December 28th, 2008:
I was invited to a party in Santa Cruz on Saturday evening, the seventh night of Hanukkah with the promise of plates of latkes. Since I felt fine, it seemed like a good time to leave San Francisco and journey south for an overnight stay. The trip down was an overture to the weekend: great conversation, interesting topics, beautiful scenery. When we arrived at the party, it became clear that children would be a big part of the evening. And what wonderful children! Ranging from less than a year to four, there were a dozen kiddos of remarkable sweetness and playfulness. Shoshanah, our hostess had hired a baby sitter who located herself upstairs. Through the course of the evening, the kids spent a lot of time upstairs playing dress up. Since there are two girls in the family giving the party, the extra clothes were dresses. No problema for one adventurous boy who arrived in a shirt decorated with menorahs, but quickly changed into a summer dress. And that was his outfit for the rest of the evening. Among the older adults, his ease with cross-dressing was greeted with wonder and admiration. That would not have been allowed when any of us were growing up, and we all reflected on what a happier new age seemed to be dawning in Santa Cruz.
It was a treat to see all of these people again; I haven’t been to Santa Cruz in too long. The spiritual center of the evening, lighting the menorahs and singing the prayer of thanks was wonderful. Among the adults, there was a sense of irony and poignancy that the safety and joy of the children at the party was happening a world away from the Israeli retaliation to the Hamas bombings which had started on the same day. Such a complex world with so many variables!
I had planned to stay overnight with Wendy Ostrow and her husband, Dan Arias. After the party, we stayed up and were talking about the rest of the weekend. Usually on Sunday morning in Santa Cruz, I join them for a trip to yoga class. This time, Wendy surprised me by asking if I would like to go with them to the Inner Light Ministry for services. The word “ministry” sent me into an assumption that this was a Christian church of some sort, so I declined. No, no, they assured me. This group certainly focused on a connection with God, but not based on any conventional religion. Curious, I decided to go.
At 11:00 on Sunday morning, we arrived at a sizeable building with seating for some 400 to 500. The founding minister was on vacation and the robust choir was not singing that day, so it was a relatively quiet introduction to this congregation. However, I was really impressed by what I experienced. The music was very good, coming mostly from gospel roots with seven or so instrumentalists and two very fine vocalists. But the big event was the underlying philosophy that we all have a yearning to connect with God and that this community offers tools and support for that connection. I could not have been more surprised at how much I enjoyed being with this group. A consequence for me of having cancer is a slow and thorough reexamination of God in my life. As I said earlier, I have no desire to join a church nor am I interested in pursuing Judaism, Islam, Buddhism. I feel like I’ve had more than enough organized religion for several lifetimes. However, I also know that I am spiritually vital and have been neglecting that part of my self. What a surprise to find, in Santa Cruz, such an interesting answer to what I’ve been searching for. As I told Wendy after the service, “If I lived here, I’d come here on Sunday for renewal and insight.”
As a finale, we drove back to San Francisco on Route 1 with high clouds and quiet surf. What a surprising and invigorating weekend!