One of the most wonderful things about my life is that I get to meet some truly incredible people who teach me so much about the world around me. A few months ago, one of those people went on to the great hereafter. I met V in Santa Cruz in 2002, and she let me use a very special motorcycle jacket for the long ride up to Oregon and back down to LA. Unfortunately, V contracted a rare case of cancer that the doctor’s said should have taken her out within months. Yet although it was often a hard fought battle, V managed to give us a few more years of her life before dying in April.
Her partner Dani recently sent me the jacket that V had let me borrow, and I have to say that it is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received. I wanted to show you the jacket, but I also wanted to share a bit of how we met and a few of the many things I learned from her.
The following is a passage from The Rucksack Letters.
I arrived in Santa Cruz with Black Jack in my pocket, and the odometer on my biggest gamble in Reno rolled to 2121. I went directly to the boardwalk after parking the bike at a nearby beach. This everyday carnival of roller coasters and games, where hot dogs and pizza tempted a stomach lined with trail mix, led to the wharf. I window shopped a little, wondered what restaurants might be hiring and if I cared to work there, and watched sea lions play, waving flippers at tourists, hoping they would ignore the profusion of signs posted that stated, “Do not feed the wildlife.” Perhaps it was the signs that caused me to grab a newspaper and head for the woods.
I rode east down a solitary road until I found a place to park and a stream to camp by down below. I hung my hammock between two trees where there was a clearing between the ferns and redwoods. I read through the paper, looking for jobs and opportunities, when I glanced upon an ad for the Unitarian Universalist Church. Jonathon from Rowe had offered me a summer job at the UU camp in Massachusetts via email, which made me miss my old friends there. So I thought it would be nice to meet some new ones. I found my way to the church the next morning and rolled into a parking space at 10:01, just in time for an indiscreet entry in my three-day ripe clothes, carrying my motorcycle helmet. They soon asked for visitors to introduce themselves, and I stood up and did – first day in Santa Cruz all the way from Florida.
The message was on faith. There were two different women sharing their ideas on the subject. The first spoke of unwavering faith that Gaia would provide. The second was a bit more skeptical. I examined my own faith and how I had been provided for over the last year.
I believe in what I have experienced and have faith that providence will continue. And that’s not always easy to say with $19 in your pocket.
After the service, I was invited to stay for coffee, pastries, and conversation, which many of the parishioners shared with me, inviting me again and again to a picnic they were having at the beach. A tender fireball named V started talking to me, red hair pulled up and beaming smile. She offered me a place to park my bike and a close place to camp. I followed the directions she gave me, met V and her wife Pam at the house, and walked on down to the beach with them. I found that several of the members of the church, including V, are practicing pagans. I’ve met a lot of pagans over the last year. I even went to the Pagan Pride Parade in Asheville on Samhain (Halloween). I thought it was worth knowing more about.
The idea I often associated with pagans (People Against Goodness and Normalcy) carried with it this spooky, occultist image of black robes, goat’s head soup, and conjuring demons. But that picture didn’t match the reality of the good-hearted, open people who I have met. V and Pam let me park my bike at their place, and so, as I camped in the nearby Nisene Marks Forest (just beyond the sign that says “No Camping”), I read a book called The Spiral Dance by a woman named Starhawk. I’d heard of Starhawk before, and when I asked V for a primer in Paganism, this book is what she gave me. I figured that the best way to understand someone is to understand what they believe. And from where they have come.
Over the course of the next few days, I began to talk more and more to Pam and V as I parked my bike near sunset before trudging into the woods for a good night’s sleep and heading back at five in the morning to find work. Pam, known as White Wolf to her friends – a longer story than I care to recount – is the butch in the couple as well as the breadwinner, providing for the family as a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church while V is a stay-at-home mom for their five-year-old son Parker. V said they are the only lesbian couple in the country who live like this – where the minister and her wife are both women. V is fully involved with the youth of the church and uses her gifts of nurturing and love to the fullest of their capabilities. Later in the week, they bought a camper called Scamp and said I could stay in it if I would help to clean it up. So, for the time being, I have a new family.
I’ve sat in a couple of times when V reads Parker his bedtime stories, which she reads or tells with such delight that I don’t want her to stop when Parker falls asleep. The three of us talk a lot about our pasts, our presence, and balancing the two. We talk about home schooling and conscientious parenting, social issues, and what we’re up to next. And by getting to know them better, and meeting their friends and neighbors, I now better understand the people they represent. Paganism is not the perverse order of Satanism I once imagined it was but a group of people who live by natural law, and find nothing more natural, for the most part, than love.