7.17.2006

Through Fire And Into The Divine

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.

10 comments:

Steve Guzman said...

Bravo! You are an inspiration.

(any more photos from the trip?)

Steve

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your adventure and for leaving SF alive. My daughter wasn't so fortunate - she died there last year. She would have been 29 this month and would be freaking to know that her Dad just got a Vespa and her Mom is getting one on Wednesday!

Amy in Somerville said...

You are brilliant. Why am I just now finding this???

Julie said...

What you write about fear is one of those simple truths we should all know, and most do not - especially these days - which is tragic. Thank you, I hope many people read this and come away richer for it, as I have.

Sara said...

I have had the same reaction from friends and family when I travel alone. It's always the same fear for the woman alone. Oddly, I never get this reaction when i travel alone on business...only when I want to vacation by myself. Like you, while I use common sense I have never been harmed when I am off on one of my adventures.

A Beautiful Mind said...

You are such an inspiration! I am 26 , married, and tagging along on my husband's business trip tomorrow. We will be in Hollywood, Florida for 4 days and I will be my own for most of the time since he is working. Most people I talk to think it is crazy that I am going along when I will be alone from early in the morning until fairly late at night most days and ask me what I will do. I ok course said read books, go to the beach, shop..., but really i suddenly had no idea what I would do or why I was going. Fear crept in. After reading your blog I tell them I will have adventures. They ask what kind. I tell them I don't know yet, but i will wander around and find out and I send them to visit your blog :-)

Lynn said...

You must have had an angel riding with you.

Leahann said...

By chance I stumbled onto The Daily Coyote. And after spending 2 hours of my workday reading about your experiences with Charlie, I cannot bear another minute without engulfing myself with the details of your Vespa trip. You truely are an inspiration to me. You're remarkable in that I don't even know you and you have made a huge impact on my life. I've always held back out of fear, but I'm not afraid anymore. Thanks to you I have learned to appreciate life more than I ever have. I want to experience everything and live my life to the fullest. I have subscribed to your mailings and look forward to my weekly mailings. Thank you again for everything. This statement transformed my life: "The woman looks at me wistfully from the passenger seat and tells me how brave she thinks I am, that she could never be that brave. I believe she could."
-Leahann, 20 (in a few weeks) CNY

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog for Daily Coyote, and I am now reading about your cross country trip. I think it is truly amazing and wonderful how you live your life. Thank you for sharing parts of your life with us.

-Lola

becky said...

From your blog to watching One Week, I've finally decided to take a road trip myself, with my convertible, from MN to the West coast and back!

Of course, I'm now re-reading your stories, because my mom is freaking out and my best (male) friend is also worried that I'm not even thinking of bringing a weapon of some sort... so I'm looking to your wonderful, inspiring posts to cheer me up again. :)

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that my friends/family are worried about my safety, but I'm not a person that let's such fear about the unknown take over! Why would I pass over such an adventure, to sit inside my 'safe' condo, unafraid of the outside world?

Like you mentioned, anything could happen to me as I bus home at night after work, in downtown Minneapolis, but me being in my car to a hotel, is somehow less safe?