Mid Morning, every workday for more than a month, I’ve ventured a few blocks over to St Mary’s Cathedral to pray. Initially, I began going there in the name of my friend, poet Joanna Spencer. I began going because her son told me she was desperately ill– having a broken hip and staying in a nursing home for some other issues.
But what kept me going back daily, were my own issues. The effluvium of memory that quietly started to rotten behind my own heart. At times I would stand before a marble statue of a saint and pour myself empty. But gradually, I ran out of words and prayers to god. I needed to give my words to a person. One person in particular.
Last night I got a call from one of my oldest friends. But last night I couldn’t speak. I picked up the phone and my heart stuck in my throat. I put the phone down, shamed, embarrassed. And spontaneously called it a night. I lay in bed thinking. Thinking about the history of my friend and me, thinking about all the things that– inspite of being friends so long– I’ve never allowed myself to say.
This morning, I got up at my appointed time and took the walk to church. To get there, I have to cross the mini-park, part of church property. I stopped in the park and wandered well over into the corner, stood on a patch of grass, took out my phone, and held it. For five minutes. Around me, the park was busy– moreso than I’d seen it. A tour wandered through, Chinese neighbors excercised. A city worker hauled out dead leaves. A group of young homeless men lay on the grass in their wraps and blankets planning the day. Lovers sipped coffee from each other’s mugs. And there was me, standing silently alone on the grass.
I couldn’t speak to my friend for nearly two weeks. I didn’t want to be negative. I didn’t want to speak to her while I was high. Yet that’s where I’ve lived for so, so long. Now, there was something in my chest I could neither swallow nor cough up. What I wanted I knew she couldn’t give me: loving acceptance. I had to give that to myself. But there was so much more I wanted to say, yet I felt ashamed, somehow. Ashamed for Feeling anything, ashamed for Needing To Say anything. But I couldn’t move on until I did it. I tried aligning my thoughts, like getting a class of anxious school children to stand in line and settle, only to watch my mind fall blank. What do I say? How exactly do I put into words what has formed behind my heart? I held then stared at the phone for a long time. But the truth of the matter is– people are put into our lives to guide us, teach us. We all need one another, as much as we need to settle with ourselves. And hasn’t she been put into my life for a specific reason. What if that reason boils down not to the years we’ve spent as friends, but to whatever will happen in the next few minutes on this phone call? What if the entire reason we became friends is for me to give whatever monologue tumbles out of me Right Now.
I pressed Call. She picked up– jokingly saying: Is this really you?!? I said: Do you have a couple of minutes? She said yeah. I was standing in the park watching the hands on the church’s clock tower. Beneath the clock face is a quote from the Bible that says something like: Son, behold the time and run from evil.
As a man, its a challenge to be open with my feelings. Even as an artist with all I’ve done, and I’ve certainly put a lot of myself out there on paper and stage– its still difficult to look square at your self, your hurt– and speak. And I did.
I told her; I’ve come every day to pray at this church, but today I’ve come to pray directly to you.
She listened. I talked for 20 minutes. I went back nearly 15 years and said: that moment with us on the beach 15 years ago, in many ways I’m still sitting there. Anchored by feelings and unable to move. For the first time, I emptied myself to her and said everything I needed to say.
This morning while typing at work, I listened to a Buddhist lecture. The teacher told a gorgeous story about one farmer who’d go out to the chicken coop and collect all the shit beneath the chickens and bring that into the house– stinking up everything, poisoning the air. And everybody’s upset! Then there’s another farmer, who goes into the chicken coop and collects all the eggs and brings those into the house and now breakfast can be made! And money can be made from the excess eggs! And its great.
Sometimes, when we delve deeply into the past, we only harvest the shit, not the eggs. We forget our true purpose and reason to harvest in the first place.
Why harvest shit and leave all the eggs behind?
I guess that’s what I’ve been doing. And at 25 minutes, after she responded, lovingly, supportively, we hung up. I never made it into the church. Yet, I still felt relieved. She waited for me to get myself together, and I did. And she received it, we wept, and were done.
And the morning became the afternoon. I went to lunch. I hadn’t heard back from my other friend who sent me a text message Saturday morning. I’d been feeling so relived from everything else, in the middle of eating I sent him a text and he immediately called back.
Joanna, his mother, died this morning.
I thought about how I felt when my mom died. What could anyone do for me? What could I do for myself? He and his wife were clearing out Joanna’s apartment today. She’ll be cremated. He’ll call back when he can.
And I felt helpless, listening to him, and holding my mouth shut with my other hand. I could really hear him. Even the spaces hanging between his sentences. I’ve been there before. Perhaps part of me is still there.
I told him I loved him. He was the second person today I’d said that to. We hung up.
It was a difficult day. My lunch was good, but after talking to him, everything I ate sat in my gut as if I’d swallowed half a brick, whole. I feel raw, stripped, lonesome. But the fog parted and the sun came out. The drizzle swirling the city all last week has gone. Right now there is sun, no drizzle. There is just right now. And right now, as I type this, everything is fine.