Even as I went into this desolate landscape, I went with hope in my heart, a man at my side with a home waiting, and joyful animals at my feet. I was so much like the Fool Card one sees in Tarot Decks, it was a cliché. And like the Fool, I was to be changed by my journey.
I still love the desert to this day, don’t get me wrong. There is a haunting beauty there that speaks to the artist in me. The sound of the wind across stone, through juniper and scrub pine is not something you easily forget. The deepness of the night where you can still see The River of Stars sings to my primal soul. The fierce survival of the Pup fish in Death Valley reminds me of the hope of that one voice in the Darkness… Here this fish lives in water that is so saline it would kill me if I drank it, and still the species fights on living in it, though their lake was gone and they are in the middle of a desert. Talk about the triumph of life! So fragile, yet so strong!
A lot like me.
When I went into the desert, it was with a migraine and a medical mystery. When I left the desert, the mystery was closer to being solved, but my marriage was falling apart. I didn’t realize how much my husband’s ability depended on his ability to lie to himself.
The desert introduced me to a heat I didn’t think was possible. The shade was hot, and the breeze was hotter. One woman who had never been to the desert suggested I take a cold shower. I had to politely point out, the water didn’t get cold…it came out of the tap lukewarm. But there were also some amazing people out in the desert, people who fell in love with the land like I had, who loved it as I did. I made some great friends. And, of course, in my time there, I was able to see some breathtaking scenery!!
While I was there, I met a skilled doctor in Apple Valley who took one look at me and told me he didn’t think I had what I said I had, but he’d run the test anyway. he was the first doctor to call me at home, but not the last. “You’re textbook!” he kept repeating, “You need to he on medication!”
“You’ve got one more test to run, Doc,” I replied, “I think the problem is further upstream.”
“Well, I don’t think so, but I was wrong before!” Yes, a doctor actually said that, and when the test came back positive he said, “You were right again!” It was so validating to hear that after months of being told I was making my headaches up. Now we had a cause: the migraines were a sign of my pituitary gland failing. My brain was in pain because part of it was dying! This was to revolutionize my treatment, but first, everything else had to fall apart.
While in the desert, my husband’s lies started breaking down. Thinking himself the poster child of the Navy, having risen up the ranks as quickly as possible, he thought that meant he could just skip Calculus I and start directly in Calculus II. When that didn’t work, he started taking it out on me. It was easy, considering how much I relied on him, and the last straw came for me when he left me with no money, unpaid bills, and went completely incommunicado for days while on deployment state-side.
I had to call my ombudsman who called his command in order to get him to call me and send me money so I could buy food and see my doctors. Luckily the Navy had been gracious enough to return us to Seattle, and I found myself among old friends, particularly, Shaman. When Shaman saw what had become of me, how crushed I had been by what my husband had done, he was mortified.
“If I had known it would be that bad, I wouldn’t have married you,” he apologized. “He foresook his vows, and that’s not something my world takes lightly. Understand he will know no success in this world.” That was easy to believe since I knew my husband. But Shaman also promised this to me, and to this day that word has been kept (*knock on wood*).
That began us talking again, as he slowly helped me through the doctors trying to treat the worst of my pain. Even though the cause of my problems had been fixed, the doctors could not get the pain to abate. It was now the second year of my migraine, and we were no closer to an answer. My doctors finally had to resort to round-the-clock narcotics just to keep me functional. Working was an impossibility.
I asked Shaman if this wasn’t the very type of long-lasting, painful, life-altering, life-shattering events that marked a person as a potential Shaman? He told me yes, in a guarded way that told me he’d heard this before.
“You know what’s coming next, don’t you?” I asked.
“Yes, but you still need to ask,” he replied, and I wasn’t sure whose need he meant: my need to speak, or his need to hear it spoken aloud. Either way, the result was the same, so I asked.
“Will you teach me?”
“That was fast!” we laughed at my exaggerated alarm. I knew it was a trick. I knew enough of the old ways that you don’t just get something because you ask for it. I knew that I would have to keep asking, and keep asking, and keep asking even if it took years, until the teacher deemed you suitable. I was willing to wait.
“You know I’m going to keep asking, right? I’m not going to take that “no” sitting down. I looked at myself, sitting down, and gave him a wink. His chuckle almost made him spit out his coffee, and he gave me two air points: for the pun and for the timing. I knew no matter how long he said no, i would still enjoy our time together, regardless. And I think that’s what eventually won him over. That, and I asked his wife if she thought I’d make a good student of his.
And what was the hallmark of our meeting, the result of my marriage, and the start of my relationship with Shaman— surprise— was also the riding theme of my training, as well. We were both in for countless surprises, and the biggest surprise was the nature my final year of training would take, though there were signs clear as day. It just goes to show, you can have a complete picture and map, and it’s still something wholly different than actually being there.
“One thing you must know about our brand of Shamanism,” he warned, “is that although we are allowed to take shortcuts unlike others, having that ability comes at a cost.”
“And what’s that?” I asked. (I still hadn’t learned not to ask questions I could answer myself.)
“What you always miss when you take the short-cut…” he allowed me to ponder.
My brain cracked open like an egg… Taking shortcuts in magic is just like taking shortcuts in life. You miss the full path, the pace to take it all in, the chance to savor the journey along the way. Short-cuts were handy, but short-cuts cut out more than just time. They cut out experience. I recoiled in horror and looked in his eyes, searching.
“Then why take them at all?” I asked, stricken.
His voice became ominous and warm at the same time: “Because sometimes we have to.”
I could feel my mind gears slamming into overdrive as I imagined the Iditarod and those sled teams racing to save lives, the Allied tanks that rolled into Bastonge to support the 101st, and my friend’s cancer… Liver cancer, supposedly inoperable. And I looked up at him and smiled.
“Teach me how?” It had been a year an a day since i had originally asked.
“Yes, now I will teach you, but first, there are some shortcuts even I can’t take…” he advised, as he moved his glass of water before him and took a spoon in hand. He held the spoon at some distance from the glass. “Do you accept this path you are about to undertake?”
“Yes,” I replied, and the spoon struck the glass, causing it to ring.
“Do you accept this path you are about to undertake?” he asked again, a little more inflection in his words. I thought about the pain I’d been through. About the pain I was going through. About the pain I could go through. I looked Shaman in the eye.
“Yes.” I repeated, undaunted. The ring of the glass again.
“Do you accept this path you are about to undertake?” he asked, only this time, it was almost pleading. I knew two things: one, that teaching also took a lot out of the teacher, so he was just as wary to undertake this as I was, and two, this was my last chance to back out and stay blissfully unaware. This was my last chance to say no and stay the way I was now. But I wanted nothing to do with the way I was not and not just the pain. I wanted out of the life that had led me to choosing my ex-husband, I wanted out of the life that had me so worried and alone, I wanted the joy and magic that surrounded Shaman, and i wanted the power that I saw shine from deep within him. I wanted to have power of my own like that, and if that was a harsh path, so be it.
“Yes.” I said, strongly.
The spoon hit the glass, and the glass did not ring properly, so Shaman hit the glass again, this time producing a solid ring.
“Should I take that as a sign?” I said, laughing nervously.
He chuckled in return, “No, and I’ll show you why next time. Meanwhile, congratulations. You have taken your first leap of faith. So marks the beginning of your path.”
I though back to the Tarot card and the Youth, one foot ready to step off the cliff. I could only have faith that next step wouldn’t lead to a fall, or at least if it did, Shaman could teach me how to fly before I hit the ground.
Only time would tell… But I was right that it was an omen.