Jai Guru Dev. Thank You, Beloved Teacher.

With my teacher, Paul Brown, on Guru Purinimah in 2012 -- when we both found ourselves in Chicago, although neither of us lived here at the time.
With my teacher, Paul Brown, on Guru Purnimah in 2012. In Chicago.

“Today is celebrated as Guru Purnimah, Full Moon of the Guru. One honors one’s spiritual lineage.”

My meditation teacher, Paul Brown AKA Paul Edward Blackburn, posted this on Facebook today along with a story from one of his associates upon meeting his teacher, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

This is my story of meeting my teacher.

I am standing at the bar at a swanky anniversary party. I order a glass of champagne. Paul looks at me, smiles, and says, “We’re going to be friends.”

He says this as if nothing could be more obvious. And nothing can be more obvious.

He is tall, with a shock of white-blonde hair and blue eyes that I want to swim in – elementary backstroke, gentle, looking up at the sun. I don’t know if he is gay or if I am in love or both.

Both.

Over dinner he tells me about Transcendental Meditation. (Now commonly called Vedic Meditation.) He tells me about meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – John, Paul, George and Ringo’s teacher – in Spain. He tells me he would like to teach me to meditate.

On the ride home I inform my husband that I will be learning to meditate. It is one of our first and few disagreements about money. We don’t have much as I have recently left a job in public relations and am answering phones at a massage school for $12/hour while I build my budding bodywork practice.

Meditation seems an unnecessary extravagance, but he relents.

I arrive at Paul’s home – a bungalow that he shares with his roommate Mikey, who runs an old-school soda fountain in Berkeley, California – carrying pears and oranges and a mess of star-gazer lilies, offerings for my initiation.

We place the fruit and flowers on a silver tray, next to a photograph of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, on an altar Paul has created. And he lights a stick of incense.

The rest is a blur.

I receive a mantra which Paul had chosen for me. He says it. I repeat it. He says it again. I repeat it again. And so we continue for 20 minutes. Saying the words to one another, and then eventually to ourselves.

I feel dizzy. And then like I am flying. I notice every sensation of my body. I feel like I have experienced this before, as a young girl…but I did not have words for it then. Or I did, but they sounded strange and silly. The feeling and the imagery is exactly the same – I am a cube of ice suspended from dental floss tied to a toothpick. Both heavy and light at the same time. And nothing more.

We finish the meditation with the words, “Jai Guru Dev. Thank you, Beloved Teacher.” And then count backwards from 100 to zero, allowing ourselves to settle back into this time and space.

When we are done, Paul makes me a martini – heavy on the vermouth, and we sit at the dining table with Mikey while he eats his dinner, sans shirt. And when he is done, he plays the guitar for us.

A few weeks later Paul teaches my husband to meditate – gratis. It is his gift to us. He thinks it is important that we be able to meditate together.

We meditate in the sun in our pajamas, camping in a field up in wine country. And on a rock face in Lake Tahoe, where we back-packed in for several days. My husband suggests we take off our watches while we are here. I agree but ask, “How will we know when we are done?” (This form of meditation is traditionally done for 20 minutes – once in the morning, once in the evening.) He laughs and replies, “We will be done when we are done.”

It seems like a radical notion.

We do this together for many years. And then we don’t. Our schedules change. He falls away from the practice. And then, we are no longer a we.

My practice changes and morphs too, and probably can no longer be classified as true Transcendental or Vedic Meditation. I add different prayers and “count” them towards my 20 minutes. At the request of a sick friend, I repeat a Durga (Hindu Goddess) mantra 108 times, at the time of her morning meditation. I let my evening practice fall away and lean exclusively into my morning sitting.

What remains true, 12 years since my initiation, is what Paul promised me early on – when I ask him how his life is different since learning to meditate. He thinks about it and replies, “I just think I have a really good and sweet and beautiful life, Honey Bunny.”

Yes. Me too.

Jai Guru Dev. Thank you Beloved Teacher.

Advertisements

Falling Into My Feet

Healthy pelvis.  Not mine.
Healthy pelvis. Not mine.

I’m standing in the dark looking at my x-rays with Stephanie, my new chiropractor.

Tears stream down my face.  I see my body.  All of it.  Even the IUD I had put in just before my trip to Rwanda because I vowed I would not have my period in Africa.

I can no longer turn away from the physical pain I so rarely mention or acknowledge.  The pain that has been with me, moving but constant, for so many years.

Suddenly, I understand.   As a bodyworker and massage therapist, it’s hard not to.  But the dysfunction is so obvious a 4-year-old could point it out – kind of like “one of these things is not like the other.”

My left hip is significantly raised.  Several inches significantly raised.  I laugh and explain that I have a really bad case of what my friend Brian used to call “bus leg” – the stance he would take while waiting for one of four different buses that ran up and down Haight Street in San Francisco, one knee bent, leaning into the opposite hip.  He would light a cigarette in the hope that this would hasten its arrival.

My body is telling my stories.

Stephanie laughs and points out that not only is my left hip raised, but my right hip is rotated forward.  I step into this position – exaggerating the rise of my lift hip and the twist of my right – and I immediately feel the pain.

Stephanie shows me my cervical spine, my neck.  It is devoid of any curve and tilted to the right.  Cocked like a dog considering what his master is saying and whether or not to ignore it.

cervical spine
Healthy cervical spine. Not mine.

I tell her the tilt makes sense.  That this movement, right ear dipped to the right shoulder is the motion I associate with my mugging in 2007.

Just two months sober and back in California, I am held up at gunpoint on a Sunday morning in Oakland.  Blocks from where I attended massage school, where I taught, and where I treat clients each quarter, returning “home” for a busman’s holiday.

I pick up a coffee from Carerras and am talking on the phone with my friend Robyn when I feel a flurry of activity around me – circling, swirling energy, like a cartoon Tasmanian Devil.  And then a gun inches from my nose.

“Give us your shit and we won’t shoot.”

“They are kidding,” I think.  “In about 30 seconds they are going to say ‘We’re just fucking with you, lady,’ and I’m going to tell them this is not funny.”  But they never say that.  I think I am dreaming but I don’t wake up.  And then I slip back through the rabbit hole of reality and scream a scream I didn’t know I had in me.

They just look at me.

I think about everything in my bag.  My passport and how my husband and I are supposed to leave in five days for Mexico.  The flash drive that has all of my files on it and has not been backed up.  My keys.  But I am frozen.  I cannot say a word.  I cannot push out a logical sentence like, “Let me give you the money but I keep the rest, ok?”  Because this is not logical.

Instead, I cock my head to the right, opening up my shoulder and allowing them to take the bag I am wearing across my body.  They pluck my metallic-pink cell phone from my hand and are gone.

I scream and piss myself running back toward the school.  I have attracted attention and people who were not there just a moment ago are asking, “Are you ok?”  I do not realize they are talking to me until one grabs hold of me.  I tell her my story and she calls the police while a man takes my arm and walks me back to the school.

My friend Tim picks me up that afternoon.  I get a new passport and go to Mexico.  And when I return to Chicago, I engage in EMDR work – trauma therapy.  I get relief.  But the story is still in my body.

The story is my body.  They all are.

The car accident on New Year’s Eve day when a Ford F-250 with a horse trailer goes through the back of my Honda Civic Hatchback.  When my husband takes the car to the shop on January 2 and they ask, “Did everyone live?”

The piece of my cervix I have removed when I am 24 – ridding my body of its pre-cancerous cells.  And the doctor in California who, upon examining me for the first time, says, “If anyone asks, this is not what an ordinary cervix looks like.”

My breast reduction when I am 40 and the shame and depression that follows me for years like an ex-boyfriend who won’t let go.  Faint memory now, like the scars that run vertically from breast fold to nipple.

foot
Healthy foot. Not mine. But what I imagine it looks like now.

My body has held on to each of these and made them its own – painting over experience with a broad brush stroke of pain.  Not unlike the stories I repeat so often that they become my pained reality – whether or not they are completely accurate.  My skewed perception becomes truth.

I come home from my treatment, take my boots off and place my naked feet on the hardwood floor.  I feel the ground beneath me.  Supporting me.  As if for the first time.  Whereas before I seem to have been standing on only a part of my feet, tottering.

I have fallen into my feet.  Into my body.  Into truth, and the possibility of a new story.

Artist Date 57: California, Coming Home

My friend Sherrod was the first artist I knew personally who made money at her craft.  Which meant she covered her expenses and then some.

I remember seeing her painting on Liberty Street, where I lived in San Francisco.  Victorian houses in oil.  She was prolific.  One night, as the sun began to go down, I invited her in for dinner.  It was the first time she met my then-boyfriend/now ex-husband.  Being somewhat filter-less, she named him “Pretty Boy” on the spot.

That year Pretty Boy bought me a copy of one of Sherrod’s pieces for my birthday.

It was a view of Dolores Park, from above it, and downtown San Francisco in the distance.  Done in watercolors.  Light.  Almost cartoonish.  Nothing like her other work which was darker and moody.

Pretty Boy put it in a white-wood frame he found in the alley and hung it over our bed.  It followed us from San Francisco to Oakland, Chicago and Seattle – where I left it – a little piece of our first shared home.

I get emails from Sherrod now and again, telling me about her shows in the Bay Area.  But I hadn’t really thought about her work much until now, standing at the Art Institute of Chicago.  I am at the “Dreams & Echoes: Drawings and Sculpture in the David and Celia Hilliard Collection” exhibit – Artist Date 57.

My friend Jack suggested it.

I like the sketches in the process of becoming – Degas’ “Grand Arabesque,” Matisse’s “Still Life with Apples.”  The ripe, sexy suggestiveness of Rodin’s “Leda and the Swan,” Povis de Chavannes’ “Sleeping Woman.”  The eerie, ethereal quartet in Toorop’s “A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path.”  But I don’t quite see how it all hangs together.

2014-01-16 15.35.01
Francis Towne’s “Naples”

Francis Towne’s “Naples: A Group of Buildings Seen from an Adjacent Hillside.”  An accurate, albeit not terribly inspired, title.  It is from 1781, done in pen and black ink, with a brush, and black and gray wash over traces of graphite.  Italy.  But all I see is Dolores Park.

I am wistful and happy at the same time – remembering this place I used to call home, where the sun wasn’t a stranger in January and, rumor had it, Tracy Chapman lived on my street.  This place where I met and married Pretty Boy.

It is the second time I’ve rubbed up against California today.

“Nevada Falls, Yosemite Valley, California,” painted in 1920 by Marguerite Thompson Zorach.  The dreamy, translucent watercolors whisper to me of Sherrod’s Dolores Park.

2014-01-16 15.26.12
Marguerite Thompson Zorach’s “Nevada Falls”

I know the view.  I’ve seen it many time,s driving down from Badger Pass to the Yosemite Valley floor, coming through the tunnel carved into granite.  Surprising and spectacular.  I’ve hiked a part of it, along with Vernal Falls and the John Muir Trail, forming a loop.  I was with Pretty Boy and our friend Tim –my first foray into camping.

We stayed in Curry Village in a canvas tent cabin with a wood platform and a single light bulb.  Tim threw baby carrots to the squirrels, although the signs all around instructed him not to.  Hilarious – until one scurried into our tent.

We bought water and painted wood disks strung on elastic at the adjacent store.  “Camp beads,” I exclaimed, handing a strand to Pretty Boy.  Not unlike the ones he had given me off his own neck on our first date.

I got boot bang on the trail descending and had to rip off my toenail.  And once back at Curry Village, I jumped into the Merced River, and then sat on a rock, drying and shivering in the sun.

After that trip I graduated to a real tent, the lightweight kind I could use to backpack in for a few days.

2014-01-16 15.18.59
Marc Chagall’s “Das Haus”

“Das Haus.”  The Marc Chagall woodcut jumps from the wall.  All four woodcuts, displayed in a row, do.  But it is Chagall who paints my heart.  Lead glasses my heart.  Woodcuts my heart.

A house erupting from a man’s shoulders.  According to the placard, it was produced following Chagall’s exile from Belarus.  “…the work can be seen as an image of the artist metaphorically carrying his home with him.”  Like the movie, Up.  Like the painting in my living room, “You Can Take It With You,” that I bought from my friend Scotty before leaving Chicago in 2011.

I return to the placard at the exhibit’s entryway.  It ends, “Even with its diversity of artists and time periods, the Hilliard collection possesses a remarkable consistency in sensibility: these works are unified by their ability to transport the viewer to other eras, other worlds.”

Chagall’s house.  My stories.  Towne’s Naples.  My California.

Artist Date 55: Saving Myself. No Wand or Wings Required.

I’ve been having a hard time getting myself out on weekly Artist Dates.  Ever since I hit that “magic” one-year mark.

Carmel and I.  Extras.  Fans.  And Friends.
Carmel and I. Extras. Fans. And Friends.

Maybe it’s because, as suggested, I didn’t date for a year after my divorce became final.  The passing of 52 Artist Dates meant that that year had passed.  And perhaps on some subconscious level I thought it was time to date others instead of myself.

Even though nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed in my romantic life.  Even though I don’t even have a crush.  And for perhaps the first time in my life, the world still feels full of possibilities.  That is a big change in my romantic life.

Or maybe it’s because maintenance is hard.  Of anything.  Eating well, moving my body and maintaining a healthy weight.  Staying sober.  Meditating.  Artist Dates.

Each serves me, makes me feel better, be better in the world.  It would seem I would only want to perpetuate these patterns.  But somehow it doesn’t work that way.

My brain is a liar.  It tells me “I’ve got this.”  Which, when it does, is the exact moment I need to redouble my efforts.  And I need other people to do that.  To remind me that my brain is, in fact, a liar.  And of what actions I can take anyway.

It’s why I work for Weight Watchers.  Surround myself with sober individuals.  And probably why I only meditate in the morning but not the evening, even though Vedic meditation is a twice-daily practice.  I’ve been doing it alone ever since I left California in 2007.

The Artist Date is a solo process.  No one would know, or probably care, if I did or did not engage in it.  Except me.  By stating my intention and blogging about it, I invite others in, and I stay in the action of it.  Action that always makes me feel better.

So I was grateful when I saw a Facebook post from my friend Lori late Friday night, asking if anyone was available to be background talent for a music video she was filming the following day.  Without thinking, I said “yes” – Artist Date 55.

“Who knows?” I thought.  “Perhaps I will meet Mr. Right…”

skatersBy morning I wasn’t so sure about that.  When I opened Lori’s email with details for the shoot, I found myself feeling incredibly resistant.  So much so, I told her I may have spoken too soon.

I shared my “dilemma” with a friend who reflected back to me that I am a woman who does what she says.  And so I did.

But when I arrived, the first words out of my mouth were, “Do you have enough people?  Because if you do…”  Yes, she said, adding, “If you have somewhere to be, go…”

But I didn’t.

Knowing that, something shifted.  And I decided to stay.

I took a seat on an empty bench where the Windy City Rollers practice and watched the girls go around and around in circles, fading in and out of the fog of the smoke machine – the set for the music video, for a song written by one of the skaters, Xoe.

I joined about a dozen extras as a Windy City Rollers fans.  Our job was to rush the red team after winning the bout.  To jump up and down and high-five the skaters, and each other.  Simple enough…even for a non-sports fan like myself.  But first, we waited.

angelsI watched the big cameras zooming in and out.  Xoe’s stunt double — dressed like a guardian angel with wings, a wand and a sequined dress — “saving her” from herself, and knocking out a couple of the Rollers in the process.  I looked at the snack table and thought it could use a makeover.  That I would replace some of the donuts, Oreos and chips with fresh fruit and vegetables, hummus and low-fat cheese.  But nobody asked me.

A woman I know just a little, but like quite a bit, showed up and she and I talked like old friends for the better part of the afternoon – telling stories about boys, our bodies and travel.

I noticed the high concentration of men on the set – lots of tattoos and wool hats.  But I didn’t “recognize” my mate.

The day ended with a whack upside the head.  Literally.  It was an accident.

During a “pretend” fight scene,I leaned into the fist of a wisp of a girl standing next to me.   She apologized profusely.  I laughed.  It somehow seemed right.  Like I had definitely “connected.”

This morning, I put my hand to my forehead.  It was sore.  A little tender spot reminding me of how much I fight myself.  And of how I can save myself – no wand or wings required.

Artist Date 48: I Think The Fish Guy Likes Me

There is something decidedly unappealing about gazing into the center of a slab of beef.

Perhaps pork is better.

William "For Sunday's Dinner."
William Michael Harnett. “For Sunday’s Dinner.”

It didn’t bother me to see hocks of pork bolted to a wooden bar, then sliced paper-thin, and served to me, when I was in Spain.  Neither did the whole chickens and rabbits hanging from hooks in the market, which I took photographs of, then framed and hung in my kitchen.

I am at the Art Institute Chicago for the member lecture and preview of “Art & Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine.”  Artist Date 48.  It is dark and warm in the auditorium.  A slide of a still life – fruit and meat – is projected on-screen.  And then another, a fish.

They are not beautiful.  They do, however, evoke a flood of food memories.

Like the time I received a whole, smoked salmon.

It was my 39th birthday and I threw a big potluck soiree.

The man/boy I was crushing on – but could, and would, do nothing about as I was married – was the first to RSVP, saying he would bring Tang.  I laughed.  Knowing him, it might have been true.

Except it wasn’t.

The night of the party, he arrived with a box in his right hand – carrying it like a tray, high above his shoulder.  His name was on the side in black magic marker.  This was something he had ordered.

Inside was an entire smoked salmon.  Head.  Tail.  Everything.  Glistening.  Beautiful.  Although not Jewish himself, he seemed to intuitively know the way to a Jewish girl’s heart was through cured fish.

“He likes me,” I thought, beaming.

The next morning I made scrambled eggs with onions and the leftover smoked salmon.  One of my girlfriends had come to town from Los Angeles to celebrate.  Over coffee, I said the words out loud.

“I think he likes me.”

She disagreed, insisting the fish was about him and how he wanted to be perceived.  That it meant nothing about me.  I didn’t persist.  It didn’t matter.  I was married.

I hadn’t thought about the fish story in a while.  Or the fish guy, which my friends and I affectionately called him from then on.  He moved away while I was still married — to fish.

Memory wrapped in food.  It seems nearly impossible to separate the two.  I am reminded of this all week while leading Weight Watchers meetings and trying to encourage a conversation about what makes Thanksgiving memorable – besides food.

Norman Rockwell.  "Freedom From Want."
Norman Rockwell. “Freedom From Want.”

For the most part, the members are having none of it.  They want to talk about macaroni and cheese.  Stuffing.  Pumpkin pie and cranberries from a can.  One woman mentions waking her daughters late in the evening, dressing them, and taking them shopping at midnight. I would have loved that, I think.  She is creating tradition.

I think about living in California and riding my bike Thanksgiving morning – before the feast at Tim’s house.  I think about the printed menus Tim placed at each seat, like Martha Stewart.  About roasted root vegetables and pumpkin gnocchi.

I think about the year I got married and leaving for my honeymoon on Thanksgiving Day.  Eating breakfast with Tim and his roommate, Steven at the International House of Pancakes near the airport.

I do not mention any of this.  It is their meeting.

The exhibit moves from still life to real life.  There are rationing cookbooks.  Bright Spots For Wartime Meals – a Jello cookbook.  The words, “Armed with a can opener, I become the artist-cook, the master, the creative chef,” from the Can Opener Cookbook, are stenciled on the wall.

They remind me of a story I once heard about the “original foodie,” M.F.K. Fisher.  Suspicious that her celebrity kept those about her in silence, she once made a meal entirely from canned foods.  When her guests swooned, confirming her intuitions, she informed them of the origins of their dinner.

There is a menu for a meal honoring Fisher, created by Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse.  She is the Berkeley, California chef known for purple hats, and for bringing seasonal, local ingredients – cooked simply, cooked well – back into fashion, beginning in the early 1970s.

And there is a menu from Chez Panisse, celebrating Bastille Day in 1976, as well.

chez panisseI ate there just once.  On my birthday.  I do not recall which year.  I saved the menus – prix fixe, with gorgeous drawings of figs on the cover – for a long time, imagining I would frame them and hang them in my kitchen one day, along with my food photographs.  I never did.

Strangely, I do not recall what I ate.  I remember our server.  And the cost of the meal for two – $300.

Driving home in the first snow of the season, I chew on Brazil nuts – 30 grams of them weighed out and tucked in a small plastic container.  Just a snack.  I am full on memory.

Your Honest, Open, Dirty, Loving Ways

My ex-boyfriend J is getting married.

I’ve often said nothing good comes from a sentence that begins, “So I was on Facebook…”

I actually spoke to J twice this summer.  Once from home, the second time from the road -- from the guest room at my aunt and uncle's house.
I actually spoke to J twice this summer. Once from home, the second time from the road — from the guest room at my aunt and uncle’s house. With them here.

That’s how I found out.  His engagement was at the top of my news feed.

My stomach sank to my feet.  Hope dashed.  Fantasy abruptly ended.

I felt sad.  Silly.  Stupid.  Ashamed.

I love J.  I always have.  I knew him the second I saw him.  I’m pretty sure it was the same for him.

We dated in our 20s.  Ours was a sweet, sexy romance – albeit brief.  Our breakup caught me off guard.  Perhaps because he more than one time said, “I know I’m going to marry you.  And we’ll have daughters.  I know we will have daughters.”

I’ve written about this – about him, about us – before.

The last time we saw one another was in California – about 17 or 18 years ago – on Venice Beach.  I was returning my roller skates.  Until I found him on Facebook.  His profile picture was a photograph from childhood.  I wasn’t entirely certain it was him, so I wrote, “Is that you?”

“It is indeed me,” he replied.  “And it is indeed you.”

In the years that followed, we wished one another happy birthdays, occasionally commented on each other’s status, and traded inside jokes – mostly about Philip Roth and liver.  We occasionally had lengthier exchanges.  Like on his birthday in 2012.  I was delayed in Brussels.  He was on his way out for a crab dinner.  I told him I was getting divorced.

This past summer we spoke for the first time since Venice.  After hearing his voice, I remarked, “Oh…that’s what you sound like.”  I had forgotten.

That night he told me why he ended our relationship.  I had asked many times over the years but he had never responded to that particular piece of the conversation.  This time he did.

He said I woke something up in him.  A piece of him that desperately needed healing – healing I couldn’t give him.  That he had to do for himself.

He had been attracted to me.  To our sexual energy.   And that something about my  “honest, open, dirty, loving way” got under his skin.  “In a good way.”  And he ran.

He affirmed that I had been important in his life.  Just not in the way I had hoped to be.

I knew J was in a relationship and had been for many years.  That he always exercised terrific boundaries.

And yet, there was always a little piece of me that held out hope … that maybe one day J and I would find our way back to one another – in that way.  I didn’t live my life maneuvering around it.  Obsessing about it.  But it was there.

And now it isn’t anymore.  It can’t be.

A couple of weeks ago J showed up in my clairvoyant reading and healing.  He had in the previous one too.

The first time he showed up, the clairvoyant saw us holding hands, smiling, and taking a big leap together.  She said we may never connect again romantically, but that we are inextricably bound for life.

I didn’t like that so much – the first part.

The second time he showed up, she simply said, “You just let go of him.”  And that 10 percent of my energy returned to me immediately.

I had no idea.  I hadn’t even tried.  And I didn’t like that so much either.

But perhaps she was right, because this afternoon I did something that surprised me.  I was drafting a personal note to send, but chose to post a comment to his wall instead – just like hundreds of his other friends had done.  Just another Bozo on the bus.  Not claiming any special status.

“Mazel Tov! Wishing you much joy.”

Not even an “XO” – our usual sign off.

It is not untrue.  This is what I wish for him.  In the most honest, open, dirty, loving way.

Doing It Again. Confessions of a Reluctant Doula.

I vowed I would never do this again.

And yet, the words tumbled out of my mouth.  At the same time both jumbled and awkward, certain and clear.  Clover reflected them back to me.

With Clover, on one of our many gelato/sorbet dates this summer.
With Clover, on one of our many gelato/sorbet dates.

“Are you saying you want to be my doula?”

“Um…yes.  I guess.”

Pause.  Smile.  Squint.  Think.  Nod.  Nod again, excitedly.

“Yes.  Yes, I do.  If you will have me.”

She stood up from her chair — her pregnant belly announcing itself to all those around us – and threw her arms around me.   Both our eyes wet with tears.

Just a few months earlier, she had told me she was pregnant.

Sitting on the marble wall outside of the Sulzer Library.  It was summer and we had just polished off our cups from Paciugo – sorbet for her, gelato for me.  I was talking about boys.  None of it new or terribly important.

And when I stopped, she was talking about babies.  Specifically, her baby.

Later that night, we danced in the street to a band from West Africa.  And when she was tired I walked her home, suddenly terribly protective.  I called her Lil Mama – what a boy from South Carolina used to affectionately call me – and told her I would support her in any way I could.

So it shouldn’t have surprised either of us when I offered to be her doula.

Except that I am not certified as a doula.  Greek for “a woman who serves.”

I am a pre-natal massage therapist and instructor.  A friend.  Terribly interested in the miracles our bodies engender.

And I’ve done this once before.  A little more than six years ago, for my oldest and dearest friend Julie.

My then-husband and I were preparing to move from California for his medical residency.  In the two months leading up to our departure, we would travel to Chicago to look for a home, and to Oklahoma for my ex-boyfriend’s wedding.

Julie asked that I consider a third trip – to Detroit, for the birth of her son.  She wanted me to be her doula.

I was in an underground parking lot when I received her call.

Every fiber in my being wanted to say no.  It wasn’t practical.  It was expensive.  I felt overwhelmed.

The words that flew out of my mouth were, “Of course.”

Before the birth, with Julie.
Before the birth, with Julie.

I arrived a few weeks later – three days before her due date, and departing four days after.  It was spring.  No one thought my schedule and the baby’s would sync.  We gave it to the universe.

We spent our days on long walks.  Visiting her mother.  Talking – about everything and nothing.  Like we always do.

I massaged her legs while she sat on the exam table in a flowered gown, waiting for the obstetrician.  And pressed acupressure points on her hands and feet – “downward elevators” in Chinese medicine.

We ate a late breakfast following a trip to the gym – her last before becoming a mother.  Julie wanted to use the elliptical machine.  (She swears this is what started her labor.)  She ate little of her French toast.   Her stomach pushed so far up into her ribs, it left little room for food.

Around 11 p.m. that night I got the call.  It was time.

I met Julie at the hospital door.  Steve parked the car.

We walked the hospital floors for an hour, until she was dilated enough to be admitted.

Once in her room, we talked and laughed and napped over the next many hours.  Somewhere there are photographs of me wrapped up in blankets, looking like a woman from the old country.

Her husband fed me crackers and peanut butter.  I watched Julie instinctively comfort herself.  She labored many hours, insisting on a vaginal birth – even though the doctor on call wanted to perform a C-section.

Thankfully, the labor nurses supported her choice.

At their urging, I held up one her legs and counted her contractions out loud until hoarse.  Jaron’s head emerged.  Then his shoulder.  And then the rest of him – slipping out quickly like a fish.

I saw him first and looked at Julie with wet eyes, nodding.  I didn’t have any words.

Jaron was placed under a heat lamp, like a Big Mac, while the doctor tended to Julie, and the nurse made notes.   He looked wise, terribly nonplussed by this abrupt move from his inner world out.

“You’ve done this before,” I said.

Right after the birth.  My first time as a doula.
Right after the birth. With Jaron.

They say babies don’t smile right away, but I am certain he did, as he reached into the air.  “Playing with the angels,” Julie said, referring to the idea in mystic Judaism that babies are born so pure they can see angels.  A lovely idea.

I returned to the hospital the next day.  Julie was eating a cold grilled cheese and French fries – seemingly already accustomed to the realities of motherhood.

She told me I should do this work professionally.  “Never,” I replied.

A few years later her niece asked me to come to New York to be her doula.  I was flattered, but politely declined.

I didn’t want to be on call.  Couldn’t imagine putting a price to the work.  Wasn’t willing to sleep on a fold-out chair for just anyone.  Just her.

I was grateful for the experience.  To be invited so intimately into my friend’s life.  But I had no desire to repeat it.

Until I did.

Clover had just gone public with her pregnancy on Facebook.

As we ate perhaps our last gelato and sorbet of the season, I intuitively knew that I would be there.  Sleeping on a fold-out chair, eating crackers and peanut butter, a blanket wrapped around my head like a babushka.  Serving the miracle.