Sharilyn J. Steketee
The strident pitch of a sports announcerís voice punctured my sleep, like a pin popping a balloon. My eyes were still shut, as I swatted the snooze button on my radio alarm clock, but the damage was done, I was waking up. I had nine minutes before the noise would again intrude. What day was it, was I supposed to be somewhere?
The windows were open, and a breeze tossed the sheer summer curtains. The neighborhood, with its busy streets, high density, and active night life, was uncharacteristically quiet. Then I remembered, it was Sunday morning, the one time when this urban setting seemed almost idyllic. If it was Sunday, why had I set the alarm? I flipped through my memory, and found the page for this calendar entry: Sunday 8:00am -- ritual -- Ventura Beach. I glanced over at the clock, and noticed my nine minutes were almost up, so I turned off the alarm and got out of bed.
Since it was summer, and I didnít have to worry about a high gas bill, I let the hot water pour over me as I showered. In the steamy air, I reflected on todayís event. My friend Mary, who was preparing for a clergy career, was taking a "worship and ritual" class. "I want you to help me with an assignment," Mary said. "I need some people to work with me, and be present, as I plan and perform a ritual. Will you help?" she asked.
As I shampooed my hair, I recalled that Mary had to explain to me what a ritual is supposed to do. I am a word person. I donít think of expressing myself with my body. I use articulation rather than action to communicate. At work, I sit in front of a computer screen all day long. When I come home, I first check my answering machine then get on-line and answer my e-mail. I am not the sort of person who comes home from work, only to change into sweats and head for the gym, or take a long walk through the park. My back and legs get tired when I stand at the sink to do dishes, or prepare dinner. While Mary knew all this, nonetheless she invited me to hike to some hidden pocket of beach early in the morning, on the one day of the week when I can sleep late. I was hesitant, but because of our friendship, I said yes.
Friendship was not the only motivation. "The ritual will deal with the topic of life changes," Mary said. Since I was in a time of transition, I was impelled to participate.
I stood before the mirror, briskly towel drying my hair, and I took an inventory of the past couple years. My life was changing. It had changed, and it would change more. I had left a work I began eighteen years ago, under a cloud of frustration and hurt. My whole life revolved around that work, so I also lost most of my friends and social network. Since that time, I had worked four different jobs, none of which were satisfying, and lived in three places, none of which were home. New doors were opening for me. I was being pulled in directions I could not have imagined before. Although I could not abide to stand still, I was reluctant to leave the familiar, and I was frightened of the unknown.
In our planning session for the ritual, we had discussed how to embody "letting-go." Someone burst forth with the idea of going to the town park and jumping out of the swings. The others squealed with excitement; I whimpered with dismay. "Iíve never jumped out of a swing," I had confessed. I remembered that we had joked about liability issues, and I had wondered aloud where a copy of my will was stored. We finally decided to let a kite loose instead.
The memories receded, like water down a drain. I finished in the bathroom, dressed, and drove to the beach, where I met the others. Although the beach was not yet crowded, we decided to walk away from the parking lot to find a secluded stretch. There is an Amtrak line that hugs the beach between Ventura and Santa Barbara. We crossed the railroad tracks, and headed up the coast. Each stride was a stepping-stone away from my daily chores and hectic pace. I walked in a loose, casual motion, watched the crashing waves, and smiled at the pelicans. We walked until we found a small circle of sand, surrounded with wet, glistening boulders.
"This is a good spot," said Mary, our leader.
We began the ritual with working to create a sacred space. I had insisted on this as a time of silence, so the only sounds were the calling of the gulls and the hissing of the waves. We sat in a circle on the sand. I could feel my tension easing. I could smell the tang of the salt air. I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face. These sensations were familiar to me. I closed my eyes.
Sometimes, I have unicorns appear to me. When they do, they herald their approach with unique signs of fragrance, sight, and sound. I was certain a unicorn I had encountered before was on her way. I could sense the perfume of eucalyptus trees, the warmth of winter in the southern hemisphere, and the flashing fish in southern seas. Then I could hear the silver tones of her laughter, and she appeared. While this unicorn, like all those of her kind, touches my heart with beauty and grace, she presents a distinct cusp of opportunity. I should not have been surprised to see her.
"I havenít seen you in a long time," I told her.
"You have been afraid to see me," she said. "Do not be afraid."
"I canít stop being afraid, because I still am afraid. How can I not be what I am?" I asked, as I looked down and dug a hole in the sand with my foot.
"You change," she answered.
I look up and hurled my words at her. "Change, change, change! My whole life has been a change. Iím tired of change. I want to rest."
"So rest," She said. The fragrance of eucalyptus intensified, and bees buzzed drowsily among the open blossoms.
"Rest?" I asked. My over-inflated work ethic began to rebel against my bodyís desire.
"Stop. Listen. Feel." Her brilliant blue eyes reached out to me.
"How am I going to survive if I do that?" I asked, challenge on my face and in my voice.
"How are you going to live if you donít?" She replied, keeping her eyes on mine.
I again dropped my eyes, as I hid from her piercing gaze. I took a deep breath. Then I exhaled in a long slow whoosh. This visitor touches my mind, my heart, and all my senses. She is an anchor to keep me safe. She is a compass to keep me on my chosen path. She is with me when I need her. In some way, I think my spirit calls to her, and she answers that call. She is not to be taken for granted.
I looked out at the cresting waves. "Iím here because I need to stop and listen, and you are here in the midst of calm and quiet. I need this experience; I need this time with you." I looked into her eyes. "What are we here to do?" I asked.
"What do you need to do?" Unicorns ask lots of questions, I have noticed.
I considered the recent episodes in my life. I recognized feelings of frenzy, chaos, and loss. I pondered what I need to release, and what I need to retain. "I need to build a hiding place. I need a safe harbor to come home to. I need to know someone is leaving the light on for me..." I began, and then I stopped talking. I listened to the rhythm of the waves. I felt the firm earth beneath me. I let the sunlight caress my face. I lifted my head, and I gave the sun a silent greeting. I have done all this before.
"Iíve been here before," I said with a hoarse whisper, "and I canít seem to stay here."
"You are your harbor. Your earth is your home. Your spirit is your guide. The sun is your light. The surf is your pulse. Wake up and recognize your home. Be alert and learn how to live," she advised.
"I have to learn it over and over," I said.
"You are dynamic; you change. Think of your path as a spiral, not an expressway. Your ways lead you again and again to the same places. When you are able, you will recognize them, and you will be home." In a flash she was gone, and I was again aware of the women seated on the sand with me.
Clutched in my hands, was the kite we would use later in our ritual; in the remaining moments of silence, grounded in a holy time and space, I infused that fragile item with my hopes. When we completed the time of silence, I was ready, once again, to let go.
Sharilyn Steketee makes her home in Boston with her Irish lover who is named after a French saint, and their Maine Coon cat, named after an Irish goddess. Sharilyn writes poetry, fantasy short fiction, and non-fiction. Her series of poems, "The Hebrew Passion" was published in The Standard in April 1998. "Sojourn" is part of a series of Sharilyn's short fiction that is available at: http://www.unicornucopia.com.