What’s New in June 2023
Bill’s Great Success
By Carol M. Howe
Editor’s note: Thirty-five years ago on July Fourth, Bill Thetford, co-scribe with Helen Schucman of A Course in Miracles, may have become the first person liberated through ACIM. Toward the end of his life in 1988 he practically flew into spirit. This article is adapted from Never Forget to Laugh, Carol Howe’s biography of Bill.By all accounts from many witnesses, by the end of his earthly life Bill had become playful, participating, flexible, light, joyous, and free—aware of his true identity. Many people had served him throughout his life as he owned his shadow side, and ownership allowed his fears to fade away.
In all ways, large and small, his loving presence eclipsed his fearful, self-serving thoughts. He reached the point where there was little more for him to say, because knowing was so deeply embedded in his psyche. He had allowed grievances and old habit patterns to be dissolved, and now experienced the truth of his being. Talk would only trivialize it. In adopting the goal of a better way to live, he instantly found himself on a path with no exit point, leading straight to the heart of love itself.
The time for wearing a mask was over.
Bill was always forthright about needing help with wanting to forgive. Lukewarm to the idea at first, he developed a zeal for leaving no grievance unaddressed as the years passed and his understanding grew. When he recognized that his own ego thoughts enslaved him, his final biggest “risk” was deciding to let them all go. He often said that his major prayer was “Help!” or the expanded version, “Help me do this!” It was no more specific than that. His deepest desire was to completely forgive everyone and everything.
In February, 1988, Bill experienced some bronchial difficulty. For several years, he had had occasional incidents of atrial fibrillation, an arrhythmia of the heart not uncommon in older people but more dangerous for him, as his heart had been compromised by the rheumatic fever he developed as a child. Throughout his adult life he had irregular heartbeat episodes that he basically ignored; he was generally very casual about body-related issues.
Bill’s good friend Hugh Prather thought that Bill understood that the greatest thing we can do for the world is to awaken individually. Hugh and his wife Gayle strongly felt that Bill awakened by the end of his earthly life, and accomplished it in a relatively short period of time. Hugh observed: “At the end of his life, Bill was going around telling everybody not to take this Course so seriously, not that one doesn’t revere or appreciate it, just don’t make it into such a rigid, deadly thing. Toward the end, he got into that wonderful state of mind where he could awaken; you could see it all so clearly.”
Those who knew and loved him later in his life watched his steady transformation unfold—sometimes barely perceptible, sometimes in sudden leaps, occasionally with some discomfort, but always modestly—as his initial small willingness to practice forgiveness grew into a serious commitment. Once he made that commitment to practice complete forgiveness, he never really wavered. Everyone noticed the steady dissolution of his ego.
For what would be his final visit to Tiburon, Jerry Jampolsky picked Bill up at the San Francisco airport the morning of July 3, and on the drive north to Tiburon, they found themselves ensnarled in a huge traffic jam. The drive usually takes about an hour but on this day it was closer to three and a half hours, which Jerry later recalled as a real blessing. “Bill was in a very playful, joyful mood, very light. I never saw him so exuberant; his humor was amazing. He was walking very lightly and kind of playing.”
The weekend would be at the home of Judith Skutch, who had invited thirty-six people to greet him and have an outdoor meal on the deck with evening fireworks and all. Jerry and Bill were expected by about 1 p.m.
Judith recounts: “Finally, around 3:00 they walked in and what I saw was so unexpected. Jerry looked kind of sheepish and Bill was smiling as if he were onstage. He was lifting up his arms in the air with grace—I never thought of Bill as a graceful person—and doing a little jig as he walked in the door. Then he kissed me and said, “You won’t believe what happened, you won’t believe what happened!” I said, ‘What?’ a little miffed. He said, ‘We had terrible, terrible traffic and Jerry didn’t get angry once!’ Oh, my goodness, he was dancing, literally dancing into our house!”
Since Bill had clearly made a major shift in his thinking, he naturally saw things differently, experiencing everyone around him as more loving, open, and intensely satisfying.
William Whitson recalls that on that final evening, July 3, “He was very light, literally dancing around, and I’d never seen him do that. He was very joyful, up on tiptoes as if he were going to lift off.” Everyone else who saw him those last couple of days noted that a substantive shift had occurred. Bill seemed to have cut loose all the anchors—professional ones related to his scientific persona, as well as his personal ones, the struggles and disappointments.
The next morning, while serving Bill breakfast, Judy commented about it being the Fourth of July, and Bill said, “Yes, it’s my independence day!”
Judith recalled, “Bill was still ‘tripping the light fantastic’ all around the living room, though there was no music playing, I asked what he was doing and he answered, ‘Oh, I feel so flexible, I feel so flexible!’ I asked if he would like to sit down to have lunch and he replied, ‘alright,’ but he was blithe, that is the only word I can think of. It was a very different Bill. He was just happy, but the happiness was not ‘good mood’ happiness, rather a joy that was radiating through the body. His spirit was transcendent.
“I wondered if he was on something, thinking some medication had him stoned. I asked him what he was taking these days and he laughed, saying, ‘No, no, I’m just feeling so good, so free, so complete!’”
Thereupon Judith, who knew Bill very well, quizzed him about his various relationships and concluded, “it seemed that, indeed, there was nothing left undone, so I gave him a hug, saying, ‘Well, you are free, you’ve done your homework.’ He smiled, just a big grin, and said, ‘yes, I have!’”
Bill had gone from being restricted, reserved, and inflexible to expansive, flowing, and inclusive.
Judith: “Bill knew I was having a large group over for the holiday; the tables were all set up and I had a refrigerator full of food. After breakfast I decided, however, that I had to go to the market and get some more chicken. Bill insisted I already had enough, but I said, ‘Yes, but I’m a Jewish mother and have to have extra.’ He then announced that he was going for a walk, as was his daily custom.”
Bill proceeded down the driveway while Judith gathered her things for shopping. In about five minutes when she was ready to go, Bill was dead, lying on the driveway. The neighbor, a doctor, was already there. The autopsy later confirmed that part of Bill’s heart had “exploded” and that he had left suddenly and painlessly.
Bill left on the Fourth of July—so like him to take even his own dying process light-heartedly. Some might have found Bill’s friends a curious lot, as amid the shock of his sudden death, one could hear expressions of elation and delight; “Oh, my God, he did it! He did it! He’s the first person to finish the Course, really finish the Course!”—not unlike adoring fans cheering their star quarterback over the goal line.
He had asked for the Course; he received it and used it, willingly stripping himself of his persona, psychological armoring, prestige, unhelpful habits, and presumptions. Throughout the process, he danced, laughed and struggled, joked, despaired and supported, loved, feared and prayed, and steadily forgave his way to the end.
As a close friend of A Course in Miracles co-scribe, the late Bill Thetford, Carol authored an intimate account of Bill’s life entitled, Never Forget To Laugh: Personal Recollections of Bill Thetford, Co-Scribe of A Course In Miracles. The book also contains a comprehensive back story of how ACIM came to be. Carol, now an elder within the ACIM community, is one of only three people in the world still actively teaching ACIM who personally knew one or both of its co-scribes, Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman.