My plane landed in Tucson mid-evening on a Saturday. I planned to rent a car, spend the night at home in Bisbee, preach and preside at both of my churches, then return to Las Vegas for the Pegasus and make the drive home to Bisbee thus ending my sabbatical. Not quite ready to return to work after my three months of freedom and play, I figured I’d deal with my church responsibilities and then keep playing for another week. My flock had grown accustomed-or so I thought-to my wanderings and I lived with the incorrect understanding that as long as I showed up on time for Sunday mornings and said some interesting things, I would continue to enjoy the flexibility the position offered.
By the time the sabbatical had come to an end, I’d had a number of experiences with the downside of heavy marijuana use. Smoke’s upside included mystic moments and universal understandings. I’d met interesting people in interesting contexts and credited the weed for providing access to a world I never would have entered if I didn’t smoke my way into it. But the revelations and universal understandings that I’d experienced in the last three months came with a price; a heavy cost I was soon to pay.
I flew back to Arizona because I arrived in Las Vegas completely exhausted with the drive there from South Dakota. No money or time to lay my head, I rested-poorly-on top of my tent trailer in rest areas along the interstate when I couldn’t safely drive. I managed to make it to my parent’s home in Las Vegas but without enough time to continue to Bisbee in the Pegasus. My folks put me on an airplane to Tucson where I would rent a car, spend the night at home, and preach my two services, then return to Vegas to get my rig.
No rental car agency at Tucson Airport would accept my mother’s credit card. I didn’t have any money for the rental, and Lori couldn’t put money in my account to cover the cost. I had found myself in similar predicaments during the sabbatical, but this was different because it was my job and though I knew I didn’t want to return to it, I knew I needed it.
At about nine o’clock pm, I began to walk toward Tucson with the hope I could find a way to Bisbee. I’d made a connection with a supplier in Las Vegas and had weed, but that wasn’t going to get me the two hour drive to Bisbee. On a warm Tucson night, I walked the mile or two toward the big gas station, clad in shorts, a busted flip-flop, and inhaling menthols like they were candy cigarettes. Even in my desperation, I had a sense that I could get to home and get to church if I didn’t give up and call someone to cover for me. I found that option unacceptable because if I chose it, it might have signaled to me that I wasn’t handling my responsibilities well given my new companionship with marijuana. Near arrests, reckless driving, risky encounters with other women-none of that activity signaled to me that weed wasn’t working for me. But if weed got between me and my work, well, then there might be a problem.
I arrived at a large filling station not entirely sure what do but with the inclination that if I could get to South Tucson and the part of town where express vans shuttled mostly Latino passengers between Tucson and Bisbee/Douglas, then maybe I’d have a chance to get to church.
Once I arrived at the station, I began to look for taxis and even asked private folk for a lift. No takers. I met one taxi driver who agreed to take me to the shuttles but needed a few minutes before she could take my fare. I lay down on the concrete to rest and woke up an hour later to discover my ride had abandoned me. I finally found another. A black man in a black car agreed to take me to where I thought I could find the shuttles. He did so but nearly depleted my cash resources in the process. We found the part of town where they were located only to discover that it was still too early for the shuttle agencies to open. And, by the time they did so, there was no way I was going to make it for my 9am service.
As the Sunday morning sun began to make its appearance. I asked the driver to take me to an old part of Tucson, not far from the downtown. I knew a couple who lived at the church where a colleague of mine, Dyana, served as it’s priest. Perhaps they could be of service in my ordeal. They were friends, I had eaten in their home, we were part of an informal clergy support group, and I had done some welding on their iron fence to contain their dog. Time to call in my markers I thought.
The driver dropped me in the neighborhood pretty close to where the church and rectory stood. By the time I found the house the morning had arrived and I appeared less threatening in the daylight than in the wee hours. Still, it was only 6am. Committed to my goal-and to my flock-I began to toss pebbles at the second floor window where I believed the two slept, hoping to Christ Almighty that I didn’t break the glass. After a handful of small rocks and a couple of spot-on near shatters, the curtain moved. I waved my exuberant greetings then announced myself to my friends-and pretty much to the whole neighborhood: “Hey guys, it’s Seth. I need to get to church. I have services in a few hours.
My friends were exceedingly helpful. The priest’s partner and later spouse, Dana, drove me the two hours to Bisbee, waited for me at my house while I found some deodorant and a clergy shirt, then deposited me at my Bisbee congregation with fifteen minutes to spare. I was particularly impressed with myself that I had managed to successfully get to church on time, fulfill my sacerdotal responsibilities at both my congregations given my challenging circumstances the night prior, and reenter, more or less successfully, my work life after my very full, strange, and ultimately life-changing sabbatical.
Before services began that Sunday, as I greeted folks, I turned to the door to see my then eight year-old daughter launching toward me and into my arms. I carried her into the small church office adjacent to the church sanctuary and reminder her much I loved her. The love and acceptance she gave me at that moment-despite my frivolity and irresponsibility- in the midst of an institution that would soon reject me, helped anchor me in the days, month, and year to come.