There must be stillness for the spirit to enter.
I wish I could find George today, the guy who gave me my first journal back around 1980. He would be pleased by the stack of journals I’ve accumulated since that summer evening so long ago. I wonder what he would think as he watched me progress through my journals, from a low-income mother just trying to survive to a woman now in my senior years who was named one of “100 People to Watch in the Year 2000 and Beyond” because of my work with Whittier Writers’ Workshop and then SASE: The Write Place; who became a college professor, earned a PhD at the age of fifty-eight, and is still creating spaces for writers to discuss big topics. I can almost see his smile while I watch him in my imagination reading about the adults my kids have become: Tania earning a master of social work degree and following her dream of helping mothers and children, some in situations similar to ours while she was growing up; Julian and his wife, Debbie, who built a house in the burbs to raise their three kids and then, after successfully raising those kids, sold the house and moved to LA to return to college themselves, Julian to study music production and Deb architecture. George would be so impressed to see how Stevie has grown since his release from prison, driving a semi and making music while being a proud grandfather; Iris going back to college in her late forties to follow her own dream of being a park ranger; and Ebony, who was still in diapers when George moved, who owns her own hair salon and does hair and makeup for celebrities as well as everyday people. All of this would surely bring on that smile I remember so fondly. Yes, I think he would be as impressed as I am grateful for the way my life has changed since those days when we were neighbors living in the vermin-infested green fourplex where I raised my children.
It’s 11:00 as I write this, New Year’s Eve 2000. I watched the sun set hours ago and am now peering out at the arc of green lights on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge as they cast shadows over the stone arches of the bridge that bears that name. To my left the lights on the downtown skyscrapers compete for attention while to my right holiday lights twinkle from the windows at La Rive Condominiums. In an hour, fireworks will erupt from the shoreline underneath the Stone Arch Bridge, announcing the start of a new millennium.
I WONDER if I would have the courage to tell George about the discoveries I’ve made in my journals that haven’t been so pleasant—the entries about alcohol and messy relationships. Surely he knew back then that I could have been a statistic. In fact, I almost was. Sixteen years ago I was far from seeing my way off of the welfare rolls. Judging from stories he told me about his own background, George knew how easy it is to get trapped in the cycle of poverty that so often consumes women and their children after divorce. It happened in his own family after his parents broke up.
I wonder what it is that allows some of us to eventually escape while many, even some with deep faith, never make it out of the cycle. Surely there are moments in everyone’s life that can serve as turning points, even if you don’t realize it at the time.
THE PHONE RINGS in the intermittent tones that let me know it’s a long-distance call. Who could be calling at this hour? My caller ID reveals that it’s my friend Sheila. It’s past midnight in New York. She must be calling to wish me a Happy New Year.
“Happy New Year,” she says in her Brooklyn Jewish accent.
“Happy New Year back atcha,” I reply in Minnesota Black.
“What are you doing?” she asks. “You sound sort of distant.”
I tell her about the triumphs I’ve noticed in my journals, and I tell her how puzzled I am about the disturbing themes that have come up over and over again in the writing, and how much it disturbs me that at this time in my life I still haven’t conquered some of the issues that bother me.
“I guess that doesn’t surprise me,” she responds. We recall the parallels that have often surprised us in the years we’ve known each other.
“I can’t help wondering where it all began,” I muse. I believe that some of my behaviors come from patterns that are very old. “Maybe if I could figure that out, I could have a more fulfilling life.”
After a lengthy pause, she says, “Here’s what I’m getting: I think it goes back to when you were a baby.”
Perhaps the biggest thing that has allowed Sheila and me to be such close friends is that we both have the “gift of sight.” We freely and frequently share visions with each other.
“I suggest you do a meditation that takes you back to the moment of your birth. That’s where you will find the answer.”
Usually things sink in rather slowly with me. But not this time. Right away Sheila’s words seep into that part of my gut that knows when a truth has been spoken. And just as quickly I see a purplish haze saturate the room.
“Do it now,” she says.
I thank her and hang up, then sit for a moment, soaking up the purple light. I move the journals over and get up to light the purple candle that sits on my altar on the window seat. I change the CD to one I use for meditation, then sit back down on my bed and look at the clock; it’s 11:15. I turn off the light and assume the lotus position, and I am instantly transported back in time.
I feel my body writhing, trying to get out of a tight, watery place. I hear my mother scream and feel rubber-gloved hands gently lift me up.
“She’s blue,” says the doctor and does something to ensure that my heart will keep beating.
There are other people in the room. Some are taking orders from the doctor and others are just standing around. Tension turns to relief when I cry; the doctor’s maneuver was successful. Yet some of the people still look puzzled. There is something covering my face. It is soft and feels watery. It is preventing me from seeing the people clearly. The doctor takes a tool of some sort and peels it off. The brightness of the room startles me.
The doctor hands me over to a nurse who lays me in a bed and proceeds to wash me. She sings “Rock-a-Bye Baby” while wrapping me in a blanket. She rocks me and her hands are comforting.
“Is she awake yet?” I hear the doctor ask, referring to my mother.
“Yes,” a nurse replies. My father has come into the room and is sitting quietly beside the bed, holding my mother’s hand.
The doctor pulls up a stool beside the bed where my mother lies and tells my parents, “You’ve just given birth to a fine baby girl.”
I see Mother’s smile as the nurse carries me toward the bed.
“There are a couple of problems,” the doctor’s voice has taken on an air of authority. “She’s going to be fine, nothing to worry about,” he continues, patting my mother’s arm. “She has a heart murmur. Not unusual—she’s going to be just fine.”
The nurse places me in my mother’s arms and my parents begin to examine me, checking to see if I have all of my fingers and toes. “She is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen,” says my mother, commenting on my copper coloring. My mother and father exchange words about how my older brother and sister looked when they were born, and then my mother repeats, “She is absolutely the most beautiful, perfect baby I have ever seen.”
“There’s something else you may want to know,” says the doctor, drawing my parents’ attention back to himself.
“Part of the membrane from the water bag was covering her face. We see that occasionally. It’s nothing to worry about; we removed it and she’s just fine.”
A look that I can describe only as intense fear crosses my mother’s face and soon takes over her whole being. She and my father both know what that means. In African-based cultures, it’s called a veil, while in Celtic cultures it’s a caul. Others say the baby was “born in the bag.” But in all cultures that believe in superstitions or esoteric wisdom, it means the same thing: a child born with part of this membrane covering its face is said to have special powers; my mother thinks she’s given birth to a voodoo child.
My mother stiffens and almost throws me to my father. I feel her rejection so strongly that somewhere between the time I leave her arms and land in my father’s, my soul gets caught in a space that feels like limbo.
A black-skinned, fatherly man dressed in an orange African robe decorated with gold, rust, and burnt-orange circles reaches out and catches me, pulling my soul from the space in limbo. He is a shaman. He holds me to his chest, smiling and talking to me, calming my fears. As soon as the shaman sees that I’ve stopped crying, he lifts me up toward the Sun and gives me a name that I can’t hear.
CRACKLING LIGHTS accompanied by what sound like explosions jar me awake. It’s almost midnight, and outside my window sparks shoot up from beneath the bridge; the fireworks are about to begin.
I am sweating, shaken to the core. No wonder I’ve never felt like my feet were touching the ground. All my life I’ve had the feeling that my body’s been on Earth but my soul has been some other place. I want to go back into the trance and find the shaman. I want to know my name.