1. Throw Things Away
St Mary’s Cathedral is a four block walk from my office in San Francisco, just at the entrance of Chinatown. I found my way there the morning I got a facebook message from my friend telling me his mother, subsequently my friend and mentor who brought me into the world of poetry and cafe society, was raging away in a nursing home. Visiting her was not appropriate. But I felt a need to do something, not just for her, but for all the things that had been missing or was neglected within myself. I wandered into the church along with tourists saddled with cameras and fanny packs. The place was quiet, huge stained glass paintings and statues of the Virgin, Christ and other saints.
I am not Catholic. But I was so drawn to be there and felt comforted, so much so, I’ve returned daily during late morning breaks at work. I climb the hill and breathe myself empty, applying meditation techniques learned years ago. I cross St Mary’s Park where older men and women practice tai chi and the homeless begin stirring and a group of tourists stand while listening to a tour guide’s rap. Or some days I’ll sit on a bench for a moment to text my friend about lunch or call back the 80 year old aunt I talk to monthly, living in Los Angeles. Then I enter the church.
Did I mention not being Catholic? I had to Google the proper way to apply Stations of The Cross. My ex-girlfriend is Catholic and once showed me the proper way. But that was a couple years ago. I’m left handed and ignorant and concerned about doing it backwards. I didn’t want to be disrespectful. But something within me needed to be here. Something within me has remained so hurt and vulnerable. I wanted to physically pull my own heart out as an offering to any God who’d listen. I felt safe here. I felt like I was welcomed to be here, even if no one really speaks to me, except the warm nods from the older gentleman at the front desk who’s sold me candles over the weeks and asked once while I was in my black golf shirt if I was a priest.
What did I pray for? What would you pray for? Does it matter? The woman in the nursing home I mentioned was the first person to bring me into a cathedral. I was used to the loud country churches my grandfather preached in or the store fronts my aunt used to beat down pianos in. But Cathedrals are different and dramatic, even standing empty and silent like this one. And daily I come here with my wound. I open my self and pour. I imaging luggage and backpacks emblazoned with symbolic words and leave them at the altar with my monologue and imaging them burning or being recycled. Should I maintain Faith or just let it go or do those both mean the same thing? Am I whining? Am I being impatient? I wonder– because now a month in, I’m beginning to think the best prayer is probably complete silence.
2. Being Content (Wherever You Are)
Leaving the church, so much as crossing the threshold back to the street, I do feel better. I do feel as if something has been lifted. Though one day, while I was crossing the intersection, a delivery truck –waiting for me to pass and make his left up the hill– honked at me. I recognized the driver from regular trips to my office. Playfully he said: “Don’t walk with your head down!” And I realized I was walking like Charlie Brown beneath a black cloud. I’d just left church, just prayed, but I wasn’t empty, wasn’t finished somehow and walked nearly doubled over. I hadn’t realized that. Every day thereafter, I’ve made it a point to keep my mind clear and my eyes up. I don’t know why that’s such an effort.
3. Have No Expectations. Give For the Love Of Giving
My former yoga teacher would put us in some physical bondage yoga pose, (“If you feel some pain, breathe into it!”) have us relax, then ask: “Where did it go? You thought you’d never make it a second ago. Now that second is past. Where is that sensation you just had? Where did it go?” So many lessons arise in just observing. Just notice, my teacher would say. So during these prayer weeks, I’ve noticed… Little things. Little surprises. Gifts from the universe. Moments. I can’t say what exactly. I’ll say this: last week or so I opened my email and saw, for the first time, a subject line from the site Linked In that startled me. It said: Jesus Has Endorsed You. I showed it to my best friend over lunch and he laughed and said: Forward that to me. Right now!
These moments are like little receipts. I breathe. And notice.
4. Have a Teflon Mind.
Dear ______. Just last night, I cried to myself over so many things. The tears caught me by surprise. The feeling was like something I could neither swallow nor cough up. Over the years, I’ve defined myself through memories that have hurt me most. Half those memories probably aren’t even true. Remixed by time and insecurity. Were we a kind of lie to one another? I think often of a moment between us, sitting on the beach. That memory is some 20 years old now. That afternoon pummeled me. Decades later I’m still sitting there, watching you, speechless. I’ve work shopped a poem about that afternoon and what happened within me after we talked over all the reasons we couldn’t be anything for each other. And the instructor, reading over it loud, began leaking giggles and finally laughed. He didn’t want to; he held it like an old person who couldn’t control their urine. Somehow my honesty is funny. That’s why I can’t always speak. That’s why I’m sometimes afraid to open my mouth. There are still words I’ve never earned the right to say, words I’ve never learned to pronounce with any meaning.