“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.” — J.R.R. Tolkien
Story of David as told by his dear friend Deb Hannula at his memorial on July 14, 2018 at his folks’ place on Vashon Island.
David’s story is not one of run-of-the-mill convention or custom. He was a don’t-fence-me-in kind of guy. He liked wide open spaces, a big car and a full tank of gas. He wasn’t held down by the mundane, losing wallets, passports, and driver’s licenses by the dozens; he knew all would be well. David’s intuition was remarkable. He was in tune with himself early in life. He would call his mom Katy Jo on her birthday, not because he remembered, but because he just knew to call her. He could find his mom in a store, in another state, in another country, intuitively. She called him her heat seeking missile.
David knew to follow his bliss before Joseph Campbell made that phrase commonplace. Joseph Campbell felt that the seekers in this world were not looking for the meaning of life, but the rapture of being alive. Words like rapture, awe, gratitude and a deep, rich, life-vivifying sort of seeking, rolled off Professor Campbell’s tongue as often as the advice he gave his college students: follow your bliss.
I am honored to be asked today to tell the Story of David. The Story of David though, unlike most people’s, follows a certain archetypal pattern.
Throughout mankind’s history, in all cultures, from the Greek myths to Star Wars--(David’s favorite movies)-common themes run through humanity’s heroic tales. Joseph Campbell dubbed it the “hero’s journey.” Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called these common themes “archetypes,” which he believed to be both the building blocks of the unconscious mind and the collective unconscious. Star Wars creator George Lucas was an avid reader of Joseph Campbell, so not surprisingly his Star Wars story is steeped in myth.
Joseph Campbell felt Lucas’ Star Wars “has put the newest and most powerful spin to the classic story of the hero. It’s the message that technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being.”
Joseph Campbell stated that the hero’s journey is not a courageous act, but a life lived in self-discovery. The end of the hero’s journey is not the glorification of the hero, but the gaining of “the wisdom and the power to serve others.”
The Hero’s Journey motif fits David’s life because of his innate desire for rapture. Joseph Campbell states that in every hero myth the hero’s journey can be identified in a number of archetypal stages. Not everyone’s story can be written this way, because too many of us never learn that the meaning of life is to experience life from a state of bliss, but David’s story can. I could write a list of things, he did this, and that, and lived here and there, but let me tell you instead a story of rapture, a hero’s journey. His friend Katherine summarized David’s rapture in this way:
David could bring vivacity, meaning and sharp, cutting humor to anything that sparked his interest. The man could make table salt interesting -- and did. One of my most vivid memories of David is in his mother's kitchen, making a deceitfully simple meal, his hands busy, his mouth busier. He was loud and loving, witty and generous. I can see his fingers crusted with salt, coming in and out of this little box while he exploded with unabashed enthusiasm for something called Maldon. He had more to say about Maldon salt than others have to say about their careers.
David’s enthusiasm was contagious. Enthusiasm comes from the Greek word “in theos” meaning with the gods or god within. As spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer stated: Enthusiasm is “the greatest gift you can receive. And when it’s aligned with Spirit, treat it as a miracle, doing everything you can to hold on to it.”
David knew early on somehow that just having jobs and careers and living in a society, without seeking the rapture of being alive was a fool’s errand. It is not why were are here. As Joseph Campbell stated: “Now we are so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it's all about.” People flocked to David because he radiated this truth.
Joseph Campbell identified the 3 main stages of the Hero’s Journey as: the Hero begins in his ordinary world, leaves and is transformed in a special world, and later returns with gifts or wisdom to his ordinary world. Along the way he encounters a mentor figure, someone to guide him. David chose friends, not because they were identical to him, but because they held up the mirror to him of his highest self, what he strove to become, and many were mentor-like, but David’s Obi Wan Kenobi was Berni.
Berni met David as he struggled in his ordinary world. He met her when he was 28 and kept her in his life until the day he died. In our culture, men are not encouraged to seek counselors. It may appear as a weakness. Katy Jo made room for someone like Berni, always speaking freely of her own therapist Shelly. David was given the space to seek out a Berni, and he treasured that important relationship and followed her advice, or at least tried to.
"And so it happens that if anyone...undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness by descending intentionally or unintentionally, into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures (anyone of which could swallow him).”—Joseph Campbell.
Berni helped David navigate his difficult spiritual labyrinth, as Obi One Kenobi helped Luke. Some of David’s hardest struggles were those that would be eased and lightened through his challenging work with Berni.
Stage One: The hero is introduced to his ordinary world.
It was a warm, humid spring morning in Washington D.C.- under the sign of Aries-when David Brown Steward made his appearance on April 10, 1969. His big sister Kelly- 3 ½ at the time- was home with her dad and auntie, eagerly awaiting his welcome. The 5th Dimension’s “The Age of Aquarius” was playing on the radio, the number one song at the time. President Richard Nixon was newly in the White House, “The Age of Aquarius,” and other songs created for the rock musical Hair, became the soundtrack to an era of resistance. Hair celebrated those breaking free of society’s expectations including fighting their government’s war in Vietnam. This counterculture disregard for norms would become David’s bedrock.
When David was two, he moved to Los Angeles with his mom and sister. As a toddler, David walked into preschool with a wide smile and open arms, ready to take it all in and give of himself completely. Here I am. From an early age, David fit the archetype of The Adventurer, someone that lived life on the edge just to feel most alive. As he grew, David tackled The Adventurer’s dilemma: the challenge of balancing thrill-seeking and sometimes death-defying adventures with the innate desire for inner bliss. Running the streets of L.A., hanging with the “wrong crowd” would eventually push David to find what he was ultimately searching for. In the meantime, David pushed the boundaries of our U.S. culture often in the most exasperating ways. In spite of his worst actions — David’s core was a genuine sweetness and an abiding desire for connection and family.
David’s friend Eric remembers meeting David for the first time at David’s 13th birthday at their home in Eagle Rock. David’s mother Katy Jo had magically or uncomprehendingly in Eric’s mind rented Tron — a 1982 coin-operated arcade video game — and the kids could play to their heart’s content. Eric watched mesmerized, this impressive thirteen year old with his long blonde curls bobbing to the motion of his hands on the controls. What a party! It’s easy to trace David’s over the top generosity and desire for fun to his mom. Big sis Kelly’s childhood friends told similar stories. You could jump on the bed, ride in the backseat with the top down blasting music and singing at the top of your lungs with Mom Katy Jo at the wheel; it wasn’t just allowed, it was encouraged. It was there in those moments that feeling just the joy of being alive was honed. Unlike many, David knew the importance of hanging onto that feeling, and that became his quest.
After David’s death his close friend Mark told how David made everyone feel like they were David’s best friend. Coincidentally, David’s sister Kelly was identically described. Mark stated: “The fact that folks expressed the same sentiments for Kelly and David says a lot about Katy Jo.”
David and his mom moved to Washington State when he was fourteen for a fresh start. David hated it. He hated the rain, he hated the confinement, he hated everything but the lasting friendships he would forge in Seattle.
At seventeen, David outgrew the U.S. His godfather, Danny, recommended a kibbutz in Israel. The Hero’s journey always involves a call to adventure. Danny’s suggestion was the call to a new world. Leaving the known for the unknown, willingly or unwillingly, is the beginning of the Hero’s Journey.
Stage 2: The Hero Leaves and is Transformed in the Special World
David’s stay at the kibbutz was short-lived, but, after his archetypal banishment, Israel became his springboard to see the world. From Jerusalem, where David worked briefly in a chicken stand, he took a boat ride across the Mediterranean to Wales. David found himself through travel. As the Hero knows intuitively: Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened, ask and it shall be given. Or as the Sufi poet Rumi stated: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.”
Through seeing other countries, David’s bliss grew into focus. Living in poverty meant living simply and it came naturally to David. David took odd jobs that he would later use to provide others happiness, like becoming a skilled cook. Good food and the gift of sharing a meal was a passion he shared with his mother and sister. By the time he met his wife Maria he created visually pleasing and delicious dinners that rivaled anything you could get at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
David was a fire sign, a triple Aries. His challenge in life was to harness that fire and like those on the spiritual path, he failed often. His success was always in his desire to never give up. When David did fail, he admitted his mistakes, he apologized, he hoped for forgiveness.
David’s travels eventually landed him in India for the first time around 1991.
David’s dear friend Donovan said, “Once he found India, it was over. Its culture accepts people like Dave. You could smoke with the holy men, and pray to the gods and have that not be a bad thing. In India every day is a holiday that offers an opportunity for ritual and a show of respect. The Indians have a saying , ‘to die any day in India, is to die on a holy day.’ ”
David’s mentor Berni always believed that David would be fine, he just needed space. India provided this.
Joseph Campbell remarked on India that their greeting is with hands posed in prayer position: “They greet the god within you! They are aware of the divine presence. When you enter an Indian home as a guest you are a visiting deity, and you feel it by God! The way they treat you!”
David as the archetypal Explorer walked through India like it was his own backyard. As his Indian friend Nikhel recalled, “There are few people on this planet that have a thirst for travel and adventure as David. He was always looking to explore and discover new places. I think he has seen more of India than any Indian can imagine, from the mountains, to the deserts, to the remotest islands, there wasn’t any place that he had not explored.”
Once after walking along goat trails for 3 days, David discovered the village of Tosh, a tiny village in the Himalayas 8000 feet in elevation. David was welcomed into these mountain people, rather unheard of, and became a member of the village. He befriended Krishna, Krishna’s wife and their daughters.
Krishna’s love for David meant allowing David to build a cabin on Krishna’s property. It has no running water or electricity or plumbing, just a tandoori stove. Simplistically beautiful, it was built in the traditional Indian way of stone and wood harvested in the mountains and soaked for a year in the river. Set on the edge of a mountain with a wrap around deck, inside it has just enough space for two. Here, in his castle, David found himself and made the choice to be completely genuine.
In 2005 David met Mark in Sayulita through a mutual friend. The two started joking and hitting it off. Soon they shared stories of all the places in Mexico they had lived. They loved the same obscure bands, and loved to tease each other.
David invited Mark to India and was ready to go right then and there. Mark wanted to but couldn’t, he had promised a friend he’d housesit. David couldn’t get Mark to budge, and was amazed at his loyalty. David told him you are my higher self, I aim to be like you. Mark poo pooed this, but it spoke of David’s ability to recognize the best in folks and want to emulate that.
When Mark was finally able to join David several years later, it was the month of July and a full moon in Delhi. A limo driver picked Mark up at the airport in his fancy black BMW with David along for the ride. The two of them stayed several nights in the Imperial Hotel.
“This is the plushy package,” David told Mark. “I always do plushy, whether I am walking up to my knees in mud and oxen, or the Imperial Hotel.”
Before they left Delhi they headed to the market. David chose a statue of the elephant god Ganesh, and another of a blue headed bronze medicine Buddha sitting under the famous Bodhi tree, where Buddha gained enlightenment. Together they made their way to the village of Tosh and stayed in David’s humble cabin. Some of their greatest time together was spent on that cabin’s deck. The women of the village would come up the mountain to gather firewood and tend to their animals; they laughed at these two men sitting like statutes on the deck engaged in nothing but sitting and silence. Here Mark and David honed an idea that first came to them in Sayulita. Good food and kindness could solve all the world’s problems. Before they could make their idea global through the UN they would start out small. Feeding friends good food and being kind. In Tosh the idea became a television show. Between the two of them they had amassed friends throughout the world. They would call it “Mom’s Dishes” and they would film their friends’ mom serving their favorite dishes. Mark’s mom’s was apple pie, someone else’s might be lamb stew. The show would help promote the idea of good food and kindness.
David hauled many biographies up to Tosh. He loved to read. The first time he met Mark in Sayulita David was reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. David loved to read books about great people, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, the Roosevelts, Crazy Horse, Cochise. He loved the book Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place. David had an innate desire to learn and he devoured these books and so many more.
At the cabin Mark noticed a 9 page pamphlet on Taoism he had given to David several years before. Mark had read it and was going to discard it, instead had given it to David. Mark was humbled that David brought it here, setting it on the altar shrine to David’s sister Kelly. Also in the cabin was a painted pet rock that Donovan and his son had made for one of David’s birthdays. The pet rock and the pamphlet, with no monetary value, were as meaningful to David as much as anything.
Ultimately, David’s Hero’s Journey was nothing less than a desire for enlightenment. David found in India what had always been missing; the ability to be fully at peace with himself. His close friend Mark felt that David’s “soul is Indian.” David was happy, in harmony, in the flow. “It really was Zen,” Mark witnessed. Sitting together cross-legged on David’s wooden balcony, with the Himalayan mountains surrounding them, the sounds from the village below filtered up through the apple trees. David clad in his wool blue long johns, thick grey REI socks, a tight wool cap, and a big smile on his face; the light was literally coming out of him. David and Mark spent 4 ½ months together often in silence and meditation. David taught Mark his spiritual practice he called “juggling silver balls.” David visualized silver bubble balls floating near his face. Each ball held the face of a loved one. He’d focus on one with the intention of shining it up and polishing it and wondering how he could help. How are you doing? David would ask. What’s going on? What can I do for you materially, or spiritually? He passed the hours in this meditative prayerful state.
This side of David, the hero with a thousand faces, was kept private, maybe one or two knew David’s spiritual side. He typically showed others David the fun guy, the archetypal jester, generous as a king, but never one to lord it over anyone. That was his intention, to be that guy, but he was so much more.
The third and final stage: The Hero Returns to his Ordinary World with wisdom
Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is not a courageous act, but a life lived in self-discovery. The end of the hero’s journey is not the glorification of the hero, but the gaining of “the wisdom and the power to serve others.”
David’s sister Kelly died in 2009 and he, and his parents Steve and Katy Jo, were determined to honor her by giving grants in her name. Through this work of honoring his sister, David was at his best. The Kelly Ann Brown Foundation (KABF) operates through Marin Community Foundation. MCF was chosen because the day Katy Jo visited, the sun shone brightly overhead, the skies were blue and just above the building, eagles were circling.
David was silent about his good works in India that were done in Kelly’s name. The most he shared was about Krishna’s daughters. David was not one to preach, he knew that the village of Tosh was a patriarchal society. David through his own love of learning and example encouraged Krishna to send his girls away to school, first in the village. This was unheard of. David gladly paid for all. Both girls-now young women- became nurses. David also contributed money for computers for the village, donated anonymously.
Two years after Kelly’s death, David told his mother that he was ready for love; his heart was open. A few months later, MCF assigned KABF a new philanthropic advisor, Maria Porter. Maria is kind, talented, and beautiful, inside and out. David fell hard, courting Maria in his charming, big way, and eventually winning her hand.
“Love you might say is the burning point of life, and since all life is sorrowful, so is love. And the stronger the love, the more that pain, but love bears all things.”—Joseph Campbell
Together, David and Maria explored nonprofits that benefited the most marginalised in our society, like the prison hospice program in Angola. They traveled there and met and befriended the executive director. As Maria said, “You should’ve seen how David interacted with the prisoners.” Those of us who know him best, understand what she means. David treated them like friends, like equals.
As David states in his own words:
Seeing the program for the first time in September, 2014, I realized that this program would be an easy fit for the Kelly Ann Brown Foundation. Kelly was always so forgiving of others in the worst of circumstances and was always compassionate. This program exemplifies compassion in the face of an unjust judicial system. While many of these men are guilty of their crimes, punishment is distributed with grave inequality in the United States. Louisiana has the strictest sentencing laws in the nation, which is why I chose to focus on the prison here. Over 5,000 of the current inmates at Angola will never leave. In fact, more people will be buried there than will walk out its doors. My mom always says that everyone is connected. Whatever happens anywhere affects us all, even with people that are never getting out of prison. Program director, Jamey Boudreaux told me that the last time he was at Angola, Warden Burl Cain said that the hospice program is largely responsible for the positive changes at what used to be the bloodiest prison in the United States. Hospice has not only changed the relationships between prisoners, but also the relationships between guards and prisoners. Six months passed without a fight breaking out. The compassion and humanity of hospice care isn’t contained to just the dying, it has spread through Angola prison.
David kept in contact with Jamey and Jamey continued to invite David and the foundation to visit. Three years ago Jamey told David of a conference he was organizing. It would be at Angola with 40 Catholic priests and David and the board. David wondered aloud if the board should also invite Father Bix and Father Roy, two activist priest friends. David talked about spending 3 days in Angola with the same genuine enthusiasm as spending a week in Paris at the Ritz Carlton. Wouldn’t that be great? It will be 40 priests and Angola prisoners —all men—and the board, for 3 days learning about prison hospice inside the prison!
Born on Christmas Eve, David jokingly called Maria “the baby jesus.” But what was Jesus but the savior, the light of the world, the one to usher in love? Their love brought them, their families and the world their beautiful baby boy David Miles. A boy his father would nickname “the light.”
The song the age of Aquarius playing the day David was born predicts a time when peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars. David Brown Steward may be physically gone from the world, but his light, and guiding spirit lives on.
I would like to take a moment of silence and if you want use David’s silver ball meditation and close your eyes and imagine a silver bubble before you, a face appears, send that person love.
And now repeat after me:
David Brown Steward, Presenté!