Becoming Luminous

by: Janet Yoder

You were named Molly when I met you. We loved the same man back then—Joe.

I met Joe first when I entered college in 1969 at nearly 18. Joe and I were not lovers then. We were depressed together during that rainy winter in Tacoma, when the air smelled of the pulp mill on the tide flats mixed with the metallic odor of the copper smelter. The Viet Nam War hung over us. Joe and I survived music theory and music history classes by hanging out together and reminding each other that there was life outside the music building. We could make each other laugh. But sometime after the draft lottery, Joe suffered what his mother told me was a nervous breakdown. He left school and she took him home to Vashon Island to recover. Three years later Joe and I reconnected in Seattle where he lived downstairs in his dad’s house. You and he were in the same world by then. He told me about you, told me you were a therapist and feminist leader. He didn’t say that you had pulled him out of a dark place, but somehow I knew you did and I was grateful if a little jealous.

I introduced myself to you at a party after Gloria Steinem spoke at the University of Washington. Was it 1972? We were in a big room full of women dancing, celebrating the women’s movement, celebrating being women. Did you speak to the crowd? Or did someone point you out to me? During a pause in the music, I walked up and introduced myself as a friend of Joe’s from college. You turned your falcon eyes on me. We stood there together assessing. You, wiry, fierce, older. Me, unsure, breathless, but standing there anyway. Then your face softened. You thanked me for introducing myself. It was the beginning.

A few years later, you and Joe bought the big old house in Madrona where you hosted therapy groups. Alternative therapy. You challenged your clients in ways they had never been challenged before. Challenged them to stand strong in a difficult relationship, challenged them to do something outside their comfort zone, challenged them to do the one thing they were afraid of doing, even if that was to take off all their clothes and shout their deepest desire. No way would I have come to your therapy group, even though you offered to cure me of asthma.

Our lives fell into a rhythm. I saw Joe one day a week. Was it Tuesday? And he lived with you the other six days. And I lived with Robby. It was the beginning of the fluid times. We all slept on waterbeds, Robby and I on a funky houseboat on Lake Union. Your house seemed to expand to accommodate whoever needed to live there—your children, friends, people passing through.

Everything was in motion. I discovered the first Carlos Castaneda book called The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge and we all read it. Castaneda described alternate realities, lucid dreaming, paths to animal powers, to shaman powers, to becoming luminous beings. At the time, the world was cracking open in a hallucinogenic way. But also in a spiritual way. Later you thanked me for that book that launched us all on our spiritual path, the path that carried you further than any of us.

You and Joe hosted meditation groups at your big old Madrona house. We all sat around on pillows in your living room with its candle-lit altar and the droning harmonium that Joe played. We chanted and danced and spun. We breathed and stretched and turned. We felt vibrations moving up our spines, igniting our chakras one by one all the way up to the crown. We sought spiritual teachers and sat Darshan to perceive their enlightenment. We sat zazen and tried TM. We did guided meditations. We visited the followers of Rajneesh in a house on Capitol Hill one evening to jump and hop ourselves toward ecstasy. We sought to become luminous beings, even if luminosity was always just out of our reach—a glimmer caught in our peripheral vision, a glow on the horizon.

We raced out to Discovery Park just before sunset to witness that magic between worlds. We watched eagles and great blue herons. We swam at night. We chanted in the glass pyramid Joe built on the top of the big old Madrona house. You charmed Robby and challenged him to a winter swim in Lake Washington in the wee hours of morning. Robby loved the challenge, loved you. We all loved you.

When you changed your name to Starfire, none of us batted an eye. Starfire is the source of energy for stars and that explosive name fitted you. You climbed Mount Rainier. You fasted and cleansed. You blended carrots by the crateful and bunches of chard and kale. One evening you announced you were the first woman of the counterculture to go through menopause and that blew my mind, made me realize I would one day in the long-distant future go through menopause and just possibly still be as vibrant as you.

Then you got cancer. I don’t remember what kind but a bad one. You dealt with it by cleansing and meditating. You went to the desert to apprentice yourself to a sorcerer, perhaps to live on peyote and prayers. Or air.

Later, I ran into you one chilly afternoon just before Christmas at the Cause Celebre Café on Capitol Hill. I was sipping a cappuccino. You carried a hot chocolate to my table and sat across from me. You told me you had just bought Christmas presents for your children and grandchildren at Fred Meyer. I was surprised that you did Christmas presents, that you shopped at Fred Meyer, and that you drank a hot chocolate, a beverage full of caffeine, sugar, and milk. You smiled at my surprise. You talked about your childhood in Florida, running wild around your family’s big home. The wild spark was still in your eyes. Then you asked me to keep up my friendship with Joe. “You are special to him,” you said. “He’s going to need you.”

You got up and gave me a long hug—the kind of hug that transmits blessings. Did you know then how short your time was? Did you know that this was our farewell? I watched you wrap your thin self in a way-too-big down jacket, pick up your bag full of Christmas presents, and walk out of the café—a fully luminous being.

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story