It was the summer when I was 18 that I moved to San Francisco on a whim. I had spent almost a year living on the streets in New York City and found that there was no going home after that. (I tried for a few months – and was painfully reminded of why I left). I wanted a fresh start, so when my friend Joe asked me if I would go to the west coast with him, I said “yes” and the next day we were in a car and on the road.
The transition to San Francisco was more difficult than I expected it to be. I thought California was sunny everywhere, but when we arrived – San Francisco was cold and rainy – I cried and cried! We were two kids completely alone and unprepared for this new place that was very different from New York City.
Our first employers quickly became our best friends. David and Devon were a lovely couple who were tragically beginning to be very sick with ARC (AIDS Related Conditions).
They were dying. Our hearts were breaking.
We spent Christmas Eve at the hospital with them when Devon’s pancreas began to fail. A few weeks later, they packed up everything they owned and moved to Eureka to live out the rest of their lives.
We never saw them again.
Before we met David and Devon, it took us both some time to get work. Of course, our money ran out and we ended up living out of our car for a few weeks. We did what we could to be presentable – taking showers at the bay and keeping clean, getting up early and looking for work, talking to the local kids about where to find food, get medical care, be safe.
I remember talking to my mom on the phone while we were living out of the car, and I told her everything was fine. I wanted her to not worry about me, but I was also afraid that if I spoke about my situation, I would not have the strength to move past it. I knew that if I stayed focused on getting work and a place to live that it would happen. (And of course, it did).
By the second or third month in San Francisco we were finally starting to make some money. We moved into a dingy 28-day-stay residential hotel off of Market Street near the Castro District. It was a place to sleep and that was all. In the evenings, while Joe was working at David and Devon’s store, I would go to the basement of the shop and snuggle up in a blanket by the furnace and read books.
Being poor and not knowing many people, I spent a good deal of time at the library. Finding the library doors locked one day was a shock! It was shortly after the quake of ’89 (1989 Loma Prieta earthquake) and the city had shut down all of its libraries to save municipal funds during the emergency. I had to do something, so I explored the city and found a glorious, gigantic, used book store. I spent hours in that store! It was heavenly. I browsed every section—I could not help myself. Though I barely had any money, that day I bought three books – The Man Who Fell To Earth, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and a curious looking purple-covered book called Be Here Now. I remember thinking, Ram Dass, isn’t he one of those guys who did stuff with Timothy Leary? I don’t know why, but I should know this. I should know all of these books.
Looking back, I am glad I bought the three books together – they all had a profound affect on my imagination and life experience. The simple message and playful design of Be Here Now was a necessary juxtaposition to the heaviness of the other two books. I think ultimately, Be Here Now turned out to be a primer for the deeper Vedic and yogic studies that were to be a part of my life in the years ahead. I played with the ideas in that book – and it was a playful book – even though I didn’t understand it completely, I just knew it was good – like play – and was able to find some peace. My now-ness was intense, but I was right there with it. Somehow I knew everything would be ok.
That was a long time ago – but what a time!
I am finding that the older I get, the more open my heart is becoming. With the capacity to feel love also comes a greater capacity for grief and pain. Loss doesn’t get easier, but it shifts.
This lecture by Ram Dass helped me with the grief I’ve been going through not only from the death of my sister, but also the end of a love relationship. It is difficult to describe the waves of sorrow and anger that have passed through my body over this last year and in particular these last few months. What struck chords with me in Ram Dass’s lecture (besides the message of love – which it all boils down to anyway) were these questions: Who is to say anyone dies too soon? Who is to say anyone’s path is the wrong path?
The end doesn’t make the experience any less valuable. I keep finding that as my painful feelings settle, there is an underlying expansive feeling of love. Sometimes that feeling is heartbreaking, but when the heartbreak opens up it is radiant and boundless. It’s like seeing the Divine in everything, it’s so beautiful it hurts, and yet, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Eventually, if you can stand to keep looking, the hurt turns to bliss.