by Carol M. Howe
As with all creative works, telling Bill’s story has been a story in itself. The thought of writing his biography began in 1993, five years after his passing. At that time, I contacted the Foundation for Inner Peace to tell them of my plan, only to find they were already interviewing Bill’s and Helen’s friends for the same purpose. Under those circumstances and having conducted only two or three interviews, I shelved the project. Clearly, I still had more healing and learning ahead of me. Years passed and the Foundation’s project as originally planned was still unfinished.
In January 2006 I presented an all-day ACIM workshop in Winter Park, Florida, and as part of the introduction briefly recounted the Course’s genesis and a bit about Helen and Bill. Judith Baldwin, a good friend who attended the seminar, called the next morning with the message, “You must write Bill’s story.” She had heard her own inner voice clearly say, “Tell Carol Howe to write a book about Bill Thetford.” When I didn’t move quickly on this, she reiterated on a second occasion and finally a third time the message from her Voice, saying, “IT IS YOUR JOB TO WRITE THE BOOK ABOUT BILL!”
Thus, thirteen years after the first “nudge,” I again seriously considered writing Bill’s biography. To further reinforce the message, a short while later another friend – gifted with clairvoyance – was at my house and during our conversation, her face suddenly lit up as she said, “Well, there’s Bill again in that blue sweater!” She had seen him on other occasions we were together. I recently asked her if she remembered the details of that particular encounter; she said she certainly did and could once again experience the deep support in the room and the non-verbal equivalent of Bill’s hand on my shoulder, urging me to begin. One marvels at our reluctance to claim what is ours to do!
Others continued to echo the book-writing refrain, and in the fall of 2006, I began to interview people on an ever-growing list. Within a year I interviewed more than thirty people, some more than once, and transcribed every word of the taped interviews. As part of the research, I also re-read the entire three-volume Course, the first six chapters of the Urtext (defined as “a reconstructed proto-text set up as the basis of variants in extant later texts,”—in this case, Bill’s unedited typed notes of the original dictation), Bill’s autobiography, Helen’s unpublished diary, unpublished manuscripts by Whit Whitson and Ken Wapnick (now available on this archival website), Bob Skutch’s Journey Without Distance, Ken Wapnick’s Absence From Felicity, and Patrick Miller’s The Complete Story of The Course (now entitled Understanding A Course In Miracles), as well as several magazine articles. I also delved into all the archival interviews conducted in the mid-1990s by Tammy Cohen and edited by James Bolen for the original project. In my quest, I attempted to speak with archivists or other knowledgeable people at some of the institutions where Bill had worked.
Searching the Internet for information about Bill, I found much of it was inaccurate. I double-checked everything, where possible, to ensure accuracy. By this time I was overloaded with information, but I continued, not wanting to miss anything that could be useful in presenting the most complete picture of Bill possible. It turned out that all research was essential, because of important information, even a sentence or two, came from all these sources.
In November 2007 I actually started writing. I had literally hundreds of wonderful quotes gleaned from the interviews, supplemental material from the archives, the Course itself, the Urtext, and other sources. And, of course, I had all my own recollections from the ten years I knew Bill.
Just as one doesn’t start at the edge of a puzzle and systematically move from one side to the other, I did not start at the beginning and proceed to the conclusion. I worked on various parts at different times as I felt inclined and as I interviewed (and reinterviewed) people or discovered new information. The task was then to fit together these puzzle pieces into a coherent whole, and I’m sure I had much-unseen help. In fact, it would be more accurate to say the book wrote itself and I acted as midwife, all the while being intuitively guided about what should be included. I’m not sure I could ever replicate this effort. It’s as if a window of opportunity opened with all the necessary help coming in and then it quietly closed.
This project facilitated a profound healing experience for me. I had two major hurdles to face. The first was a question my ego posed about whether I was the right person to take on this project. It made up a story that all kinds of people could write Bill’s biography and questioned my “right” to do it. Those doubts were soon quelled by an overriding sense of purpose, however, so I seamlessly moved to the second issue. Realizing I was convinced this was my calling, my ego then wanted to worry and fuss about whether it was being done right. If indeed this was my only opportunity, what if I didn’t deliver? In facing this ancient self-doubt I began to notice a pain in my right shoulder, sometimes streaming down into my right arm and/or hand. It was not excruciating or debilitating, but it was irritating. I knew instinctively it didn’t have a physical cause—such as long hours at the computer—but was a strictly psychosomatic response to a fundamental challenge – the pull between being deeply committed to writing the book and wondering about “doing it right.” Something like having one’s foot on the brake and accelerator at the same time. My inner conflict translated into a muscular one—giving the extending and contracting muscles simultaneous, conflicting signals. Of course, that’s bound to be painful. As I knew would happen, as I faced my old programming and claimed the truth about myself, it subsided and so did the shoulder/arm pain; it vanished without a trace and has not returned. I have no expectations that it will.
As a final thought, Helen and Bill had unwittingly been prepared for many years for the job of transmitting the Course. This may be clear to us now, but it was not to them at the time. As the Author explains in the Urtext, they had practiced both faithfulness and devotion, and even though it was often misplaced, their capacity to be deeply devoted and faithful to a cause or project was exactly what was needed. They had many years of practiced focus—the ability to stay on track, attend to myriad small details, and cut to the core of what needed to be accomplished. Those years of practice allowed them to participate in the energetic transmission of A Course In Miracles.
Just as the timing for ACIM was not accidental, so has this book come in its own time. It could not have been written when I originally intended because I was not yet fully prepared for the task. Because there are no accidents, I can infer that the others who came together to produce this work have also been proceeding along their own healing paths with perfect timing. We are all more willing, open, and determined. My life-long friend, Sarah, my editor, had her own intense experiences while working on the book, including being periodically transported into blissful, altered states. Another friend, Kati, who designed the cover, also felt very moved as she interacted with the book and felt her own dedication to practicing the Course rekindled.
I sometimes weep with deep gratitude as I re-read through the thoughts and experiences offered by Bill’s friends and consider all the personal work they have collectively accomplished. So many offered profound comments and observations, each worthy of much greater exploration but not possible here or the book would be seven hundred pages long! Only because of their years of healing and devotion has this book emerged now.
Given the responses from those who have already read the book, it almost seems that some loving presence is transmitting through its pages. In the final section, I quote a dream recounted by one of Bill’s close friends, Pat Hopkins, at his memorial service. This is the second part of that quote:
About the time you would expect the overture to begin, Bill stood up from his chair, turned around to face us, and said, “I have come full circle in my life. All the things that I didn’t understand, all the things I was afraid to say, I now want to share with you.” He proceeded to give the most exquisite, simple, eloquent speech that moved absolutely everybody. Knowing how he hated to speak in public and the anxiety it caused him, the relaxation with which he delivered this truth of his life was an incredible thing to behold. When he was finished, Frances, Judy, Calvin, and I looked at each other and said we thought we knew Bill, but this was a totally new dimension of this person that we all loved so much. Nobody applauded but when he finished, everybody stood up with tears running down their cheeks. The house was filled and people started to gather in small clumps or groups and began to tell each other the truth of their lives with the same utter defenselessness, vulnerability, and trust that he had exhibited when he stood and talked with us. I saw Bill beaming down on absolutely everyone at what he had set in motion. That was the end of the dream. The next morning when I awakened, I was in a joyful state. I knew that Bill had come to something in his life that was totally freeing, absolutely new, and the achievement of a lifetime.
Pat went on to say that although it was a dream, it felt true. I believe the dream was precognitive and that the love Bill represents does continue to beam out to everyone, those who are willing to walk the path to happiness and liberation now and those who will wait a little while longer.
In the final analysis, many persons cooperated to bring Bill’s story into being, but it actually came together with a life of its own. Many Eastern teachings remind us that we are not the “doers.” Just as a piece of driftwood floating on the ocean does not propel itself to shore by its own efforts, but is carried along atop the waves, life is flowing through us, as us, and we can relax and enjoy the ride. That has been the greatest lesson in writing this book and one for which I am everlastingly grateful.