Among the dead leaves. . .
“Who is this smiling friend
who comes to say hello
among the dead leaves?”
I work at a university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As I was walking across campus the other morning, I noticed a solitary dandelion raising its head defiantly above the dead and frozen grass. This reminded me of something I’d experienced several years before.
When I was 35, I relocated to Delran, New Jersey chasing a job with a telemarketing company I was working for at the time. I’d lived in the Scranton area all of my life, and had finally had my fill of watching my economic prospects head south. That, plus years of drinking in the same bars with the same people, talking about the same things had finally brought the merry-go-round to a halt. I’d been through several relationships, none of which had ended very well, and my emotions were pretty much worn thin. Judging by the way things were going I decided it was either move away or end up driving a barstool with my name on it. In short, it was time for a change.
I made a promise to the Universe that if a way opened up to get me out of Northeast PA, I’d take it no matter what. Six months later, I was living in a 2 ½ room apartment in a development off Route 130. It was a grim, tiny clapboard place with racial tension and crack vials in the dumpster. The laundry facility was circa 1970, and the walls were made of tissue paper and spit; but somehow the place came to feel like home.
The first few months passed by rather quickly. Settling into my new job and getting to know the area occupied my time. I was lucky enough to have a couple of friends who lived nearby, and a cousin of mine came to visit regularly.
Then the cold weather settled in.
Back in the Valley the winters were amazing. The trees bowed under more than a foot of snow. Ice glazed the roads, and strung the branches with diamonds. Here there was none of that. The skies were a dull and lifeless gray, and the front yard, such as it was, was awash with sickly dung-colored mud. With little to speak of in the way of finances, and almost four hours between me and most of my friends back home, I found myself in the throes of a major depression.
After a couple of months, I came to accept that things would remain like this. I’d started writing and drinking heavily again. Although the writing helped a lot, the alcohol and loneliness always managed to eliminate whatever progress I seemed to be on the verge of.
One particularly dreary Saturday afternoon, I decided to go for a drive. It was cold, and bleak outside, and a January drizzle hung in the air. As I stepped off the front stoop I noticed a single dandelion: bold and yellow and proud, with a head two-inches across at least; leaves thrown back like tiny arms waiting to embrace an intimate friend she hadn’t seen in years.
Almost immediately, tears came to my eyes. I knew somehow that flower was there for me. That tiny patch of sunlight, on an otherwise colorless day told me there was something looking out for me. For the first time in months I was aware of feeling loved. My depression was shattered by what home owners generally consider to be the most loathsome and intolerable of weeds; a simple gesture with life-changing effects.
After moving to Philadelphia a few years later, I enrolled in the Foundation for Shamanic Studies’ Introduction to Shamanism workshop. Shortly thereafter, through a chance encounter, I entered my very first sweatlodge. These would turn out to be some of my earliest steps on a path that has led me to becoming the man I am today – a path which has never once led me astray.
My shamanic practice has taken me to several different states. I’ve experienced things that most people would consider miraculous. I’ve danced an entire weekend without food or water, only to be greeted by the spirits of my recently deceased mother and of my grandparents who’d shed their physical bodies decades before. I’ve been taken over by visions, and heard the words of Mother Bear rumbling from my own lips. The path has been rewarding, and often difficult, but with every step I have always felt the divine presence of love. . .