Angels in the strangest places


My angel, Alejandro. (P.S. Dalai Lama says: No Refunds)

I’m not the first person to discover how close angels hover when we’re in trouble. If I knew any scripture I’d toss something angelic out, but, being brought up Unitarian, I can usually only muster a round of “We Shall Overcome” when things get bad.

I considered J. to be an angel. Even Mumbles. Strangers who saw my vulnerability and were moved by it–and tried in their ways to help me. You can’t ask for much more than that. This is where the street becomes a very clear teacher, where it’s easy to be humbled quickly–in beautiful ways as well as pained ones.

I can’t remember the rest of the day after I saw Sean. I think I must have gone back to my rooms and made some desperate calls. I seem to recall phoning my ex-husband–the good one, not my son’s father–and crying to him. I eventually made my way back on the street, heading down to Shattuck. I figured Sean had given me the big slip and maybe headed up into the Berkeley Hills.

I don’t know why I decided to stop in the Tibetan shop, maybe the smell of incense. Inside, a man was drumming on a glass counter as tabla drum music played on the stereo. He ¬†asked me if I needed any help. I gave him a weak smile and said, “What I need help with you can’t give me.”

He shot me a big smile and said, “Everything will be all right.” He was Hispanic and had a big mustache and merry eyes. He stopped his drumming and began picking up items to present to me. “A bracelet?” he asked. “No, no, really, I’m just looking,” I said.

“Do you like incense?” he waved his hand across a large table with dozens of boxes. “Well, yes,” I ventured. “Try this,” he said, thrusting a box of Frankincense at me. It did smell good and I had a sudden flash of Sean and me driving in the car with nag champa burning in the ash tray and Portishead on the stereo. I picked up a few cheap boxes and headed for the back of the store, where I spotted some luscious Tibetan blankets made out of lama wool.

They were cheap–$25–so I found a soft soft brown and cream plaid and added that to my cache. Then the storekeeper lured me toward a bowl of smoothed stones. “Pick one,” he said. That overwhelmed me somehow, the concept of choice. “You pick one for me,” I countered. He reached in and found a soft rose quartz. “This is good for you,” he said. “It is healing, has good energy, right?”

I held it in my palm, rubbing a dubious thumb over it. This guy was so sweet, I was starting to worry about disappointing him. He took it out of my hand. “We need to clear the energy though,” he said. “When people touch some of their energy stays in the stone.”

I looked a little confused and he handed it back to me, reaching across the counter to pull out a Tibetan singing bowl. “I’ll clear the energy. I show you. Put the stone in the bowl then put your hands underneath.” He pantomimed hands cupping hands. I did as he said, and he rested the bowl on my hands, holding my hands underneath with one of his own. With the other he began thrumming the outer edge of the bowl with a wooden pestle.

“Close your eyes. Relax,” he commanded. (By now I was going to have to go along with the gag whether I liked it or not.)

I closed my eyes as he stirred the bowl. It hummed and vibrated in my hands, traveling all the way up my arms to my skull. My brain hummed. My nose itched but I didn’t dare scratch. Slowly though, I softened a bit. The humming got louder and deeper; I felt its waves. And the space it made between me and my sorrow.

Once I peeked and he was looking around the store and nodded to a customer entering. Still, he kept his humming. And I couldn’t help smiling–half embarrassed, half something else. Something sweet and unexpected. He bonged the edges of the bowl like a bell. Once, twice, three times.

I opened my eyes. He was smiling at me. “Yes?” he said. “Relaxed?” He put the bowl down.

“Yeah, that was really sweet of you.” I was embarrassed now to find my hands still in his. I took them back and fumbled with my wallet.

“You want the bowl?” he said.

“No, no no,” I said. “But thank you.”

“Okay. Come back anytime. The bowl is here.”

And I did. Every damn day I was in that wretched place, I stopped by the Tibetan store and my angel–Alejandro–put my hands in his and sang the bowl.