On the day before my 62nd birthday I received a gift of incomparable value, a grace, as it were, a gift unexpected and unwarranted. A woman who is a stranger to me has curated the memory of Rena and kept her alive to greet me more than twenty-five years after we had lost contact. Over the years I have searched for Rena, and I am now told that she died in 1992, leaving a daughter and a circle of loved ones who all thought her to be magical, lyrical and transcendent. That is certainly the way Rena was for me, she who called me "Lady Lee."
This stranger has darned the holes in the patchwork quilt made up of vignettes that lead from San Francisco and Berkeley to Hawaii to the mountains, lakes and plains of this country's heartland. The quilt contains the stories of both me and this stranger's now-husband, who was Rena's paramour at the time of her death. This volunteer curator has promised artifacts from that earlier age, and I wonder, will I recognize them as being of my making? Will they remember the one who dreamed them into being and shaped them? I ponder, too, the generous heart of this stranger and how she knows that she has touched magic even from the periphery of her love's memories.
Every woman of an age has a history. Mine is quite colorful and more than a little of a contrast to the steady life I've built over the past 30-some years. My 20's were the stuff of pulp fiction and Woodstock, a litany of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, a journey of hedonism, experiment and revolution in which I lost myself, tested myself and found myself. I don't think I would attach the adjective "good" to those years, but I also know this: I do not for a moment regret any of those days, people or experiences. Here I am, because they were, there and then.
I have often said, quietly so as not to tempt fate, that it is a miracle that God saved me from all the experiences that could have led to death for me, as it did for so many others. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison were the famous ones, all dead at age 27 within a year of each other, 1970-71. Maybe that fate only befell those whose names began with "J," or maybe I learned from their lives' lessons, trailing five years behind them.
I have had a prescient sense of call through the years even when I could not discern a call from a ticket to Radio City Music Hall. God has a sense of the ironic and irenic, if not exactly a sense of humor. Humor presupposes a certain comic perspective of the human condition that I doubt belongs to God. I suspect God's viewpoint to be more rueful and compassionate.
God has always chosen the least and the lost to infect with his sense of the holy. The Beatitudes were written to be our law and blessing, holding up before us endless possibilities of the redemptive power of love and relationship. It is for us to choose people over the seductive, easy allure of money and social status, of climbing the shining ladder of success clad in stainless steel and greenbacks, stock options and expense accounts. Choosing people - over everything else or the right people - hasn't always been my strong suit. I've been addicted to ideas all my life, and they've been more consistently rewarding.
My 30's were spent in the heyday of the '80s when it seemed as if real estate and stocks would never fail us and gala charity balls, first class seats and silk dresses would never lose their appeal. Well, the wheel has turned in my lifetime, and the attractions of the '80s are over. Heaped into piles of disdained values like over-consumption, indulgence and selfishness, we don't regret walking away from them, glad to be left with our sense of self on which to build anew.
My sense of self does harken back, when it is reminded, to the important people in my life. There were a special few, who contributed to my formation, whose loss I mourn with all the parts of me touched by their overflowing essence of new days. My sense of call is this: listen to those who do not speak in ordinary words or any words at all, and if the opportunity arises, speak the crevices and crevasses of our human experience into mirrors for the power-led and power-emptied to see a path into that overflowing, ever-flowing essence of new days.
I remember Rena with her crooked, sunny smile, and her optimism that paid no mind to the reality of her existence. Magic is what some special few weave out of the air as their hands move when they talk and their hair whips in the wind as they dance instead of walking. It reminds me that I like to whirl . . . and whirl . . . and whirl.