I had a great apartment in San Francisco. It was a small, older building; classic, with high ceilings and huge windows, wonderful worn wood floors, and a hallway with a domed archway. It was my first apartment with a hallway; I adored that hallway. At 3 am one night, a crash woke me from sleep, followed by a woman's screams. I opened my eyes and all there was to see was orange - orange light so intense, so magnificent, it was like the color orange in solid form. Someone had poured gasoline through the mail slot of the front door of the building next to mine and lit it. As this was downtown San Francisco, where all the buildings touch and all are made of wood, the fire had jumped over to my building, exploding out windows as it burned through the stories. The fire destroyed both buildings and killed two of my neighbors that night.
Insomnia ensued for two weeks while I stayed with a dear friend and her family; then I set about finding a new home. Instead of renting another apartment downtown, I decided to move to an obscure hilltop neighborhood. My new home was a tiny jewel surrounded with jasmine and wild roses. With the money I was saving on rent as the means, and the inaccessibility to public transportation as the rationale, I bought myself a Vespa. I had never been on a Vespa before I bought mine, and though I had been on the back of a motorcycle, I had never driven one. I didn't have my motorcycle license yet, but I got my permit, had a lesson, and knew I was destined to ride. Riding a Vespa feels like a cross between riding a horse and skateboarding in the sky. It's exhilaration and meditation, awareness and surrender, chaos and craziness and extraordinary peacefulness all at once. It requires being completely in the moment - or risking serious injury. It is so much fun.
The fear of having my home burn down was my single greatest fear for as long as I can remember. Yet the fire, and the subsequent events that sprung directly from it were so infused with magic and miracles, I was stunned into a realization that would prepare me, a year later, for my trek across the country....
When I told my mother I was planning to ride my Vespa from San Francisco to New York, she gasped. She was not alone in her horror - I soon learned the common reaction was one of shock and fear. Many people expressed concern over every horrible thing that might happen to me on the road. One way of looking at my decision to go is that our freedom can be taken, in various ways, without warning - so why allow one's fear to take it? And everything "bad" that could have happened to me on the trip could happen to me anywhere, anytime, in the most seemingly benign environment. However, the deeper truth that the fire helped me to learn was this: bad things happen to give us the opportunity to realize there are no bad things. To not have gone would have been to turn my back on faith (plus, I'll take any occasion to wear leather pants).
Incidentally, I was never harmed. I rode through lightning, got chased by buffalo, spent the night with at least one felon, and got lost every day... but I was never harmed, or hurt, and nothing bad happened.