The Gift

He couldn’t stay in his body, the pain was too great. It was Joe’s leaving time, but my mother couldn’t let him go.

I was in Oregon, gathering car keys, handbag and notebook. It was a racing-out-the-door morning, my thoughts intent on teaching and the forty-five minute drive between my house in the Columbia River Gorge and Marylhurst University. Photographs of my New York family were ensconced above the fireplace, mingled with decorative candles and a ticking clock.

Did I have everything? I thought so. Just one more pass through the living room to make sure. Then I saw it, Joe’s photo glowing with light, a sure-fire way for the unseen reality to get my attention. I stopped. Everything coming to an abrupt halt as I picked up his picture, dropped to the sofa and closed my eyes. Acceleration and tension drained from my body. I softened and exhaled. Joe was in the hospital in upstate New York but his spirit was there with me.

“I need you to talk to your mother,” he said, hovering in my vision. “Help her to let me go. I want to die before my birthday, but she has to release me first. I need to hear her say it out loud. I need to know that it’s alright to go. Ask her to tell me, then ask her to open the closet and begin giving away my things.”

My chest filled with the light and energy of his message, his words floating around my cells like weightless sand. Then he was gone.

That memory, nearly twenty years old, drifted through my thoughts as I sat at the dinner table listening to Julio describe a week-end with his family.

“When I speak about my art,” he says, spooning brown rice next to carne asada, “it’s as if they can’t hear me. I show them my paintings in The Art Detour brochure and they say nothing, their expressions are blank. Yet I feel disapproval because I am not working in the way they think I should be.”

Julio comes from a family of laborers and field workers who strive to keep their pockets full, their personal dreams diminished by a harsh reality.

“They have no frame of reference for it,” I tell him. “Art is a foreign world.”

A deep well of sadness lingers in Julio’s eyes, a longing for an acceptance that can not be given, a longing I’m familiar with.

I remembered replacing Joe’s photo on the mantel, wondering how I could bring such news to my mother.

“This is my daughter, Karen,” she’d tell her friends. “She is a free spirit.” And later, behind closed doors: “When are you going to get a real job?”

Intuitive work didn’t show up for my family. When I spoke of visions or predictive dreams, my words were met with confusion, talk of brain tumors and lingering looks of concern. Eventually, I learned to keep my mouth closed and a sensitive nature to myself.

I called that evening, knowing what a difficult time mother was having, though she rarely showed vulnerability. I hedged, not knowing how to bring up the topic but needn’t have. Near the close of conversation, she surprised me:

“Do you get anything for me?”

“What do you mean, get anything?”

“You know, psychically.”

I was silent. Joe had openly ridiculed my gifts and yet come to me for help.

“Yes,” I told her. “I do have things to share.”

She listened respectfully as I closed my eyes,  a vision of Joe’s pain-filled body hovering in my awareness.

“He wants to go before his birthday, but your love is holding him here. He wants you to let him leave.”

“I can do that,” she whispered, her voice private and internal. “I’ll tell him today. And there’s a young man from the firehouse that would fit one of his coats. I know Joe would like him to have it.”

I hung up, aware of the healing that had taken place. A warm sense of gratitude washed over me, like some long awaited rain in the desert.

Joe was born on April 8, 1920, and died on April 3, 1993.

I reached for mother’s hand as we stood in the funeral home reception line, hushed pieces of conversation passing between us.

“What made you ask for my vision during our phone call? You’ve never done that before.

“Just a feeling,” she answered. “It’s not that I don’t respect your work, sweetheart, it’s that I’ve never understood it. How could I? My life has been full of children, bookkeeping, salesmen, running a restaurant and hotel. How could I know anything of what you do?”

Julio looked up from his plate,  bringing me back from my reverie. “I wish I had my family’s support. It would make such a difference.”

“Give them time,” I smiled. “How could they know anything of what you do? How could they conceive of the gift you’ve been given? A talent that takes you to the core of yourself, allowing you to heal and shine in ways they never imagined. And when you succeed, and you will, you’ll be doing it for all of them, for all the men and women in your bloodline who never knew the joys of freedom.”

Money From God

“Our life drawing model canceled,” Norma told me. “If you know of anyone, please let me know.”

My mind drifted to an old Mexican man who often biked past my window, a tattered sombrero shading a weathered face, sandal wrapped feet laboring against an uphill grade. I’d watched him sorting discarded bottles and pop cans with callused hands.

“I think I know just the person,” I told her. “An old man whose face is full of character, strength and ancestry.”

“Perfect! Find him and let me know. If he can pose for three hours we’ll pay him $100.”

It was two weeks before I saw the old man again. Temperatures of 106 kept me inside, hiding behind drawn curtains but I continued thinking about him and what $100 would mean to a man who made his entire income collecting bottles and cans.

Then one morning riding my bike from the health club, I spotted him. Excited, I pulled over and used the only Spanish I know. “Senor.  Hola.  I have work for you, dinero.”

He looked at me as he poured the remaining liquid from a beer bottle he’d found beneath a pepper tree.

“Do you speak any English?
He shook his head. I put my hand over my heart.

“My name is Karen, Karen. And you?”

“Raul”

“Raul, I have work for you, dinero.”

He studied me like I was an exotic bird that had perched on the redwood rail that divided us.

This is not going well.  I held up my hand.

“Wait, don’t go.”

I dug in my gym bag, found my phone and dialed Julio. I needed an interpreter. No luck. A recording. I snapped it shut.

I smiled, motioning toward the health club.

The Ojai Valley Athletic Club is one of the finest in the world, intimidating even me, but bless his heart, Raul trailed in after me, never missing a beat. Jose, the manager of the café was seated in clear view. I went over.

“Jose, this is Raul. He speaks no English and I speak no Spanish. Would you do me a kindness and talk to him on my behalf?”

Jose was sorting morning receipts, white clothes accenting black hair and dark eyes.

“What do you want me to tell him?”  He silently took in Raul’s appearance without apparent judgment.

I placed my gym bag on the table and plopped down next to him, relieved.

“Tell him there’s a group of people who would like to paint him. And that if he can hold still and pose for three hours that he could make $100. Of course, it would not be three hours straight. There would be breaks for walking and stretching.”

Jose looked at me. “I’ll pose for $100. Use me!”

“Thank you, no. It’s his face I want.”

Jose is a handsome man but his essence is not unusual.  There is something in Raul that is primitive and raw, a face untouched by civilization.

Jose studies me for awhile, then translates my words.

“Why would anyone want to paint me?” Raul asked.

“You have a strong face,” I say. “Hermosa.”

Because I didn’t know the date, I had Raul write his address on a napkin, telling him I’d be in touch when I knew details.

I returned home excited. Got on the computer and shot off an email.

Re: Model for Life Drawing:

Success. I have found the Mexican man, spoken with him and he is willing. Let me know your next open date and I’ll pick him up and bring him over.

Reply: Re: Model for Life Drawing:

We don’t need him anymore. We found someone else to fill in. Thanks anyway.

Thanks anyway? But I gave him my word. I promised him income and got his hopes up.

For two days I pondered the situation. Finally deciding to pay him from my own pocket.

In this town people pay $100 for lunch and think nothing of it. But to this man it could mean much needed groceries or health care. I hedged. But I’m not working and my resources are getting low. Maybe I’ll just offer him $20 or $30. Why would I give him $100?

Because you gave your word and oddly, it feels like the right thing to do. It really does seem the right thing.

Maybe $60, how about $60?

When Julio came home I explained my dilemma, asking if he’d drive with me to speak with Raul.

“I’m thinking of giving him the full fee anyway.” I confessed.  “It just feels right.”

“Oh Karen, that would mean so much.”

The certainty and tenderness of Julio’s reply erased doubt, convincing me to go ahead.

When we arrived Raul was in front of his house talking with a neighbor. Julio lowered the car window, explained the situation and told him I was going to pay him anyway.

Raul refused, shaking his head. Words passed between them I couldn’t understand.

“Tell him it’s important to take it,” I said.  Raul hesitated, then came to the driver’s window speaking again to Julio.

“What did he say?”  I asked.

He said he would take it because it was money from God.

I smiled. “Yes, Raul, that’s exactly what it is. It’s money from God.”