All posts in this series:
Part I: Getting (and Losing) That Old Time Religion
Part II: Coming Home
Part III: The Fool's Journey
Part IV: The Underworld
Part V: Seven of Cups
Part VI: A Letter and a Kiss
Part VII: Morticia Loves Gomez
Part VIII: Nora
Part IX: Felicia Hardy and the Tower of Babel
Part X: When Babel Fell
Part XI: Community 2.0
Part XII: This Forgiveness Stuff
You stand in a forest. All around you, a rich smell of leaf mulch and growth fills the air. Receding into the distance are the boles of giant trees, redwoods, towering, and in the peak of green life.
From above, shafts of light pierce the canopy and slant toward the forest floor, like light piercing the living silence of a cathedral. Except for the singing of one far-off bird, there is no sound but the soft drips of moisture from the canopy above--the sound of life too rich and strong to measure.
Now picture this:
A woman stands before you. She is round, with a wasp waist and tiny feet, but otherwise like an overstuffed child's doll of a girl. And she bounces on those tiny feet, and her smile shows many teeth. Her eyes are full of mischief, her hair curls in a cloud of softness around her face, and her voice is high and elfin when she speaks. She is fond of purple things, and leopard prints, and cats. She loves Taco Bell, pop culture, the works of Aphra Behn, and tech theater. She also loves the Spiderman comic book anti-heroine, The Black Cat, sometimes known as Felicia Hardy, and all her friends would recognize that it is she I am describing in this paragraph, even though I will call her by the name of that favorite Marvel comics character. There's just no way to disguise this part of my story.
But what may not be recognizable is that the first picture, of the forest, and the second picture, of the round and bouncing woman, are two pictures of the same person. Let me start there.
When I eventually moved in with Peter and his grandmother, Nora, we gradually set about assembling the multi-generational group and family house I described when I explained what life was like with Nora. Felicia was not the first person to join our household to try and assist in Nora's care, but she stayed longest. She was still living with us when Nora died, at Samhain the year that my daughter turned nine.
I first met Felicia at Peter's bachelor apartment, just as he was planning to move in with his grandmother. At that time, I was completely bedazzled by everything connected to Peter in any way--I idealized the very coffee he drank and the plants on his altar to the Green Man. I thought even the towels in his bathroom were somehow special, unique, somehow more real and deserving of love than other people's towels.
Laugh if you like, but you know what I mean: I was at that early, intense rush of love that is almost incompatible with common sense. So I ignored the signs that Felicia might actually be a little high-maintenance for lasting friendship, and embraced her blindly and completely. Felicia was a friend of Peter's, and therefore a friend of mine.
And when a personal crisis in Felicia's life left her in urgent need of a place to live, Peter and I rushed to invite her to come and live with us.
I don't mean to imply this was a charitable project. Though Felicia would be starting over with a lot of debt and little money, and though she needed safe people she could trust to help her get back on her feet, she also brought another set of adult eyes and hands to a household in desperate need of them. Peter and I were starting our new life together with a lot on our plates, caring for a five year old and a ninety-three year old, and with Felicia on hand, we knew that there would be someone who could sit with Nora when we could not, cook the occasional meal, and pitch in as a babysitter and companion with my daughter from time to time, so that Peter and I could have an evening out.
So Felicia moved in. Eventually, she would wind up living on the same floor as Nora, in our rambling old Victorian, to be available for middle-of-the-night calls... and eventually, as Nora became more and more frail and needy, and Felicia found it hard to locate and keep full time work in the area, Felicia would become a paid health aide for Nora.
We could not have managed without her.
From the beginning, she and my daughter got along wonderfully. Felicia had a vast store of knowledge of movies and theater, and made a real point of sharing them both with her, taking my daughter to plays and musicals that I would never have gotten around to sharing with her. And with Felicia added to the household, I felt that we were engaged in something that I had always wanted--building a real, committed community. A Pagan community, something tribal and visceral, unafraid of sharing the details of daily life.
Felicia and I became very close, in the way that sisters perhaps become close. (Having only a brother, I'm left guessing here.) She gave me sweaters that matched her own. We shopped together, and compared notes on the big purchases--ritual garb, a leather jacket for Felicia (which she let me try on for photos), an amber necklace for me. We shared books and talked about ritual and eventually, once we'd formed Stepchild Coven, worked some together. We talked about Qaballah and the Pagan gods and goddesses, and began to reach out to other Pagans in the area, meeting one another by ones and twos. It was about this time that the Church of the Sacred Earth ordained me as clergy in their organization, so I did a lot of networking, but quite often, if I couldn't attend something, Felicia did. She was outgoing, well-informed, intelligent, and fun.
We meditated together. We worked magic together--and we played with magic together.
It was during one of the times we were playing at magick together that Felcia let me "look" deep inside her... let's say "aura", because I have no better word. Felicia had deliberately lowered her shields, let me see into her heart as deeply as I could.
That's when I saw that forest I mentioned: Richness. Greenness. Life. All of that is who Felicia Hardy is on the inside, at her deep core. Her heart--soul? spirit?--is beautiful and good.
I said so then, when we were so close. I say so still, though we can scarcely speak to one another, or bear one another's company. Hold that thought in mind. I'm going to sift the ashes of that friendship one more time, and see if I can't find some way to explain what went wrong, not just in our friendship, but in the community we had been part of together.
I was incredibly grateful to the Pagan community for letting me find Peter--and, truth to tell, myself. I'd been such a brittle and self-conscious teenager and twenty-something, and Paganism gave me Mystery and color and the sense that things matter: there is holiness in the smallest salamander crawling across the forest floor, and there is a richness of immediate experience of Spirit that only grows deeper the deeper you explore it. And somehow, in all the explorations, I learned how to be myself: fully and simply myself, without pretense or worry. I learned to sing with a full-throat, even when people were watching me. I found my voice in more ways than one.
And it was my coven and my community that taught me all of that, at least as much as the gods. Nurturing Pagan spiritual community was one of my greatest ambitions in my life. I wanted to say thank you to the universe that had given me so much in so short a span of time.
So creating an extended family with Peter was living out a dream. It filled me with great gladness to have Felicia move in. Every person we helped to weave in to our community made life a little richer. Every strand in the web of community made the world a little warmer.
When Felicia met and began dating (and training) Frodo, that was terrific, too.
I believe my first introduction to Frodo was actually to his shoes--innocent white running shoes, parked in the front hall when I came down to breakfast one morning. There was such an innocence in those abandoned shoes! I was simply charmed to meet their owner when he emerged, sleepily into the family rooms at mid-morning... As it turned out, our friendship with Frodo long outlasted the fling he and Felicia shared. Catching our joy in community, Frodo became one of the earliest members of Stepchild Coven.
Many other friendships sprang from our connection with Felicia. Felicia suffered from terrible insomnia, and she would sit up late at night at Peter's computer, set up just outside our bedroom. I would hear the clacking of keys, sometimes punctuated by soft laughter or the squeals, squawks, and boings of the modem. She was always there at the keyboard if I got up in the night.
Al Gore may have invented the Internet, but Felicia Hardy discovered it, at least in our household, in it's earlier incarnation as networked computer bulletin boards--BBS systems: FidoNet, WWII, and a lot of other names I can't remember. It wasn't long until she had introduced us to a host of local BBS users and hosts. Long, threaded discussions were growing up about religion, politics, role playing games... We met Pegasus, a former "jar-head", local cop and BBS host whose curiosity about Paganism became something much stronger--and who eventually became my "grandson" in the Stepchild Coven lineage, when La Contessa (another BBS friend) not only completed her own training with us, but trained him in turn.
And we met Kevin and Beth, hosts and guiding lights of the Peace Frog BBS, and among our closest friends to this day. When they were seeking Pagan clergy to perform their wedding, all those years ago, I offered to be that clergy. Now my own daughter is older than Kevin was they day he and Beth were married, and I have no words for what it means to me to have watched their own three children grow.
We offered a monthly Pagan study group, and kept up lively connections with Step by Step Farm, a list of Peter's old Pagan friends from his days with Valley Pagan Web and as editor of Moonrise, and of course visited Kirk and Amy on their land in Vermont, especially whenever anyone connected with the Church of the Sacred Earth held a gathering or an event. We pitched our tent in Massachusetss' poison ivy patches for Beltane, under tall Vermont pine trees at Lammas, and dossed down in a communal heap of sleeping bags on the floor at Touchstone Farm for Samhain.
I remember the year that we brought Nora to Touchstone Farm. We had asked Shaker if the community of circle dancers could join the assembled members of the Church of the Sacred Earth for a night, and if he would lead us all in sacred circle dancing. The room, lit only by strands of Christmas lights, was crowded and bustling. By that time, Nora was blind, and in the wheel chair, with her oxygen tank slung over the back. Peter and I had been taking turns staying with her, answering her questions and holding her hand during the dances; I was with her when a member of the circle dance group asked if Nora could be wheeled into the center of the ring for a dance specifically to honor elders--the haunting "Old Woman" song.
Nora had no objection, so in we went. My daughter, perhaps six years old at the time, joined me, feeling a need to be close to mom in the crowd.
All around us, the dancers wove. It's a lovely dance, mysterious and sad and soft, with lots of raised arms and quiet steps, lowered eyes, and slow circling.
It was only later, when we had left the circle and I was heading off to bring Nora home for the night, that Brightshadow pointed out to me that, between us, Nora, my daughter, and I, had made up a living icon of the Goddess: Maiden, Mother, and Crone.
Life in Pagan community was full of such moments of sudden richness and surprise.
One of the best came on a visit to Laurelin Farm, for a weekend retreat on sacred sexuality offered by the Pagan GLBTQ-affirming ritual group, Q Moon.
It was a dismal weekend, with a light rain that the tents kept out but which still managed to soak everything through sheer humidity. It was a day as warm and moist as a mouth, which featured too many mosquitoes, and a total lack of decent drumming. It was also difficult being present at a weekend where it turned out we did not share some very basic, core values with the other attenders: not so much as the token straights at a retreat which focused on gay and altnernative sexuality, as a deeper, more basic incompatibility:
Neither Peter nor I eat red meat. And the pig roast turned out to be the major Saturday night event. Ugh.
Happily, our lifestyle was shared by another attender, a man we had met only once before, Two Bears of the Moon, a committed vegitarian and--delightfully--an afficianado of good, dark beer.
Two Bears shared with us some of his good dark beer, and we sat morosely in the rain, soaked to the skin, trying to take our minds off of the off-putting sight of the pit being dug for the pig carcass a little ways down the hillside. Something about the circumstance of sharing the rain, the beer, and an antipathy for dead pig led to particularly good conversation, and as everyone else gathered for a blessing before the meal, the three of us snuck off to town for a (vegitarian) pizza in a dry and well-lighted place.
We talked about community, and how important it was to all three of us. And, only half-jokingly, we told Two Bears that we wished we lived in community with him, and described life in our house and in our coven to him.
We were surprised--but not at all displeased--when some time later, Two Bears called us up at home and asked us if we had been serious. He wanted to move in with us, and he'd like to start visiting from Eastern Mass. from time to time to hunt for work. What did we think?
We thought it was a terrific idea, though Felicia, who had not been at the weekend camping retreat (and probably would have stayed for the dead pig if she had been) had reservations, and insisted we put him through a formal interview process, which we did. I still remember sitting solemnly in a row, peppering Two Bears with questions about how he would handle this domestic crisis or that, explaining to him exactly what he would or would not be allowed access to in the house--certainly no parking space! That he would have to find for himself! And he'd have to pay his full share of the groceries, mind you!
We later joked about just how easy-going and flexible Two Bears was, both in that interview and, once he did move in, as a housemate. We would reminisce about the interview, making it more and more extreme: "Then we said, 'You'll have to sleep on the roof, you know, whenever we have guests!' And then you said, 'Oh, that's all right... I really love the night sky.'"
Not that Two Bears was a perfect housemate. He was always a bit of a slob. He watched far too much TV, and I'm almost sure the foot fungus I got that year came from sharing a bathroom with his bare feet.
However, he was peaceful, playful, and accepting of all of our little quirks. Slow to anger, he would always respond to a request to pick something up or turn something down quickly and without defensiveness. He had a warm, kind, curious spirit that was refreshing to share a home with...and memories of caring for his own mother, in her last days, that gave him an experienced empathy for what Peter, especially, was living through in Nora's decline. With the addition of Two Bears to the house and to the coven, that sense of being grounded in a real, meaningful spiritual community, of having built something lasting and fine, was complete.
Felicia, on the other hand, was becoming harder and harder to love.