thegoldengatebridge.jpgI just returned from a whirlwind tour of California, starting with the Conference For Global Transformation in San Francisco; up to Marin to see my friend, Patty, and her boys; then flew down to Los Angeles to catch up with my former New York City movie-buddy and dear friend, David, who lives in Rio most of the time, but home-base in the US is now his hometown of Hermosa Beach.  Then, we hopped down to Carlsbad to visit our friend and teacher, Paul and his husband, Gino, in their gorgeous Italian villa on the ocean.   A wonderful ride to Solana Beach with dear Amalia, who cooks for Paul, but also has the most magical Italian restaurant along the coast called “Caffe Positano.”  She regaled me with stories of her childhood in the kitchen on the Amalfi coast, ending with, “I was born on the kitchen table!”

Amalia dropped me off at Solana Beach where I was picked up for my weekend in La Jolla by my friend of (do I dare admit the number?) MANY years, my sweet Cecelia.  I met her husband for the first time in the 28 years they’ve been together — it seemed so odd because, every time we get together, it’s as if no time has passed at all.  When she said, “28 years,” I felt as if I was knocked back off my heels — has it been that long that we haven’t been in each other’s lives?  Time seems to pass so much faster as we get older — and, well – life happens in the meantime.

As I look at the trip in retrospect, I feel as if I was lost in the Fellini  movie, “Satyricon,” an Encolpius of the Left coast, wandering from doorway to doorway, dipping into people’s lives, but only for a moment; a day or two to renew our love — and then moving on — for me, the journey was not made in darkness, but in the Light — the sunny light of California, the light of my friends and their familes, the light of my love for them.

While in Marin, I had made plans to have lunch in San Francisco with my friend and mentor, Barbara.  I used to work for her – and, from the first day we met, I admired her, and soon grew to love her.  She has her own life, but she is ever a presence in the background of my mind — a role-model, a supporter, a woman totally without guile — who has given her life to service.  We don’t see each other often, but when we do, I always feel renewed, I feel seen and known for who I am and not for whatever circumstances I’m going through.

I found that I could take the Larkspur Ferry from right near Patty’s house in Marin and it would come in at the famous Ferry Building along the Embarcadero in San Francisco.  Barbara gave me instructions to meet her for lunch two piers down from there.

I boarded the ferry and tried to find a place outside so I could take in everything about the ride.  I noticed I was the only one standing on the deck, so I asked why.  One of the ferrymen explained to me that it was very windy and I would soon be soaking wet from the water spray as we sped along the bay.  Reluctantly, I went below and looked around for the best vantage point to see my first view of the San Francisco skyline.  I saw an empty seat across the boat with two seats open — what I cared about was the seat by the window and so I took it and settled myself in.

Behind me sat a little boy, not more than three, and his father.  As the ferry pulled out, the little boy was very excited about the ferry ride and kept asking when we were going to go fast.  His father was patient and loving in his explanations:

“Do you see those polls?  We can’t go fast until we pass the last pole.”

“Why not, Daddy?”

“We have to stay in the channel until we’re out in the bay”

“What’s a channel?”

“It’s like a roadway.  It’s deeper here so the ferry can get through.”

“But, why do we have to go so slow.  I can’t wait until we can go FAST!”

“Well, we don’t want to hurt the birds and the fish and the animals who live in the shallow water here.  We have to be careful.”

On cue, I saw a little bird, or maybe it was a baby duck, not twenty feet from the ferry.  Without thinking, I just chimed up, “See?  Like that one!”

There was silence for a moment and I was sorry that I had said anything that would stop that little baby voice from speaking. Not to worry — I was soon forgotten in the excitement of the ride.

“Is it almost the last pole, Daddy?  Will we go fast soon?

“Yes, very soon.”

Just before we reached the last pole, we passed San Quentin on the other side of the boat.  “What’s THAT, Daddy?”

“It’s where they keep the bad people — the people who committed crimes and now have to live there so they don’t hurt any of us.”  I noticed this father wasn’t talking baby talk and wasn’t mincing words.  He wasn’t making everything pretty.  He also wasn’t making it ugly.  He was simply telling his son the way it is.  I liked that.

Soon the father spotted the last post, “Get ready now!!  That’s the last post!  We’re going to take off, fast, fast, fast.”  I felt myself bracing and, sure enough, the minute we passed the last pole, that ferry shot out into the bay as if it were launched from a catapult, skimming it out over the water towards San Francisco.

I kept listening.

“Daddy, is that the gold bridge?”  The Golden Gate Bridge was off to the right in the distance so we couldn’t see it’s red color.

“It’s the Golden Gate Bridge.  Remember, when we go over it, it’s red and not gold?  It’s called the Golden Gate because it stands like a gate to allow the boats to come in and out of the harbor.”

“Does it open?”

“No, it doesn’t have to.  You can’t see it from here, but it’s very high up in the air, so the boats have no problem sailing under it.”

Alcatraz Island came into view outside our window.  “What’s that, Daddy?”

“That’s another place where they used to keep the bad people.  It’s not a prison anymore.  We can go visit there.  Do you want to go?”

He wasn’t so sure about that.  It seemed he was thinking about whether he wanted to go where bad people used to hang out.  “I don’t know,” he said.

Pretty soon, the ferry rounded Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline came into view.  I wanted to take pictures, but the windows weren’t clean and they had drops of water on them.  Well, good, I thought — more time for me to be present to this view of the city.

The skyline is breathtaking.  I had never seen it from this vantage point before. San Francisco laid out before me in the late morning sun:  downtown and the Transamerica Building stretching out and up to start the seven rolling hills towards the Presidio and Golden Gate Park and the entrance to the bridge.  I’ve climbed those hills many times and never realized before how long the distance is.  I was mesmerized by the architecture; by the vision of this beautiful city by the bay.

“Look, Daddy!  There it is!!! San Francisco!  That’s MY city!!!”

“Yes. that’s it.  That’s San Francisco.  Isn’t it beautiful?  And, in every one of those buildings, there are people living and working.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that the boy had squirmed himself up to a kneeling position with his nose pressed against the glass:

“That’s my BEE-YOO-TE-FUL city, Daddy!  And, it’s filled with BEE-YOU-TE-FUL people!”

Transformation happens in an instant, the great sages tell us – and it happened for me in that moment.  San Francisco, beautiful as it is, transformed into a city filled with people — I could not look at the buildings and see a skyline anymore.  What I saw was people rushing to work, mothers taking care of their children, art being mounted in the museums, people eating, happy people, sad people, families, struggling people, lonely people.  That was it:  humanity, in all its precious forms, everyone unique and yet the same in our striving to live a happy life.  How silly and sad and human and sweet and endearing we are to try to live the best life possible and really, you know?  It’s all meaningless — we make life mean what it means for us…. And, for every person in those buildings, I felt compassion — I felt this enormous love.

I was enchanted by the city, by the people I didn’t know, by this little boy and his dad, by the sun shining on the bay…

The spell was broken as we pulled into the Ferry Building and we all prepared to disembark.    I got up and turned around to address the father and the son who had made such a huge difference in my life and they didn’t even know it:

“I want to tell you both how magical it has been for me to sit in front of you for this ride.  It was glorious to see this city the way your son sees it.”

The father didn’t know what to say:  “I hope he didn’t talk so much to bother you.”

“Oh, no!  Goodness!  He made my trip.  I will never think of San Franscisco the same way again… with any luck, I’ll never think of any city the same way again!  Thank you.”

I moved across the ferry to wait for the doors to open as the father went to get his son’s stroller.  I turned away for a moment and then I heard it:  “Bye, bye, Lady.”  I turned back around to see my little guru waving at me with a big smile on his face.  I waved back, all smiles and luscious happiness.

I turned to walk out and down the gangplank into a different world than the one I imagined when I got on that ferry. Life looked cleaner, richer, more loving. I felt fulfilled for no reason at all.

I will never be the same again.

Deliciously yours in the Wonder of it All, Linda

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Thank you

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