Another Viewpoint: The unstoppable Harry Sky: A remembrance

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Harry Sky and I met in 1988, when he taught a course on the life and ideas of the Swiss psychiatrist, C.G. Jung. From the start, we liked each other – and yet often did not agree.  

I was working as an assistant Maine attorney general covering health-care law; Harry was serving as a rabbi at Temple Beth El in Portland and having a blast teaching about 20 of us in an evening enrichment class.

Rabbi Harry Z. Sky, spiritual leader of Portland’s Temple Beth-El for nearly three decades, died Dec. 14 in Greensboro, North Carolina, at age 95. (Courtesy Temple Beth-El)

He found Jung’s writing easy to read; I found it sometimes impenetrable, and almost never easy. I found Jung interesting, but had doubts about some of his ideas, while Harry was in, hook, line and sinker. 

That class was a first step in my transition from practicing law to becoming a Jungian analyst – interpreting the dreams of clients and teaching courses on Jungian subjects, which is what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years.

Harry and I kept interacting over the years. In 1989, about 50 of us attended a two-week intensive conference in Switzerland, covering a range of Jungian subjects. Several who attended that event remain friends to this day. Over the years, Harry and I also attended many courses held at the C.G. Jung Center in Brunswick, and we each taught courses there, as well.

After I had trained in Zurich to become a Jungian analyst and returned to Maine, Harry and I worked with the Jung Center and the Senior College to bring over our favorite Zurich teacher, Dr. Hermann Strobel. He gave a series of lectures in Maine and Boston in 1998, including a brilliant and provocative challenge to the U.S. to stop sanctimoniously criticizing Switzerland for its World War II neutrality, since the U.S. had later protected and imported star German scientists to advance U.S. rocketry and nuclear developments.

Harry, very typically, loved sponsoring such a “wake-up” lecturer, one he and I knew had a Christian father who had stood up to the Nazis in the 1930s and who, as a young man, had been present at the Nuremberg Trials. Harry and I were so deeply pleased that Strobel came to give this lecture, as well as several other lectures on more traditional Jungian topics.

Harry and I could argue about almost anything. He was one of four or five religious/spiritual/political iconoclast-protesters with whom I have been very close friends in my life, whether in Baltimore, New York City, Maine, or Kenya. 

As with each of the others, so too with Harry: I would take the “reasonable person approach” to a situation and Harry would be ready to speak out boldly, blast away, protest, march or whatever. It takes two to tango, and the gift of having one cautious and reasonable person working with another more active, “let’s-get-going“ person is that everyone wins.  

I deeply appreciated Harry’s fighting spirit and his idiosyncratic ways even as I would often chide him for being too much, too impatient, too intense, or not diplomatic enough. I believe he appreciated my speaking up to him as much as I appreciated his big energy, courage, and unstoppability.

As everyone who knew Harry knew, he was not always an easy person to be with. He could wear you out. He was the only person I ever discussed dreams with who once recalled eight dreams from a single night – as with daytime, so with the night, he was a very active guy. And his love of taking turns sharing dreams with another person showed how he dove as deeply inwardly as he pushed the envelope outwardly.

The last time I saw Harry before his death Dec. 14 was in 2015. He was 91; we enjoyed a meal together at his residential facility in Greensboro, North Carolina, near the home of his daughter. Once again, we did our dance of sparring, laughing, learning from one another, and once again I marveled at this unusual, delightful, crazy guy.

Chris Beach is a Jungian analyst on leave from his therapy practice in Portland, as he assists his wife Kathy in the creation of a midwifery-led labor-and-delivery ward in Blantyre, Malawi.