Maybe, just maybe, we said “hi” to each other a handful of times in high school. Our last names are close in the alphabet, so I saw him at his locker from time to time. He dated a friend of mine so I knew of him. If asked to describe him, I would say that he was tall and quiet with long black hair. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw him was in 1983.
On November 3, 2018, about two months after my “soul ignition”, he posted this on social media: “If anyone is a Social Worker who deals with homeless, low income and/or mental health issues, could you please PM me? I am looking for some advocacy advice. Thank you!” My inner Disc Jockey immediately inserted, “If you like Pina Colada’s; and gettin’ caught in the rain; if you’re not into yoga; if you have half a brain…”. I admit that I am a bit shocked and a little embarrassed that a Rupert Holmes song was so easily summoned. Anyway, I realized that I was not connected with him on social media, but we had friends in common. They suggested that we should talk. I had the right credentials.
My credentials follow me. Unfortunately, the people I served for 30 plus years only follow me as memories. That was the hardest part of walking out of my profession. One of my specialties as a nurse was working with folks that were homeless or inadequately housed, had little or no income, and had a co-existing mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. I came to know that these people incarnated as some sort of Earth Angel to assist me as much and usually more than I was there to assist them. I would enter into insurance driven treatment plans with goals and objectives to get THEIR life in order (from the perspective of the professionals in the system). What in actuality happened was that they were there to complete an assignment with me that we had agreed upon long ago before this life. They worked on completing MY treatment plan, including invaluable lessons about myself, life and apparently Rupert Holmes.
Alice had jet black hair well past her shoulders. Her skin was leathery from living outside or in “boxcars,” as she would say. She had a quirky smile and a scar on her lip that made it even quirkier. She had clear green eyes. The most profound lessons I have learned so far in life have been from Alice. One lesson uttered quite coherently in the midst of incoherent, schizophrenic word salad was, “If ya ain’t got God, ya ain’t got nothing. Whatever. Kool and the Gang. Tijuana.” She made a peculiar hand gesture at the end of this statement. Amazingly she said this when I was most in need of hearing it. Any time she started with, “If ya ain’t got God…..” she always ended the same way with “whatever”, “Kool and the Gang”, and a long drawn out TEE-A-WAN-NA then the hand gesture. I’m not quite sure what all of that meant. Was God really a member of Kool and the Gang? Did they all live in Tijuana? Was I supposed to have Kool and the Gang songs rattling around in my head instead of Rupert Holmes? Regardless, through Alice’s vast lived experiences, I came to know that if ya ain’t got God, ya ain’t got nothing.
I was convinced that this serendipitous reconnection with a guy I went to high school with was a test from God or Kool and the Gang. Whatever. When I ended my employment, I promised myself I would not go back to working in a system that I had allowed to break me. While working, I had developed a “moral injury”, another term health care professional hijacked from combat veterans. This injury challenged my fundamental assumptions about my own moral compass, my integrity, and my commitment to the art and science of nursing. I began to suffer greatly knowing that I could have, should have, didn’t, or couldn’t do everything possible to advocate or provide the absolute best care for my patients. Even though it was eight months since I last worked, my wounds were deep and this type of healing is a slow process. I was vulnerable. I was afraid I might relapse on martyrdom and lose myself again, knowing if this happened, I would be lost forever. Luckily I was also convinced that this was an opportunity to do things differently; to grow and to change.
The element of the unseen and distance was initially to our benefit. He lives a decent two hours away, works 60-80 hours a week as an engineer, has a wife, four children, and a dog. I work many hours a day at healing and just being. I have a wife, a blog and two cats. In a weird sort of way this made him surreal in my mind. He was a series of words that randomly appeared on my electronic devices. I’m not sure why but this allowed me to be more authentic without fear of judgment. I wasn’t even sure who the real me was at this point. So initially we “talked” via texting. We quickly realized that we shared matching baggage of bad decisions, missed opportunities, immature responses to life, diagnoses of depression, anxiety and adult ADHD, failed medications as well as oversized carry-ons of mismanaged relationships. We also shared our successes; however, we could both hear the yearning in between our words for something more in life.
At first, we mostly texted about the homeless woman he had approached the previous Spring and since then had been trying to help. He was getting worried about her well being over the winter and was trying to figure out how to assist her with housing. In our correspondences he referred to her as “Sparrow”. I explained that we needed her real name and at least a date of birth. Apparently, her real name is Sparrow. She explained that her parents were “hippies” and “smoked a lot of dope” when they named her. I wondered if they ever listened to Kool and the Gang or Rupert Holmes. Maybe they were from Tijuana.
When we weren’t discussing Sparrow, we were marveling at how easy it was to say anything to each other and how much we had to talk about. I felt a very deep and strong energetic connection with him. I knew we had been together before and for many, many lifetimes. I was attracted to the way his femininity accentuated his masculine features. He was attracted to and amazed by the way my masculinity danced with my femininity. Thus my animus and his anima reunited over a frequency that is as old and magnificent as Earth herself. Not understanding this charge of energy, he texted, “Do you think we should make love?” My response was a quick “No” as I continued, “We have already made love, many times in many past lives.” “Do you think it was good; like did we really enjoy it?” he replied (pretty sure that was his ego texting). “It was incredible!” my ego responded. “So much so, I’m still satisfied in this life.”
I met him in a quirky coffee shop in the city exactly eleven days after our first electronic interaction. As I walked in, two different people approached me asking if I was someone else. This confused me and I became a bit disoriented. Was I in the right place? Who was I really? Was I dreaming? Who was I meeting? What the hell was I doing? When we finally made initial eye contact it was intense, electric, and brief, as was our hug. As I sat down he started talking and did not stop for a good twenty minutes. I wondered what his record was. Surely he could hold a record for talking without stopping or asking a question. Finally, I reached out, held his clammy hands and told him to breathe. Smiling simultaneously, our eyes met again. Such an ancient knowing and loving energy. How did we miss this in high school?
Sparrow came to his SUV, which was parked on the street. She was now renting a room(which he was paying for)from some folks and doing some “cleaning” to decrease the cost. I immediately recognized Alice’s weathered skin, piercing eyes, and a quirky grin. When we made eye contact it was intense, electric and seemed to last forever. Her life whirled through my head as I suspect mine whirled through hers. In those seconds our energies mingled with an akashic knowing of one another. We hugged easily as we felt each other’s muscles relax with familiarity. We too had signed a treatment plan or contract prior to this life. Or maybe it was the three of us that signed this contract. Regardless, I knew that this meeting had little to do with he and I helping Sparrow and everything to do with the three of us coming together at this moment in time for the highest good of us all.
Since Sparrow and I silently and intuitively knew our shared traumas and drug abuse stories, we knew we couldn’t bullshit one another. In less than one hour I learned what I needed in order to help put a plan in place. I experienced a freedom and authenticity I could never achieve when I was employed to elicit the same information. I could be real, in the moment, and I could be radically honest. Women who have been on the streets and who have experienced all that goes into that need to have a certain level of knowledge and trust to even begin to consider accepting help. I have no doubt that Alice was somehow responsible for expediting this process.
He was unusually quiet as we talked over some vegan bar food which was interestingly for his benefit, not mine. He explained, “You learned more about her in one hour than I have in seven months of talking to her weekly.” He acknowledged that he felt like he somehow failed and fell silent. “Look,” I said, “you are a guy. She has been repeatedly victimized by guys. She still can’t trust men. There has always been a catch.” Sparrow had shared that even the “so called religious ones” wanted something. Also, “you’re an engineer. You own a patent. You are presented with a problem, develop a solution and move on. This kind of soul work is not linear.” In the silence that followed we could hear the funk of “Boogie Nights” by Kool and the Gang. Finally grinning, he said, “Can’t remember the last time I heard THAT song.” Alice’s quirky smile flashed in my mind’s eye.
The next morning over his high octane cappuccino he ruminated about soul work. He needed a definition and I couldn’t give him one. He was not sure about this. His ego, he admitted, was a bit bruised. Surely this had nothing to do with HIS spiritual awakening. He was coming to the rescue of a homeless woman with no strings attached for the betterment of humankind. This was about HER soul, not his. “It’s about all of our souls and there are many lessons at play”. “If soul work is not linear than what is it?” he asked. “Multidimensional,” I responded. “Whatever,” he retorted.
Alice died three days after my 45th birthday. I had spent the first six years of my professional life being mentored by her. After that, she moved into a different phase of her treatment and recovery and I went on to graduate school and onto a different phase of my nursing practice. One late night in the Spring of 2006, I received a call from an emergency department social worker. She was a contact I had made back in the day while working with Alice. On cold, bitter nights when Alice was still homeless and after my persistent and obnoxious pleading, she would covertly let her sleep in some remote part of the hospital. She called to tell me that Alice was in the ICU after suffering a “massive” stroke.
Once she no longer required acute hospitalization, I coordinated efforts to have Alice admitted to the extended care facility where I was working as a neuropsychiatric consultant. Her speech was affected and for the next three years the only word she uttered was “tickle”. Sometimes this was followed by loud and abrupt emotional incontinence starting with laughter and ending with sobbing. Fortunately, she could understand what was being said to her and was able to physically rehabilitate enough to ambulate and mostly feed herself. She needed a lot of help with everything else, so she was considered to be there for the long term. When I met with her I always ended our meetings with her infamous quote, “If ya ain’t got God….” and she would provide the ending hand gesture and quirky smile.
Alice was diagnosed with a progressed cancer early in 2009. After her birthday on July 14th of that year, she was totally dependent on staff for care and received hospice services. Three months later, on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 (which by the way is my birthday and I was born on a Wednesday), I visited Alice for what would be the last time. Before I left I started, “If ya ain’t got,” and she suddenly grabbed my hand and with unusual strength and clarity said the only word I ever heard her say other than the “tickle” in three years: “God” as she stared directly into my eyes. I paused waiting to see if she would finish. She closed her eyes so I finished…, “ya ain’t got nothing. Whatever. Kool and the Gang.” I followed with a particularly long and drawn out TEE-A-WAN-NAH at the end. Eyes still closed she punctuated it with her hand gesture. I thanked her, kissed her on the forehead and said, “See ya later”.
Alice visits me in my dreams about once a month. I guess she took my “see ya later” words literally. On the night before one of my trips to see Sparrow, Alice walked into my dream with a hawk perched on the one hand and a sparrow on the other. The only thing I remember her saying was, “This was the plan all along. It is about them and you are the catalyst.” As I made my two hour trek, I thought (okay, I obsessed) about the symbolism of the hawk and of the sparrow. Hawk comes up a lot for me. My first reaction when I see a hawk is to stop and pay attention; to observe the situation from a higher perspective. Was I not seeing something about Sparrow that I needed too? Was I missing something important? I wasn’t too familiar with the symbolism of the sparrow. My research led me to an article by a woman named Avia Venefica. This is what resonated with me:
“Sparrow is ever vigilant in her goals. She is always bustling for her food, foraging for her nests, and gathering for her young. Fastidious and productive, the sparrow is a reminder that idle hands (and idle minds) should be avoided in order to live a full, healthy life. Sparrow is a master of flight and camouflage, and as such the sparrow teaches us to use our creativity to get around in life – think outside the box, and be creative in solving our problems.”
She also referenced these lines of the hymn, His eyes are on the sparrow”:
“Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely when I know with Source I am One? I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, The Eye of Source is on the Sparrow, I know Source watches over me.”
As I continued on my drive I pondered on how perfectly the sparrow symbolism fit with a homeless woman named Sparrow who knew how to hustle her way into some cheap housing during the cold months and forage for basic necessities. I was equally amazed that the hymn seemed to be a reassurance that God was watching over Sparrow. But how did Alice holding a hawk and a sparrow in my dream relate to what was right in front of me now?
July 9, 2018, was the day that I was “spiritually ignited”; at least that is what I was told happened and it seems to be a good way to live for now. I experienced a day of incredible synchronicities coupled with a feeling of intense jubilation. The intensity I felt that day lasted well over a month. Yes, I absolutely thought that I was experiencing a late life manic episode. I had been diagnosed with unipolar depression since my late twenties. Being a mental health professional I knew it was highly unlikely to experience my first mania at this age so I dug a little further instead of settling for yet another “diagnosis”. While I was excavating, I discovered a whole new spiritual realm that led to a multitude of spiritual awakenings, synchronicities and more times than not, feelings of extreme happiness and gratitude. I was woke or as one of my new spiritual friends explained, my soul was ignited so that I could ascend to my highest Self and release my usual ego driven dysthymic self. Up to this point figuring out the daily synchronicities was fun and interesting. They made me laugh. This one was definitely not of the beginner’s flavor. This was more complex and involved other people and challenges that brought up lessons I thought I had already mastered in life. I realized my ego was lurking closer in the shadows than I knew because when Alice told me in my dream that this was basically not about me and I was merely a catalyst I thought, “Not about me? It is always about me!”
He was out of the Country for work so Sparrow and I got to spend the day together. After eating as much breakfast as we possibly could at the “Waffle House,” we drove five minutes and crossed over the state line. It was so much cheaper to buy cartons of cigarettes in the state just south of us. On our drive back we both spotted a hawk sitting on the exit ramp sign. “What do you suppose that means?” I asked Sparrow. “Well, I believe that the hawk is a messenger from God.”
I drove silently contemplating her words and my dream. She seemingly abruptly switched the topic, “What do you think is in this for him? I mean he clearly doesn’t want to have sex with me and he hasn’t disappeared yet. It’s been ten months and he keeps coming around to help me and now he’s got you all up in this.” I recognized the tinge of paranoia in her voice from my past experiences with the “no strings attached” approach. I wanted to be more present, so I pulled into an empty parking lot near an abandoned strip mall. I explained to her that for me this was an opportunity to not lose myself while trying to extraordinarily advocate for someone navigating a less than perfect system. What was in it for me was an opportunity to heal and grow. “I can’t speak for him but maybe he too is trying to heal something inside of himself,” I replied. “I thought about that,” she said. “What else could it be? He is like my do-gooder knight in shining armor and asks for nothing from me. He is my modern day prince. Maybe that is why we saw that hawk. God sent me a message that he is safe and it is okay for me to trust him. He is my Hawk Prince.” At that moment I got chills over my whole body. HE was the hawk in my dream.
A spiritual tool that I use to connect with God and the symbolism of the Universe is Oracle cards. Explaining all of this to a linear thinking engineer was challenging. During our visits, I had been telling him bits and pieces about my spiritual awakening and the oracle cards. I explained that they were not predictive like Tarot cards. They merely tell a story that is already in motion. They are a conduit (I thought that was a good engineering word) to connect with a part of ourselves that exists for our highest good and is of the highest wisdom. They help us to create a dialogue about our life, where you have been, what lessons you learned there, where you are now and in what direction you are heading. They are not definitive in their message; you always have the responsibility of shaping your own destiny. During our first visit after he returned from his work trip, even before I could update him on Sparrow, he asked if we could “do those cards”.
The deck I chose to use is one by Colette Baron Reid that I call the “no bullshit” deck. When I use this deck, it goes straight to whatever issue needs exposure without any fluff. The card I pulled for him was “The Hawk Prince”. That shook me to my core. Yes, I believe in this stuff but when the synchronicities are that directly obvious it feels like God is standing right next to me. I was speechless. As he looked at the card, he started to weep softly. I could see how clearly he was not only the physical reflection but also the spiritual manifestation of the “Hawk Prince” depicted on the card. “We have so much to talk about,” he said. “We do indeed,” I replied.