For my friend, Fr Myron
As a member of St Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship and the Kyivan Psychoanalysis Study Group, I wanted to share some words at Fr Myron Panchuk's memorial, but was not able to attend the second and third days of his funeral. Here is what I would have said:
I knew Fr Myron as a friend. He was introduced to me as someone to look up to, someone that many people saw as a spiritual father, someone whose intellectual capacities outstripped most of his peers. But we met each other, I must confess, over Facebook, which meant that our conversation started intellectually by reading each other’s writings, mine on my blog and my other publications, his on Twitter and his wonderful reblogging site Virtual Borscht. When we finally met each other after about six months of mentally conversing with one another, we found that we were kindred spirits. We already had insider jokes. We already knew which theorists we had both read. It was like no one else was in the room except for us and our intellectual sparring.
Fr Myron saw me as an intellectual equal, even though I really wanted to give him the respect that was his due. His reputation had gone before him, and it was not just his degrees – it was how he used his academic and professional accolades to serve the people he loved. But every time I wanted to stroke his ego by reminding him what an important person he was, he liked to mess with me. He did not want my respect. He wanted my friendship.
The word that Fr Myron and I talked constantly about was transference. We spoke often about how many people in our lives who had transferred their need for a father to a system: a church, a school, a code of ethics, actual persons who might be older than us and remind us of our daddies. This transfer was a fantasy, and it’s dangerous stuff. Transference of this sort is usually accompanied with a fear of real life, a desire for a substitute to act in one’s own place instead of going out into the real world and living life, even if it means screwing up. But some people really are that afraid, and Fr Myron spoke constantly of his compassion for such people, especially those who might have experienced the traumas of war and genocide. Transference was a symptom of their deeper psychic pain, and especially in the context of the church, Fr Myron refused to judge them. He loved them, even if it meant that he had to accept that some would see him as a substitute daddy. Transference, as Freud himself also notes, can be used at critical moments to help the patient understand themselves. But it is also a kind of delusion, and Fr Myron was unwilling to have that relationship with me.
Many people talk about all the books that Fr Myron read, with the exotic names of Freud, Jung, Hillman, Lacan, Foucault, and Žižek. I agree with the sentiment that these were good people to read, but our friendship was not built on the mere fact that we had read these books, as if we were trading cards and collecting stamps. It was in the way that Fr Myron read them, that each of them in their own way culminated in that last statement that he said to me a week before he died – Only when we realize that the father is absent can we be truly free. By his own confession, Fr Myron lived among an unfree people, but he did not only see them with the disembodied ear of the psychoanalyst – he was their pastor, and he accepted them, transferences and all, because getting free begins by starting where we are. He simply refused to be my father, because he was my friend, and we were free together. I remember the only time I ever sought him out for help, in a very desperate time in my life on the job market. He was so unhelpful. All he kept saying was that I should go out for a meal of Chinese food because it would remind me of my family, the people that I loved. Looking back, I am thankful to him for his unhelpfulness. He was refusing the transference. He was saying that I already had a family. He was telling me to cut it out with asking him to become my father. He was my friend.
When Julian called me to tell me that Fr Myron had died, I felt his final lesson immediately. Now I too am absent, it is as if he is saying, and those who relied on him as a father will feel his absence keenly. But it is as if he wants us all to grow up now. He put up with our transferences, but he really only ever wanted to be our friend. Perhaps we will work on this lesson until we see him again in the resurrection, when in the fulfillment of Christos voskres, we all will rise from the dead. Then, we will see our brother Myron again, and maybe he will ask us how we did. I hope that I will be able to tell him all the free things I did while he was gone, and I sincerely look forward to him messing with me again if my recollection is too serious.