Oh, we also had many challenges, and they came right away. But now we faced them together with the unconditional love of a soulmate for the first time in our lives. We knew whatever came up we could get through together.
Our neighbors Marvin and his six-year-old daughter Alexia began the party by serenading us with a violin duet, then my youngest son, Adam, played his ukulele and sang a song he wrote for us.
Our minister and dear friend Terry Burke gathered us in a circle prayer. That was followed by a Lakota blessing ceremony to honor part of John’s heritage. It was officiated by our friends Joanne Dunn, the executive director of the North American Indian Center of Boston, and Sterling Hollow Horn, a well-known Lakota activist.
We didn’t tell anyone we were newlyweds, but it was obvious to all: the way we always held hands, the way we looked at each other, there was a glow around us for all to see. And so we got the royal treatment, including free Champagne and dessert at dinner. Our love was already spreading out to everyone we met.
And that continued, by the way, for the rest of our marriage.
During our time in Magog, I first began feeling some abdominal pain. But I was undeterred and determined to enjoy every moment of our honeymoon, including the Champagne.
We checked into the swanky Auberge Saint-Antione. Our room had a large deck outside that overlooked the Saint Lawrence River, and we relaxed there for a while before starting our adventure.
We were told the people of Quebec weren’t very friendly to Americans, but we experienced just the opposite. I spoke a little French, while John mastered “bonjour” and “merci.” But everyone spoke English, and as usual John started up a conversation with almost everybody we met. Maybe it’s the journalist in him, or his natural curiosity, but for some reason it made me feel safe and connected.
We spent our days walking around the Old City, visiting the farmers market and museums close to the hotel and the art galleries on Rue Saint-Paul. In the upper part of the city, we visited the many shops and walked the famous Plains of Abraham, a plateau just outside the city walls where the British defeated the French in 1759 leading to the eventual creation of Canada in 1867.
At night we saw free shows by the Cirque du Soleil held under a towering overpass or watched the outdoor movie about historic Quebec with a touch of Monty Python projected on a quarter-mile row of industrial-building walls.
And of course there were the great restaurants. I tried my best to choose things that wouldn’t upset my stomach, but John began to worry a lot about my abdominal pain. Despite that, we were still having a magical time. We were living the dream we had searched for all our lives.
But near the end of our stay I got a call from Joel, my eldest son, who was in distress over his disintegrating marriage. We immediately packed up and headed home to Jamaica Plain. The next day, July 6, which is both Joel’s and John’s birthday, we left for Connecticut where Joel was hiding out in a local hotel. My condition worsened, but I kept it to myself and stayed with Joel for three days until he calmed down enough to go back home and face his wife.
On our return, I booked an appointment with a doctor who told us my gallbladder had to come out. The operation was successful and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Finally, we settled down into domestic life. Every day seemed like a miracle.
We went to all kinds of concerts, from Randy Newman to Yo Yo Ma. We loved the theater, from the downtown biggies to the wonderful productions at the historic Footlight Club a few blocks away from our home. We strolled around the Arnold Arboretum and Jamaica Pond at the end of our street, always walking hand in hand and talking about the future.
Each summer and winter I rented houses on Cape Cod or in the mountains for family gatherings. I was trying to keep my extended family together, a family spread over the Northeast who rarely saw or even spoke to each other.
But most of all, we spent a lot of time entertaining at our home. I loved to cook and bring people together, especially couples who didn’t know each other. John said it was my special gift, bringing people together and watching them become close friends.
The dinners became like the salons of the ‘30s, and some nights I almost thought Gertrude Stein or Hemingway would be walking through the door. In a way they did, considering our amazing array of friends: philosophers, educators, doctors, psychologists, ministers, mystics, architects, lawyers, poets, musicians, painters, writers, photographers, social service providers, merchants, and even a professional clown.
After dinner you would usually hear thoughtful conversations about politics and art or people reading their amazing stories and poetry or playing original music. It was just as John had promised when he said all he had to give me was his love, his honor, and his community. Now this was our community.
It was 2009, I was fifty-eight, and after years of struggling to find my “bliss” I was in a loving, respectful, and equal relationship, surrounded by a loving family and employed in a profession that nourished heart and soul. I had peaked and it felt like I’d finally reached the top of the mountain I’d been climbing my whole life.
The year before, I had taken my second Reiki Mastership training and volunteered for a two-year internship doing Reiki on pre-op patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I felt I had found my calling.
Reiki, now an accepted clinical modality that helped people manage pain and anxiety and promoted healing, originated from the ancient practice of the laying on of hands. Rei and Ki is a combination of two Japanese words that means “universal life energy.” I was just the conduit. I tapped into that source and, through my hands, gently but deeply directed healing universal life energy to my clients. It was the perfect modality for me because I’d always believed true wholeness, true health, requires that you understand everyone is part of a greater whole connected by a universal source.
I call it love. And I’ve always had a lot of love to give. I just didn’t have the environment to do it in until I met John.
During that time I also participated in a two-year sound healing certification program in Vermont and a two-year ministry program with a school in California called the Center for Sacred Studies, a church started by the peace group Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers and loosely associated with the Dalai Lama. I also studied breath work and Buddhism.
But amid all this success and work, I also noticed my ever-lingering sense of doubt and fear asking: “Can I really do this?”
For most of my life, even as far back as six years old, I remember feeling like I was carrying around a big black hole far down inside of me. I had learned to ignore it and cover it over with anything that would camouflage it, like eating too much or buying clothes that had the miraculous effect of healing me the moment I saw them. Unfortunately, they somehow lost their power the minute I brought them home.
As an adult I moved every three years in order to find that perfect environment that I was sure would finally cure me and allow me to become happy. I had three children and countless adopted dogs and cats to love and soothe me. I devised many clever ways to deal with the fear of that black space, but by the time I had hit my fifties I could hardly tolerate myself.
I had tried random sex, going on diets, shamanistic healings, self-help workshops, twelve-step meetings, reams of therapeutic theories, starting businesses, closing businesses, metaphysics, meditation, writing, poetry, sleeping, not sleeping, depression, being alone, being lonely. Each experience seemed at times to be the key to me finding my way out of the pain.
I was a lost and confused woman whose unsuccessful tactics to heal myself often made me feel powerless.
It took me years to realize the many sources that had created the crater inside of me. There was my childhood filled with uncertainties fueled by an unpredictably angry father and the uneasy feeling of being a little girl in a family that felt physically and emotionally unsafe. There was my mother whose sweet passivity and dissociations confused and angered me. There was my marriage that I fought for, even converted to Judaism for, hoping it would scoop me up at the tender age of eighteen and deliver me to a new beginning. It was my attempt at saving myself from the confusing sadness I felt at home. It was supposed to become a safe haven to sequester myself in and protect me from the octopus of feelings that darted at me regularly. It did the opposite.
John saw what I was going through, both the success and the doubt. He reminded me that anyone who truly seeks their bliss will always encounter doubt and fear along the way. He did when he became a tennis professional, then a muscular therapist, and finally a journalist: “You try to keep your eyes and heart open, breathe, and just do the work. The work will take care everything.”
Dave was a Native American healer from a very old lineage. I heard someone introduce Dave at the powwow as a man full of powerful medicine. He opened the dancing ceremony with a Native American prayer, but in his unorthodox way laughed and whooped it up at the end of it. Everyone howled in response.
Dave’s appearance was unusual too. He was a tall guy, around six foot five. His arms and legs were exceptionally long and lanky, but his stomach was large and very rounded. His hair was pulled back tight into a haphazard ponytail with a rubber band. Dave was also blind. Brian, a family member and assistant, used his arm to help guide him around. Dave was also nearly toothless and his eyes, although clouded-over and milky-white, seemed to follow everyone around. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I was struck by his unusual and strange sense of humor as well as his unorthodox appearance. But then what should a sacred and powerful medicine man look like? His physical appearance both repelled and attracted me.
John introduced me to Joanne Dunn, the center’s executive director, and we hit it off right away. Joanne is a ball of fire going in all directions at once, and perhaps she saw the same in me. When she noticed how interested I seemed in Dave, she invited me to attend one of his afternoon workshops. John told me this was a very special honor because I was not Native.
I snuck into the back of the gym located on the ground floor of the NAICOB building as Dave began the workshop. People sat in a circle of chairs in the middle of the 1950s-style gym. The center’s brick building was probably built in the ‘30s and was once a woman’s detention institution. It was kind of a sad, depressing place; although NAICOB had taken it over in 1970 and had been slowly trying to refurbish it since, it still had much of the original feel and look of an institution.
The tall black metal-framed windows of the gym cast bright light onto the floor where Dave walked around. When Dave walked in the middle of the circle of chairs he seemed just like a person with sight. He didn’t miss a step or get too close to anyone. He seemed to know where he was going as he lectured to the people sitting in the circle. Two other native women and I were the only people not part of the circle. We were the observers that afternoon.
I sat on the floor leaning up against the gym wall listening to Dave tell the participants about how to be good Native parents, how to teach their children respect, how to be a strong father or mother, and how to keep Native values alive in their homes and more importantly in their hearts. Dave’s emphasis was mostly on the Native way the father is supposed to be strong and carry the family leadership. He spoke anecdotally about his own trials with his children and how he had to lay down the law. It was clear and wise thinking that he presented even if it seemed remedial and unsophisticated to me at times. It wasn’t full of psychological analysis, nor was it touchy-feely. It was basic hardcore black and white examples of unvarnished parenting.
Then Dave opened the circle to questions. When someone raised their hand and explained their problem, usually an illness, they were brought into the center of the circle and seated in a chair. Dave then asked them about their lives: was there anything they were upset about besides the stated problem? Did they have family to connect with? Were they happy with their work? Did they have a partner?
Then he asked them if they were ready to do the work to be healed. If they said yes, and most did, he’d put his hands on them, say a prayer, and end by giving practical advice.
The person I’ll never forget was a young woman whose sister was very sick. She wanted Dave to somehow heal her sister through her. He said he could do that. He put this young woman in the center of the circle and started to ask her if she was ready to help her sister heal. She started to cry. She started to act in resistance as well. Dave questioned her and found that she was actually afraid to be the surrogate in her sister’s healing and didn’t know why. Dave said he couldn’t work with her until she could come with an open heart and trust in the Great Spirit to do the work with them. The young woman was shaking with tears. She said she had no idea why, after she had come all this way to meet Dave, she folded into fear and tears when she got her chance for help. Dave put his hands on her shoulders as she cried and comforted her. He said a prayer and told the young woman that maybe later that afternoon she might come back and try again.
It was at that point that I felt deeply moved by Dave’s words and his compassion and wished I could have an opportunity to meet with him and do a healing. But I thought because I had no Native blood in me I wouldn’t be allowed to see him.
I headed home that afternoon thinking about Dave and all his strange and mystical ways. I just accepted that I wouldn’t likely see him again. When I got home, John received a call from Joanne thanking us for coming to the powwow. She asked John what I thought about the event and being at Dave’s workshop. John told her that I was very moved by Dave’s work and then asked Joanne if I might be able to get a private appointment with Dave during the next few days while he was at the center. Joanne seemed overjoyed that I had responded to Dave this way and said she would arrange for me to see him. She said she would have to bend the rules a bit to get me in.
The next day I showed up for my appointment at the NAICOB building. I went in through the front entrance and Dave was standing outside smoking with his assistant Ed. They were laughing and carrying on when I got there, but didn’t speak to me or acknowledge me.
Marilyn, Joanne’s young assistant, was waiting for me and ushered me inside the building. We walked through the old gym that I was in just the day before and back down a drab poorly-lit hallway. We ended up in a small office with two desks, grey walls, and three covered windows that had a kind of chicken wire pressed into the glass, another grim leftover of the building’s past. Marilyn asked me to fill out a few forms used for the Native people who came to the center for counseling services. She told me that for agency purposes she would have to stay in the room while Dave counseled me. I was fine with that. She sweetly told me that she was bound to confidentiality concerning anything that went on in the room and that I was safe to say anything I wanted. She said she would do her best not to listen and just to do her paperwork.
All day long prior to my appointment, I meditated about what I wanted to see Dave about. At first I thought my decision to see him was more out of curiosity than need. I was a little worried I shouldn’t even be there taking him away from needier cases. But then I realized what I was seeking him out for. When I heard him talking about parents and children, I realized how sad I felt that I had failed my children at times. I knew I had been the best mother I could. I knew as a mother I had pure intention, but also knew that my daughter and I were not speaking to each other. I wanted to heal the rift between us. It was deep and painful.
Eventually Dave and Ed came into the room. Dave sat directly in front of me. His disheveled appearance and toothless smile somehow authenticated his shamanism to me. I sat still and quietly waited for him to speak. He sat back in his chair holding onto his walking stick with both hands, tapping it on the floor in between his legs and slightly rocking back and forth.
No one spoke. I started to close my eyes thinking Dave was doing a kind of meditation, connecting to spirits or something. Then Ed said, “Dave, say something.”
And Dave sat up straight and said, “I was waiting for her to talk!”
I started to laugh and said,” I thought you were praying and waiting for messages from your spirit guides!”
We all laughed and then Dave said, “So what do you want from me, Dale?” He said it in his gruff way and I thought, “What was I thinking wanting to come here!” Dave looked rough and scary to me. I took a deep breath and spewed out my story. I told him how I didn’t understand my daughter. How I felt she was lost in her fears and her confusions. I didn’t want to be hurt by her again but wanted to help her. At this Dave said, “Are you ready to be a mother? What if your confused daughter wanted to come home to you? What would you say?”
When Dave said this, a jolt went up through me from my feet to my backbone. “Yikes,” I thought. “My daughter is trouble. Would I really want her to come home to live with me? What does Dave mean by pushing me like this? I felt cold inside and a little heartless toward my daughter. I realized I wanted her to be well but didn’t want to be inconvenienced by her healing process. After all, it was she who had stopped talking to me, who had rejected me and hurt me any way it seemed she could.
Dave saw my resistance. “Dale,” he barked, “are you her mother or aren’t you?” His tone caught me by surprise and upset me.
“Well,” I said, “I love her but I don’t want her drama in my life.”
Dave started to lecture me just like he had lectured people the day before about being a parent: what the responsibility of that meant and how I was being a bad parent if I didn’t change my ways. The thought of welcoming my daughter back home with all her mental and emotional problems filled me with angst and sadness.
“Dale,” Dave said, “a parent never stops being a parent. Do you want this healing for your daughter? Can you stand up and be a strong parent even if your daughter wants to come home? You decide.”
I found myself for the first time aware of my limitations as a mother. Was I really unwilling to be there for my daughter, to help ease her pain?”
I had never seen myself as selfish around my children. I had thought I had given and given and given. Dave tapped his walking stick on the floor and said, “Dale, in order to ask for this healing you have to be a committed parent, to welcome your daughter home, and help her if she needs your help. You also have to be strong and lay down the law to her. This is work, hard work; can you commit to this? Yes or no, Dale.”
I felt my gut twist from the prospect of what I might be opening myself up to but I also felt the pull to do it, to help my daughter. I loved her and would walk the walk to help her get well. “Yes, Dave, I want to be the mother my daughter needs, even if it scares me and forces me to have to look at my faults and change my life around.”
Dave looked at me with his dead milky eyes, slapped his stick on the floor and roared, “DONE.” He then lectured me a bit about how to demand her respect, how to expect it and set the boundaries with her. When he was done talking, he told me to find pictures of my children from when they were babies. He gave me some sweet grass in an envelope and told me to place the sweet grass behind their baby pictures and tell each child: “Welcome to this world. I am so happy to have you here.”
I was kind of shocked by the implications of what he told me to say. It seemed to me that I was admitting to not fully wanting my children in this life. Did I somehow harbor feelings of wishing that they weren’t born? The idea of such a thought was frightening and repugnant to me. Dave dug deep into me and I wasn’t sure it was accurate or helpful. But just in case I was harboring these shadow feelings I wanted them healed. I wanted my children to be happy and whole, even if I had to see myself in some strange unattractive way.
Dave told me to stand up, that he was going to give me my medicine. I stood up with him, directly in front as he towered over me like a bull. Ed stood behind me. As Dave said a prayer, he thumped me just below my throat three times and I had to deep-breathe it in three times. The third time he thumped me so hard I fell back into the arms of Ed, who was expecting me.
The prayer and medicine that Dave gave me I later found out was considered to be the most powerful invocation you could get. It affected me deeply. Recently I had several dreams about my daughter. They are dreams about her coming home and she is peaceful. In my last dream about her, a wise man who is helping me gives me a charcoal drawing pencil and tells me to write my daughter a letter. I take the pencil and write: “Dear Rachel, I love you. All is forgiven. Please come home.”
After Dave’s session, I threw myself into my life’s work with every cell in my body, studying alternative healing modalities that were now being used in mainstream medical settings.
For the first time in my life I felt I had finally found what I was meant to do, and I was good at it. I was building my Reiki and sound healing business by taking on clients and students. I studied with a Kundalini gong expert, and my Tibetan friend Tenzing Andrugtsang was my singing bowl master.
I also wanted to explore more of the spiritual side of my practice, so in May and June of 2010 I attended for a four-session workshop called “Life between Lives.” In the first three sessions, my therapist used guided meditations to regress me back to earlier lives. The last session dealt with what it’s like to be between lives. This was one of the longest sessions my therapist said he’d ever done, lasting three hours.
During one part of the session, I was standing inside a large circle of all the people who meant the most to me, both those living and dead. At one point my therapist asked, “But where is John?”
Then suddenly he appeared as though dropped from the sky and enveloped me with his energy.
When I finally got home, John said he had taken a nap during my session and had the most vivid dream. He said he was on the second floor of an old apartment building he used to live in during his twenties when a big black cloud came right up to the window. He tried to get other people’s attention, but they didn’t seem to care. He then opened the window and reached out to the cloud, which was firm and felt like velvet. So he crawled out on it and said he took a ride. It took him to a place of great illumination, then he woke up.
Well, I just about fainted. I told him about my session and John smiled in amazement.
That experience, I think, really solidified a strong spiritual connection between us, and John, who is a pretty down-to-earth guy, began to appreciate my work even more.
I think our marriage also helped solidify my relationship with my family. We were now a dedicated couple and there’s a certain power in that. And it was obvious John felt very protective of me. My brother toned down his teasing and other family members treated me with more respect.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for John’s family. After meeting them several times in Maryland, I thought they liked me, but they quickly disappeared from our lives, including blowing off our wedding. I felt sad seeing how much that hurt John. He continued to occasionally reach out, with little or no response. But coming from a somewhat dysfunctional family myself, I am not to judge.
Soon I started to do promotional programs at healing fairs and yoga festivals. I was becoming well-known in Boston as a sound healer and Reiki practitioner.
Closing my eyes, I would see myself as one of those Chinese plate jugglers spinning dishes on poles, balancing them on the top of my head, in the palms of my hands, on my chest, my knee—you get the picture. I felt balanced and complete. I had landed on the mountaintop. I was at home in my heart, in my body, and in my mind. If God had sent me to this life to fulfill the dream I had of living to my fullest potential, I felt I had a least made a very good stab at it. I was at least on the right track and could see myself picking up speed as time went by.
John quietly warned me of “the need for speed” and suggested I concentrate on my practice and do more workshops later. I respected his advice because he’d had his own muscular therapy practice for fifteen years and before that had been a tennis professional.
I did slow down, a little. But I also had this feeling of urgency. And it came from a deep place within me.
In January of 2013 I decided to study breath work, a well-regarded modality to help people relieve their symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
I studied from January to May. In April I did a one-week retreat in Northern California for my long-distance ministry program. It marked the end of the first year of the two-year program through which I would become an ordained minister.
We also adopted a friendly little cat, a grey tiger with black stripes. We named him Smokey Burrito because of his color and the fact he jumped all over the place reminding us of one of John’s favorite bands, The Flying Burrito Brothers. Smokey loved to be with people and quickly became a fixture at all our parties, including usually having his own chair to watch the proceedings.
My birthday came on June 13, and the summer solstice, June 21, marked our fourth wedding anniversary. We looked forward to many more.
So the first six months of 2013 were a heady and challenging time. I was on yet another great adventure, but this one I thought was going to lead me to a reliable and fulfilling career and family life. I had worked hard to heal family problems and educate myself for the career I had always wanted.