1974, April 12: Letter from Peter to G&H

A four-page typed letter on semi-crinkly paper, with a watermark that says “Erasable Bond.“

Grandpa George was 62 at this point, and was apparently considering retiring from teaching.

An extended quote from the I Ching takes up the middle two pages of the letter, but there’s about a page of other material before that and after it. So if you decide not to read the middle part in full, you can skip ahead to the final four paragraphs, starting with “Well, anyway…”

Content warning for ableist references to mental illness, for one instance of the R-word (which I’ve redacted), and for talking about foster kids in ways that I find pretty offputting.

April 12, 1974

Hi Folks --

Jed says: "Thank you for the letter that you wrote. We'll send you an Easter present even if you don't send us an Easter present, and you can send your Easter present a little later than Easter, if you want to send one. That's all."

Thank you for the news of the wedding and all -- it sounds like a good time was had by all... I'm sorry we haven't been writing much, especially that we haven't even thanked you for the marvelous magical cornucopaeia disguised as a suitcase that UPS brought to our door two weeks ago. We have been incredibly busy for the last month (Did you happen to notice any changes in your lifestyle, outlook, etc., since March 11? That was the day that the Hanson and Hartman family lines were commemorated ("enshrined") at the Divine Light Sanctuary, and for us, there has been a definite and constant upswing in energy since then.), and have been very remiss in all our correspondence. For instance, we went through many traumas and crises with one boy for two weeks before we finally decided he was just too crazy for us to handle, and took him back. Then we got another new boy, and another who's been visiting us most weekends since we began, so we have four now. Plus Larry's 8-yr-old brother visited for two weeks while their mother was in the hospital (she's too redacted by Jed to take care of Larry, can barely handle Ronnie). Plus interviews with social workers for more new boys. Plus visits with prospective new boys. Plus filling out a seven-page budget, in triplicate, for the Alameda County Board of Something-or-Other. Plus etc,etc,etc.

Anyway, I thought, after reflection, that maybe I could channel some information to you regarding your decision on when to retire from the teaching game. So here it is. This comes from a 5000-yr-old circumstancial computer, actually a venerable and sage Chinese oracle called the I Ching, or Book of Changes. Enclosed are selections that I thought were might be relevant. Make of it what you will.



Sun ... symbolizes wind or wood; it has for its attribute gentleness, which nonetheless penetrates like the wind or like growing wood with its roots. ... In nature, it is the wind that disperses the gathered clouds, leaving the sky clear and serene. In human life it is penetrating clarity of judgment that thwarts all dark hidden motives. In the life of the community it is the powerful influence of a great personality that uncovers and breaks up thos intrigues which shun the light of day.



The Gentle. Success through what is small.

It furthers one to have somewhere to go.

It furthers one to see the great man.


Penetration produces gradual and inconspicuous effects. It should be effected not by an act of violation but by influence that never lapses. Results of this kind are less striking to the eye than those won by surprise attack, but they are more enduring and more complete. If one would produce such effects, one must have a clearly defined goal, for only when the penetrating influence works always in the same direction can the object be attained.



Winds following one upon the other:


Thus the superior man

Spreads his commands abroad

And carries out his undertakings.


The penetrating quality of the wind depends upon its ceaselessness. This is what makes it so powerful; time is its instrument. In the same way the ruler's thought should penetrate the soul of the people. This too requires a lasting influence brought about by enlightnement and command. Only when the command has been assimilated by the people is action in accordance with it possible. Action without preparation of the ground only frightens and repels.

In advancing and in retreating, the perseverance of a warrior furthers.

Inborn gentleness is often carried to the point of indecisiveness. One does not feel strong enough to advance resolutely. A thousand doubts crop up; one is, however, not minded to withdraw but drifts indecisively to and fro. In such a situation, a military decisiveness is the proper thing, so that one resolutely does what order demands. Resulute discipline is far better than irresolute license.

Remorse vanishes. During the hunt three kinds of game are caught.

When a responsible position and accumulated experience lead one to combine innate modesty with energetic action, great success is assured. The three kinds of animals referred to served for offerings to the gods, for feasting guests, and for everyday consumption. When the catch answered all three purposes, the hunt was considered especially successful.

Perseverance brings good fortune. Remorse vanishes. Nothing that does not further. No beginning, but an end. Before the change*, three days. After the change*, three days. Good fortune.


* Handwritten footnote: “the change” = Kêng = autumn. also, “three days” before Kêng is summer, and three “days” after Kêng is winter.


... here it is only a question of reforms. The beginning has not been good, but the moment has been reached when a new direction can be taken. Change and improvement are called for. Such steps must be undertaken with steadfastness, that is, with a firm and correct attitude of mind; then they will succeed, and remorese will disappear. But it must be remembered that such improvements require careful consideration. Before a change is made, it must be pondered over again and again. After the change is made, it is necessary to note carefully for some time after how the improvements bear the test of actuality. Such careful work is accompanied by good fortune.


The Sequence

The wanderer has nothing that might receive him; ... The Gentle means going into.


This means that the wanderer in his forlornness has no place to stay in, and that hence there follows Sun, the hexagram of homecoming.

The Gentle means crouching. ... The Gentle shows the exercise of character. Through The Gentle one is able to weigh things and remain hidden. Though The Gentle one is able to take special circumstances into account.

Gentle penetration makes the character capable of influencing the outside world and gaining control over it. For thus one can understand things in their inner nature without having to step into the forefront oneself. Herein lies the power of influence. In this position, one is able to make the exceptions demanded by the time, without being inconsistent.

... Sun occupies the southeast between spring and summer. It means the flowing of beings into their forms, it means baptism and giving life.

... In the issuing of commands, it is all-important that they really penetrate the consciousness of the subordinates. This is effected by adaptation of the commands to their understanding. A twofold penetraition is required: first, penetration of a command to the feeling of the vassals, scattering the evil hidden in secret recesses, as the wind scatters clouds; second, a still deeper penetration, to the depths of consciousness, where the hidden good must be awakened. To obtain this effect, commands must be given repetitively.

...it is work on public matters that is described here. Such work is characterized not so much by love that covers up defects as by impartial justice ... In order to enforce commands, it is necessary first to abandon a wrong beginning then to attain the good end .... although one has not acieved a beginning, at least the end is attainable.

The next parts describe the situation which will come about if the advice of the oracle is followed ...


The fire in heaven above shines far, and all things stand out in the light and become manifest. ... All things come to the man who is modest and kind in a high position. ("Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.")





...strength and clarity unite. Possession in great measure is determined by fate and accords with the time. ... It is done by virtue of unselfish modesty. The time is favorable -- a time of strength within, clarity and culture without. Power is expressing itself in a graceful and controlled way. This brings supreme success and wealth.



Fire in heaven above: the image of POSSESSION IN GREAT MEASURE.

Thus the superior man curbs evil and furthers good,

And thereby obeys the benevolent will of heaven.


The sun in heaven above, shedding light over everything on earth, is the image of possession on a grand scale. But a possession of this sort must be administered properly. The sun brings both evil and good in the light of day. Man must combat and curb the evil, and must favor and promote the good. Only in this way does he fulfill the benevolent will of God, Who desires only good and not evil.

... The successful execution of measures demands that firm decision dwell within the mind, while the method of execution must be ordered and clear.

Well, anyway, I hope that the foregoing might shed some light on the factors to be weighed in your decision. Also, we have found it useful to write out prayers for guidance and put them on the altar at the Johrei Center in San Francisco: then, continuing to hold this prayer in our hearts, we do work in the church (this is called in Japanese "hoshi sampai" or "prayer and service"): we have often found that the right answers come to us very clearly as we work in this way.

(A propos of nothing, and not to seem flippant, but I recall hearing that the value of flipping a coin to make a decision, is that, as it's on its way down, you suddenly know which way you want it to land ... )

Yes, I'm glad you like the terrarium and the Tolstoi book -- hope you find that they were worth waiting for -- we waited over two months for each of them. The other books were more or less meant for a fill-in -- I thought you had probably read all of the Hornblower stories, but also thought you would be interested in the Dennison and Neill books. (Dennison quotes Tolstoi a lot -- I enjoyed Dennison and Tolstoi immensely.)

Glad also to hear of your garden: we haven't started anything, but we've planned a lot: we want to plant fig and nectarine trees, a walnut tree for shade and nuts, various berries, Thompson seedless grapes in an arbor, a large vegie garden, and also want to have a milk-goat or two, and some chickens: a miniature paradise on earth, wouldn't you say? (Now for the hard part: to manifest this thought-form as a realized entelechy!) ...it's off to work we go ...

Love, Peter, Marcy, Jed & Joaquin


the wedding
I’m guessing that this was the wedding of my uncle David and aunt Karen, but I’m not sure.
“cornucopaeia disguised as a suitcase”
I assume this was the suitcase containing my birthday presents, plus some other presents for other family members.
“took him back”
Before I comment on this, I should note that I’m not an expert in foster care, nor in parenting, and I may be getting things wrong here or missing important things; if so, I apologize.
That said: In these letters, Peter and Marcy repeatedly talk about the foster kids in ways that make me uncomfortable.
In particular, I wish that in these letters, they had written more about caring for and supporting the foster kids (and trying to help them feel safe and stable) than about being upset with them and sending them away. (This isn’t the only time that they sent a foster kid away, whether temporarily or permanently; see later letters (as yet unposted) for more instances.)
I’m trying to walk a nuanced line here. There are lots of possible explanations for how P&M wrote about the foster kids. For example, I know that sometimes people (including me) vent about the things we’re unhappy about and don’t write about the things that are going well. And I know that parenting is hard, and foster parenting is hard, and dealing with kids who are behaving badly can be hard. And I don’t mean to suggest that P&M were terrible foster parents, or that I would have done better.
And yet, I also feel like P&M’s handling of some of the situations involving the foster kids (as described in this letter and several later letters that I haven’t posted yet) sometimes left something to be desired. In particular, I get the impression (though I may be misinterpreting) that there was an implicit threat that if a foster kid behaved badly or broke rules, they would be sent away.
I think that that threat is in some ways inherent in the fostering system (and I gather that plenty of foster parents explicitly tell the kids that violating certain rules—such as “no setting fires”—will result in the kids being sent away), and I know that sometimes ending a placement is unavoidable; I’m sure that sometimes it’s even the right thing for the kid. But I suspect that that threat can make it hard for some kids to feel safe or stable. (I know that setting rules and boundaries and consequences can often be really helpful for kids. But to me, the specific consequence of being sent away seems like it might be especially destabilizing. But again, I’m not an expert.)
Knowing Peter, the pun here was almost certainly intentional.
plants and animals
We eventually got a few chickens, but I don’t think we got any of the other plants or animals mentioned here.

One Response to “1974, April 12: Letter from Peter to G&H”

  1. 1974, August 16: Letters from Marcy to G&H – Peter, Marcy, Jed, and Jay

    […] is more of what I was talking about in my notes on the April 12, 1974 letter: the foster kids misbehave, so they get sent away. As noted in those other notes (for […]


Join the Conversation