Jesus year in review

The sun didn’t rise on my birthday (the horizon was far too hazy from all the wild fires), but I did. Something about another orbit under your belt makes you take a beat to reflect, and 33 was certainly one for the books.

They call it your “Jesus Year” because that’s how old he was when he died and rose from the dead. Metaphorically, that’s the age of rebirth for many people. I hadn’t thought about it while it was happening, but 33 was exactly that for me.

I went to see an energy reader/healer shortly after my last birthday. (I know that makes it sound like I have gone full Californian, but when you grow up Catholic, you’re basically raised to believe in magic, so it’s not such a stretch.) She told me a lot of things that were helpful and made sense, but the most dead-on was that this year would be extremely hard. “In fact, it’s going to suck,” she said, and she told me that I just needed to be strong and push through it, and I’d be transformed.

Without any exaggeration, that’s exactly what happened. In March, I broke off a six-year relationship that I came to realize was unhealthy and that was supposed to end in marriage. At five in the morning after yet another sleepless night of being berated (in a long chain of those types of nights), I arose from bed like a marionette on a string and calmly stated that I was going to take a shower, get dressed, and leave. I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but I did just that.

My body felt like it was on autopilot. My motions were mechanical: turning the nob on the shower, pulling on my clothes, even packing a bag. I grabbed things without thinking — a toothbrush, contacts, a change of clothes, a checkbook — as if a giant magnet was pulling my hands towards these things, not the other way around. It was as close to an out-of-body experience I’ve had.

It was still dark when I left, but I instinctively walked towards the park a block away and called my mom. She picked up immediately, knowing something was wrong. It was before six in the morning on a Saturday, after all. “Rachael-what’s-the-matter-honey-are-you-all-right,” she asked in the rushed, frantic tone she uses when a baby gets too close to a staircase and she calls out that one-syllable prayer: “Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph!”

I opened my mouth to speak, but all I could do was cry. And she just knew. “Oh, not again,” she said. I continued to sob into the phone, and when she said in a strained voice, like she was holding back tears, “Honey, you can’t keep living like this,” that’s when I knew I was never going back, and my Jesus year was just beginning.

It was hard. It was damn hard. I put a lot to rest in the months that followed. There was a lot to handle, logistically and emotionally. There was a lot I left behind, not unlike what happens when someone dies. But I handled it. With the help of countless friends, family, and co-workers, I pushed through. (It’s amazing who shows up when you need help in your life.)

The morning of March 18th, I sat in darkness on a park bench talking to my mom for two hours. I watched the sun rise over San Francisco, and I thought to myself “The sun it rises, and so will I.”

This morning of October 11th, I watched the dark purple fade to pink and orange swirls, and I couldn’t help but think back to that morning, and all the mornings since. Like the sun, I have inched my way above the horizon, getting brighter, warmer, and stronger by the minute, by the day.

I am rising.

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California is burning

Yesterday I awoke from deep within a weird dream in the middle of the night, to what I thought was the sweet smell of some kind of strong incense wafting in from my neighbor’s open window. I was bleary and explained it away with Dream Logic at first, which allowed me to fall back to sleep momentarily, assured I’d solved the riddle. But my nose doesn’t operate on logic, so I was thrust awake again to get to the bottom of what had now become an irritant. Something was burning, and the smell had consumed my entire apartment. It didn’t smell like bonfire or regular old house fire, unless the house belonged to a hoarder of headshop paraphernalia. 

After quickly Googling “what to do in case of a fire” (new addition to the list of long-forgotten useful things they tell you in grade school), I found a thread from some neighbors. One person said it was air pollution from the Napa and Sonoma fires. Another said the Presidio was also on fire and that’s what we were smelling. 

I shut my windows tight, did one more check that my building wasn’t actually burning, turned on my essential oil diffuser, and managed to fall back to sleep for another few hours. When I woke up the next morning, a layer of white ash and charred pine needles covered my kitchen table, couch, and floor and the air was still thick with smoke. Two days in, and it’s still raging.

None of us is far from disaster. We will all face our tragedies, whether earthquake, fire, hurricane, mass shooting, or illness. California may be the one burning at the moment, but we all breathe the same air.

Arrivals 

This moment. This one, right here. On the heels of a drawn out week and the eve of vacation. This is where time slows down in the movie of your life. When you stare out the car window and become aware of the complete contentment, the euphoric exhaustion, and the anticipation of what’s to come. And you’re aware that you’re aware, so you can really seal it in memory Mod Podge or doubled-paned glass, or whatever it is that will keep it from deteriorating or dissolving into tomorrow, when the clock starts ticking down the time to the moment when it’s over.

But you’re not thinking about that yet. You can’t. You won’t allow yourself. Because it’s all about this moment, not that one. This moon, almost full on this fourth day of the month, of this tenth month of the year, of this 33rd year of your life. With your brother in flight across the continent to come see you. Your brother who you adore but don’t get to see enough because you chose this coast, not that one. This life, not that one.
“Excuse me, Miss,” the driver interrupts. “What airline?” You’re caught off guard and stumble for a moment trying to remember. “Oh, ah, that British one, but it’s American.” The driver pauses at the fork. “Virgin America–arrivals!”

“I’m sorry, Miss,” he says. “We can’t drop off at arrivals. Only departures,” he says.

So you get dropped at departures and take the stairs down, because that moment hasn’t yet come. This moment, this one right here, is only for arrivals.

Ocean Sounds

I’ve been living in this apartment for over three months now, and I just realized a few nights ago that I can hear the ocean.

My building was erected in 1929, when steam radiators were a big thing and apparently thermostats hadn’t been invented yet. Thus, I have no control over my heat. It kicks on every night at 7 p.m. until midnight, and then again at 5 a.m. until 11 a.m.

When I moved in, the building manager told me I shouldn’t try to turn off the heat at the base by closing the valve, or it would leak into the apartment below me. “You’re better off just opening the windows when it gets too hot,” he said. My windows, the ones without screens. Good thing San Francisco really doesn’t have bugs and bats, my biggest fears of screenless windows from my East Coast days (though I’m still waiting for a disoriented bird to fly in). So I keep all four windows at full mast most days and nights, with the exception of rainy ones.

On cue every night and early morning, the radiators rattle and whistle, sputtering and gasping like a pair of worn out smoker’s lungs under a stethoscope, or like a really old man is in there personally fueling the things with his own hot air. At first it was distracting, and I wondered if I’d ever sleep again, but like anything given time, you get used to the sound. It’s become quite comforting.

Then there’s the dog that barks through all hours of the night with a low, bemoaning woof, as if it’s lamenting its lot in life, being tied up in a small backyard by an owner that’s clearly neglectful of its wants and needs.

When I moved to this neighborhood, I was worried that living so close to a fire station (it’s literally caddy cornered to my window) would make for sleepless nights. But to my surprise the sirens are relatively infrequent. It’s this damn dog that has been keeping me up on a regular basis.

The dog is kept outside most nights and, like a faulty car alarm, will go off at the slightest noise: someone walking by with another dog, a car door being shut, someone digging in the recycling, a car driving by, and presumably at the moon just for shining. And once it starts, it won’t stop. Sometimes it even gets other dogs in the distance barking along with it (who are probably just telling it to shut up like I so desperately want to).

But lately, there don’t seem to be too many fires that require the assistance of the squad across the street. And I’ve been waking from vivid dreams in the middle of the night when the heat has simmered down, and the busy cars and busses have finally arrived at their destinations, and the dog has fallen asleep. And it’s still, like clear-winter-nights still.

That’s when you can hear it: just above the whisper of a constant wind, or the buzz of a refrigerator, but it’s there. That familiar shhhhhh, silencing everything around it.

It makes me wonder if I’ve been hearing it all along, like the bass of a song that you don’t realize you’re paying attention to until you find yourself tap-tapping to the beat. And I think of all the other things that are always there, whether or not we acknowledge them. Those things that are easy to ignore if the conditions aren’t perfect or their presence isn’t obvious, and because we’re often too focused on the things that annoy us instead.

But with a little stillness, openness, and consciousness, you can tap into that quiet strength. You can trust in its unceasing nature. You can hear the ocean.

Orbital motion

I was thinking of the new moon as I was lying in shavasana at the end of yoga class tonight. (Shavasana or “corpse pose” is always the last pose. It’s simply lying prone, feet spread, arms by the sides, palms up. And it’s called corpse pose because it eerily evokes a dead body.) I was thinking of phases — so many phases in life, in the body, in all of nature — and how it’s one big unbroken circle when you really stop to think about it.

In a new moon, its dark side (its best side?) faces Earth, and that reliable orb we have based calendars on, attributed special powers to, and depend on to light the way, is briefly omitted from the sky. Not dimmed, not slivered, not shadowed, but just… gone. (I like to imagine it stepping off a stage, unzipping, lighting up a cig, and running a hot bath for itself. Twenty-nine shows in a row must be exhausting.) But we know, at this stage in humanity at least, that it will be back. That it’s just a phase, a natural part of its cycle.

The new moon phase can cause distress (it signifies an ending as much as it does a beginning, after all). But it’s also a time of renewal: time to dust off those cobwebby dreams and breathe some life into them. It’s a chance to start again.

I think of how every night we go to sleep, we practice dying. We lay still and close our eyes, not moving and seeing nothing but darkness for hours on end. Our hearts slow. Our breathing becomes shallow. Our bodies shut down, much like they do at the completion of our lives.

Every exhale is a chance to let go, my yoga teacher says. Every breath in is a chance to begin anew. 

I think of the moon on nights like tonight, in all its infinite wisdom and the lessons it’s trying, tirelessly, night after night, show after show, to teach us.