent every day of their lives together, 24/7. They were not in formal jobs and were inextricably combined in their efforts in the early days and beyond. As I said, Anne was the brains behind the operation, and Max had a hell of a lot of faith in her epiphanies and in her abilities to absorb new systems of teaching and imparting of developmental methods. Somewhat more perhaps than Anne did herself, and he would jump in on a project or a new teaching phase in the camps with the faith in an outcome that may have daunted Anne.
When They left South Africa I believe there was a psychic void left in the place they occupied. A large hole in the good.
Many of the kids who passed through Sun Valley, 40 years later, are still in communication with us, and so many have said that, though they loved their parents, Max and Anne had more influence on their attitudes and on their expectations of life, and what they had to offer, than their own parents or any other influence in their early lives did. And although he would not have been aware of it, it was Max who had the size, like a legendary figure in the eyes of these kids. As I said, the ultimate mentor, a complete natural. Not that he would have used, or even been aware of the term back then.
And what makes an adult a natural Mentor? What is it about them, that kids want to be the best they can be for them, that they will perform to their full capabilities, and beyond, for them?
Everyone, from three year olds upward always call Max, Max. Never Mr Muller. this was not presumption, it was just natural to all, and thinking about it I realized why. Max always called kids young people, and I think that is the clue, he actually saw them as young people, and not as kids, and they just naturally were young people when they were around Max. he never shouted or scolded, or hounded them to perform or excel, he just naturally assumed the best of everyone, that they would pull their weight, sometimes a little encouragement perhaps, but not even that much, they just knew that within his orbit the sky was the limit, that they were people. It was not what he asked of them, or what he expected of them, it was who he was, and how he viewed them. I call them Kids, but Max saw them as young people, full of amazing potential, and admired their ability and their individual qualities as much as they admired him.
In addition, he saw the vitality in the black sheep. He was a black sheep himself, and understood that the mavericks needed to be given larger tasks to chew on and test themselves on. The kids that got short shrift at school were often the very same kids that were leading climbing parties at Sun Valley in the holidays. Max would heap responsibility on their shoulders and they would step right up to the mark and exceed his faith in them.
The more phlegmatic and less physically confident kids also found, because he just assumed that they would manage just fine, that indeed, they did.
I could go on for hours, but at this point I will call it quits, except to say that the reason there is no formal funeral is that Max left his Body to UCC. He had a rare condition and somewhere along the line they asked him if he would do that.
Max steeped himself in philosophical thought for decades, and though he was the first to admit that some of the deeper concepts and the clairvoyance needed to properly understand many things were beyond him, he leaned strongly toward the conviction of continuance.
The neatly packaged formal style religion was not for him though. That a political system could hold the keys to redemption was just too unsophisticated for his sense of truth.
He did believe in the reenergizing and redemption of human kind through the incarnation of Christ on our planet, but not as the panacea for personal misbehavior.
For the sins of the individual max knew that there is no getting around personal Karma. So I would like to end off with a poem that goes back to early european history. It describes some of the stages the soul must pass through in the afterlife before it can emerge into the preparation for its next round. The early christians believed in reincarnation, they also believed that the soul sometimes had difficulty disentangling itself from the physical realm, so they performed the ceremony of the Lyke Wyke. 'The corpse walk' to help the departed release.
Max never heard the poem, but he would, I think, have liked the choice, as its metaphor incorporates the idea of karma as well as the crossing of thresholds which he would have agreed with, as well as the final acceptance that God does not punish us, we punish ourselves, and our trials have purpose, and at the end of all we are accepted by Christ and beloved by the angels for the terribly difficult task we must perform: that of being human.
There will be a musical rendition afterwards that is only a couple of minutes long.
If you listen to the words then I think you will agree that Max is going to be Alright.
THE LYKE WYKE DIRGE
This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
When thou from hence away art past,
If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
If hosen and shoon thou ne'er gav'st nane,
From Whinny-muir whence thou may'st pass,
If ever thou gav'st silver and gold,
But if silver and gold thou never gav'st nane,
From Brig o' Dread whence thou may'st pass,
If ever thou gav'st meat or drink,
If meat or drink thou ne'er gav'st nane,
This ae nighte, this ae nighte,