First of all, let me say, not everything all the time is about belly dance. Whew, strange words coming from my lips.Of course having said that, I'm sure dance will show up somewhere in this story.
So, this morning on my way to work, I saw her...or at least I thought it was her. The Blanket Lady, wrapped from head to feet in a white blanket, standing on the corner waiting to cross the street. I started to cry. I remembered when I first saw her, over 30 years ago, when I moved to California. She was usually walking, often barefoot, through the streets of Riverside. I asked my new friends who she was and all they would say is, "she's the blanket lady." No one knew who she was, how long she'd been around, or where she came from.
One day, she was sitting in the Quad of RCC, where I was going to college. I sat down near here and looked into her face. I said hello. She often had a 'crazy' look on her face, perhaps a woman's only protection when living on the streets. I looked past this and into her eyes. She softened in my gaze. I asked her how she was doing and she said okay. I shook my head and said, me too. I said goodbye and walked away not wanting to overstay my welcome. This went on for several weeks, everyday staying a little longer, talking about the weather or any other 'safe' topic. One day, I don't know what came over me, I looked deep into her eyes and touched her hand. Again she softened and trembled slightly. Again I asked how she was doing. This time she answered more fully. She told me about her losses, people, places and things. She told me she liked 'be-ing' in Riverside because the weather was good and nobody really bothered her. She said that sometimes the people were nice and gave her things. She had had several pairs of shoes over the years and sometimes received a new blanket. She seemed grateful for life and the few possessions that she had. And for having someone that wanted to listen to her. Perhaps she recognized that when I looked into her eyes and our gazes met, I knew that I was looking into the eyes of Spirit.
I don't remember if it was that year or the next that I changed my major from Art to Psychology. I know that my life got pretty busy around then, working and going to school full-time. The next year I would get pregnant, lose my job and even have my own experience of brief (2 1/2 months) homelessness.
I graduated University with a BA in Psychology and began my career working with the Severely and Persistently Mentally Ill. I worked in a clinic setting doing groups in a day treatment program. I loved my clients and was always impressed with their flexibility and presence. Sometimes I would become discouraged when I would look for progress and it seemed so microscopic. I wondered if I was even making a difference. Then one day I realized that my client, who for the first 3 years that I worked there, only came in the building for 'coffee time', was coming in and staying. One day, I decided to have the clients play some music and dance with my during 'coffee time'. I handed out bells, drums, triangles, whatever we had on hand. And I asked this particular client to dance with me. He rocked back and forth to the rhythm, relaxing into it. We made no physical contact, but connected through our gaze. Once again, I recognized tat I was in the presence of Spirit. It was Divine. Everyday, for the next 2 years, he would come in and ask me to 'baile', motioning with his two fingers 'dancing' on the open palm of his other hand. No longer was he spending his day standing outside at the corner of the building, eating from the dumpster. He was a part of something greater. Music and dance can save the world!
Even though I was working out of Riverside, I would still drive through town sometimes and think of the Blanket Lady. By then I had already discovered the gifts of belly dance and had been dancing for a few years. It helped me deal with stress, open myself to new levels of self loving, and heal my own wounds.
In early 2000 I danced in a dance drama with Kahena's troupe, Banaat Al Qamar. It used some imagery from the group Women in Black and I brought the ideas of that group into my own community. We started a weekly silent vigil, all dressed in black, on the front steps of our public library. We held signs and gave out information on the plight of women ad children during times of war. It just so happened to be at the same day and time that the church across the street served dinner to the homeless. On several occasions, we would be joined by a few of the local homeless women who seemed proud to be a part of something that illuminated the suffering of women and children during the times of war. It reminded me of the talks I had once had with the Blanket Lady and how just being willing to listen with my heart could bring peace to another human being. It also reminded me of how engaging people in a meaningful way can elevate someones consciousness from the endless thoughts of daily survival to being part of something greater than oneself, to becoming an agent of social change. It's powerful thing to witness.
So today, as I was driving to work, thinking of how it was already December 1st and all the things I needed to accomplish, I had my miracle. From out of nowhere, a ghost from the past appeared, and the Blanket Lady was standing on that corner. I was overcome with gratitude for the life that I have been given, the lessons of infinite unbearable compassion that I have learned, and the opportunities that are present in every day for sharing Loving and Light with the world.
The next time that you snuggle up in a soft, warm blanket...think of the Blanket Lady and of her Blessings of Hope, Gratitude and Transformation.
Peace and Loving,