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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Everyone has so much they’re dealing with these days – if it isn’t money, it’s job and career or relationship or health or… Well, there’s a lot out there, isn’t there?

These are the times when good friends are so important. I find that if I keep it all in my head, it seems as if the world is coming to an end. But, if I reach out – when things seem so overwhelming — to one of my “committed listeners,” there is a comfort there that is simple and sweet in the “gathering together” of our shared humanity —  within which we are healed…

A perfect illustration of this is my story this week…   A story about two friends who merged in my life to create a lesson of love…

About five years ago, I went through a scary period, starting with suddenly losing my work in December and continuing through a time that certainly qualified as a “crucible of faith” over the following nine months – a roller-coaster ride of highs – when I’d have a great job interview – to the lowest of lows – when I would wonder, “What am I going to do now?”

This period was the most severe test of my faith and trust in everything I ever believed God was or is or ever would be in my life.

How that manifested for me is that — in the midst of all the worry about my own life —  13 people I knew died during a seven-week period from mid-May through mid-July – each from different periods of my life – each death a further test of my faith…

One, in particular, was the turning point in how I experienced God as always there for me…

I had a friend, Mari, with whom I had been very close many years before.   I met her because our husbands were business friends and we wound up going to dinner – the four of us – one night.  It was one of those kinds of meetings when you say, “Hi!” and you are instant friends.  I felt I had known her all my life!  

We became close – way beyond any friendship that our husbands had – we were like sisters, totally entwined in each other’s lives — and it worked out that Mari had a brother, Carmine, who was a hairdresser – Mari and I traveled to Nutley, New Jersey, every two weeks to have our hair colored and cut at his salon. Those drives were full of intimate, loving talks about relationships, our children, our careers, and our dreams…

It went on like this for years – our families spent time together, she and I met separately — when we couldn’t see each other, we were on the telephone, sharing what happened that day.  I loved everything about her – her loving nature, her honesty, her unbelievable energy!   Fred, my husband, always said, “That Mari is a ‘ball of fire!’”

And then – it wasn’t like that anymore. When my husband and I separated, I continued to talk to Mari and to see her for lunch on occasion, but – as so often happens when one couple parts – it changes things. It wasn’t so easy anymore to find time to get together. She had her life and I had mine – and so we drifted apart.

One day, I read in the paper that she had become a Vice President at Lacoste, and I decided to write to her. I soon received an email asking me to give her a call at home.  She said that she was working from there for a while…

I did – and it was just as it had always been…. we talked on the phone for an hour, sharing what had happened over those intervening years….

What had happened for Mari was that she had breast cancer….

We talked about our spiritual journey – mine having been birthed by the separation from my husband and my son growing away from me, my career shifting and changing in ways unpredictable and frightening; hers having intensified with her illness, offering her a comfort that she hadn’t realized before was even possible. We spoke our fears out loud and talked about what it meant to have God in our lives through such challenging times.

We planned a visit. I would come out to Long Island to see her and we could be together the way we used to be…

It never happened. She got weaker and weaker – until she could no longer come to the phone.  We communicated by emails and, occasionally, I would check in with her brother.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never speak with her again….

My own life took more unexpected twists and turns…. I took a consulting project in the fashion industry and it meant that I was busy and traveling…     Just before I left for India the following November, I called Carmine.  Mari had just gone into the hospital once again. I gave him my cell phone number – “Just in case…”

While in India, I went to Sai Baba’s ashram and brought back some Vibhuti for Mari –Vibhuti is the holy ash that Baba creates out of the air – it is used for prayer and healing. When I returned, I learned that, without warning, my consulting gig would end, and so I was plunged into my own fear for my life and future…. 

The Vibhuti stayed in its box and Mari was never called…

During this time, the friend who was MY strength and comfort was Victoria Moran, the author and spiritual teacher. She and I had come together in our own accidental way – she called me because she found me online and wanted to join the Peace Circle I was holding after 9/11.   By the time she called, I wasn’t doing them anymore, but I said to her, “I live on 55th and First. If that’s convenient for you, I’ll take your name and when I start doing them again, I’ll call you.”

As God would have it, Victoria lived across the street.  Literally.  Right across First Avenue – we could see each other’s windows if we looked out our own.

Victoria and I began a spiritual tag-team kind of friendship – we were each other’s spiritual listener. One time, we met for 15 minutes a day for a month to speak our dreams to each other – hers for that her book, “Younger By The Day” would become a best-seller (it did!) — and mine that I would have a brilliant new job  (I did!).

Victoria was there for me when I learned that my consulting gig was over – I didn’t even go home first…. I went straight to Victoria’s apartment and she listened as I tried to move out of my “deer-in-the-headlights” fear state… her presence and her listening were the love I needed to get through that awful day…. and in the days and months afterwards…

I emailed Mari over  the next few months, and although I didn’t receive any answers, I saw from the status report that they had been read.   Soon there would be cause to wonder who was reading them… 

On one of my better days in May, I woke up thinking of Mari. I hadn’t checked in on her with Carmine since I lost my job, and I suddenly realized how long it had been.  I picked up the phone and called her house.

When her husband answered the phone, I knew immediately that something was wrong – he sounded awful. I reminded him who I was and he remembered. It took a few moments — but finally, he seemed to realize something.  He said, “You don’t know…?  Mari died in January – January 27th – you didn’t know?”

My grief was immediate and profound – made even more so by realizing that these months that I had not been working and trying to get a new job – and, therefore, so very self-focused – had made me lose sight of Mari and her illness.

I hung up and called Mari’s brother. Carmine was gentle and caring on the phone. He told me that Mari’s last months were very difficult. From the time I spoke to him before I went to India, she continued to decline…

My unspoken question hung in the air, “Why didn’t you call me?”

He shared with me that she had died with great dignity at home — and that, in the days and weeks before  her death, she had called in her family and close friends, one by one, including her ex-husband, and had shared some private time with each one of them.    He told me that three weeks before she died, she had asked him to call me so that she could speak to me. He couldn’t find my number.  He was sorry, he said — he knew that she loved me and wanted to say “Good-bye.”

I thanked Carmine and got off the phone. I felt incomplete. I’ve never really understood funerals until that day. I needed to be with people, to talk to her family and tell them what she meant to me. I needed to hug someone and I needed to be hugged – to comfort and to be comforted. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I prayed to God, “Please help me with this!”  I waited for His answer.

I did the only thing I could think to do – I started cleaning and organizing. Two hours into this process, I came upon a notebook – the first page was dated “1991.” The book fell open to a page that said, “Mari Goldberg” at the top, with a notation that we had had lunch that day. There was a quote by her name:

“If you always want more than what you have, then nothing will ever be enough. But, if you are grateful for where you are now, then everything you have will be a gift.”

It struck me that this was a time when I was learning that lesson in my life in so many ways – not the least of which was this very situation! It struck me that she had come to me in that moment to tell me this once more – now that I was ready — and needed to hear it.

Later that evening, Victoria called me. She had just received my distraught message from earlier in the day when I had just spoken to Carmine.   She listened to me cry and berate myself for ever allowing the friendship to lapse those many years – and even to beating myself up that I had not sent the Vibhuti immediately upon returning from India.

When I said that Mari had wanted to speak with me but no one could find my phone number, Victoria jumped in with just the reminder that I needed:

“Linda, you are lost right now in the physical part of this – but your spiritual Self knows better. Mari’s in her eternal creative expression right now as a “ball of fire” with God – and maybe you are the one who is supposed to remember her that way for her family and for the the world. If you were meant to speak with her before she died, if you were meant to go to the funeral, your phone number would have been right there for them to find.”

She went on, “January was an awful month for you – how would you have handled losing your job and Mari’s death, too? God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t give you more than you can handle. You found a notebook — on the very day that you learned that she passed — that had her quote in it – a quote that has more meaning for you today than it did when she first uttered it. Your phone number would have been just as close at hand — if that was the way it was supposed to be.”

Lastly, Victoria reminded me, “Don’t forget that you got the opportunity – for those few months when you reconnected – to speak and to tell each other how much you loved each other. There’s the gift!”

Victoria went on to suggest that I get a recent picture of Mari from her family and make an altar with a candle and light it in memory of her every evening. She also offered that I could write letters to her family to tell them what Mari meant to me – with remembrances of her energy and spirit – a reminder of when she was a “ball of fire.”

God had come through once again — through Victoria – reminding me that there was absolute perfect-ness in my experience of Mari and how this had all transpired – that it was all in Divine Order just as it was – and that nothing was lost.

Mari’s altar sat in my window for a long time after that day… the same window from which I could see Victoria’s apartment — with Mari’s picture that her sister sent me, a candle, and Mari’s words beneath it, reminding me that I couldn’t have everything I wanted in this situation, but what I did get – Mari’s friendship for all those years, the months of reconnection with her – and now, Victoria’s comfort and wisdom…

…these are my gifts…

Deliciously yours in Gratitude always, Linda

“You do not walk alone. God’s angels hover near and all about. His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless.”
                         “A Course in Miracles,” Workbook for Students, Epilogue.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         victoria_photo1A special thank you to my dear friend, Victoria Moran — one of God’s angels, for sure. Victoria’s two new books are coming out now: “Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment of Every Day,” and “The Love Powered Diet: Eating for Freedom, Health, and Joy.” Please visit her at www.VictoriaMoran.com.  

If you are in NYC on Monday, May 4th, at 7:30PM, Victoria is having a book signing at the Barnes and Noble Lincoln Triangle at  1972 Broadway in Manhattan. 

Victoria is truly a bridge over troubled waters in my life…  I am forever blessed that she is my friend…

 

 

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. 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 “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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