Before bidding Adam a good night and winding my way about Old Bisbee to find Max, I inquired as to when the next opportunity to enjoy smokage might occur. Until I began to acquire my own supply, I was at the mercy of those like Adam who had what I wanted. We talked briefly about attending the local community college’s annual pottery bake in a few days. Adam was open to the idea, but I sensed his hesitancy given my exuberance for my new hobby.
Those few days passed. I’d not been incarcerated, hospitalized (yet), or divorced. Adam’s reluctance cleared and we decided to attend the event. On an evening in late October, Adam came by to pick me up. We imbibed in the ManCave. I had wanted to hang out in the cave and introduce all my metal friends to Adam, but he was ready to get moving. It would be the first but not the last time disappointment would accompany a high session.
After imbibing, we loaded in Adam’s car and made the fifteen-minute drive to the college where the ceramic fire took place. Less than a week had passed since I called Adam, from that same highway, and made the portentous decision to smoke weed. Yet there I was: stoned with a friend and heading out to party, singing out loud to the car radio. With both hands on the wheel, Adam’s bandanna contained his full and lengthy locks. He exhaled a deep and satisfied, “Yeah!”, as he leaned forward over the wheel and into our adventure. There I was, finally On The Road with Jack Kerouac, ready for the next high, leaving it all behind with nothing but lined asphalt in front of me. I overlooked the obvious incongruities of the comparison: Adam sped along driving just under the speed limit. I had a mortgage, family, and a career. The evening would last all but four of five hours and then home to bed before 11:00 pm.
Once arrived, I hoped I could find more cannabis collaborators. I released friend Adam from any obligation for the return trip and set out hoping I could find more weed. I also hoped I could handle myself well when I found both my wife and church members also in attendance.
Every year at the college, the school ceramicists dig a big hole in the desert, bury all kind of student ceramic projects, and then pile tons of wooden pallets and random combustibles on top. They identify the huge kiln as something Native American and Pre-Columbian, pre-asbestos, and pre-220 volts. The event then advances several thousand years and gets a light from Western Expansionism and the US Calvary.
The college rodeo team charges the pile on horseback carrying the Stars and Stripes and high-end tiki-torches. They circle several times, oblivious to the haboob they’ve created and the wheezing they’ve precipitated. The cavalry halts. Two or three riders wield large bows and sturdy arrows laden with gooey black sponges. They light the arrows from their comrades’ torches and shoot the fire sticks into the pile. The attack on the unsuspecting boards eventually engulfs the whole mess and soon the kiln burns hot enough that the crowd to has to back up, nearly into New Mexico.
I’d attended the event several times prior to my own pyrotechnics. I enjoyed the event, it had activities for my daughter, live music, and food. In late October, it was always a good event to enjoy a brisk evening, stand at the edge of the great fire, and watch the pile fire the clay into quality ceramics. Acrobatic fire dancers pranced about on stilts and outdoor kilns burned wood, coal, and sawdust. While attending those other times, I noticed people in the crowd lighting up their own fire sticks just about the same time that the young rodeo competitors lit the pallets. Like the dust that hovered about, the unmistakable aroma of marijuana wafted in and out of the crowd. I’d tell myself on those occasions, when marijuana was in use, that to partake would have disastrous consequences for me. Like the fox that eyed the grapes hanging out of his reach, I had told myself for too long that I didn’t really want anything to do with the bitter aroma.
That night, no more salivating. I climbed out on the limb and picked the forbidden fruit and joined the others who had done the same. Entrance to the event required ten dollars which entitled the buyer to a locally hewn ceramic bowl with a sparkling glaze finish. Once I paid, the volunteer directed me to choose a bowl from the large array of bowls. They all sparkled and glowed in front of me; soft blues and burnt reds, greens and yellows, purples with white drizzles cascading over the edges. I asked the cashier if I could have one of each. She laughed at first, but when she detected my honest inquiry, she looked became serious.
“Ten dollars per bowl, sir. Just one bowl.”
I delayed my choice as long as possible. To select one, meant to leave the other gems behind. I heard grumbling behind me, impatient with my delay.
“I’ll take that one.”
I selected one among many and received the bowl reverently from the attendant. Its colors swirled and blended, its cool smoothness a gift in my hands. The blue-green masterpiece bore a striking resemblance to the planet on which I stood, the one soon to give birth to even more wonderfully crafted and colored human artifacts. I thought on Dame Julian of Norwich and how she beheld the Universe in her acorn. A grumpy complaint reached me from the back of the line.
“Other people are in line, sir.”
I walked off from my extended moment, finding within my small chili bowl, the whole of creation, “galaxies, suns, and planets in their courses.”
“All manner of things shall be well,” said I to the good folk behind me, pretty confident that they would not have the same experience of their purchase as I had. I headed outside, into the event, looking for the what tents where students made and served soup.
My wife and daughter found me in the soup line. The arrived earlier at the burn because my wife’s choir sang at the opening. Lori knew about my first night out. She did not know that Adam and I smoked at the ManCave and then came to the event high. Hoping I could conceal my high from her, I tried to focus on the soups.
“What do they have here?”
“Three soups: a tortilla soup with cheese, a traditional chili, and something vegetarian with beans.”
“The vegetarian chili. Is that good? Do they use tofu or fake chicken or something?”
“No, the vegetarian soup is a bean soup. I think it might even be vegan.”
“How can it be vegan if it has cheese? I thought vegans didn’t eat cheese.”
“It doesn’t have cheese. It has beans. The tortilla soup has cheese.”
“Oh.” I held my bowl in my hand wondering if Dame Julian had ever used a hallucinogenic.
“Ok, I think I got it. Thanks. Look at my bowl. It’s like the earth.” I handed my bowl wishing I had those words back.
Lori paused for a minute to look at me. I suspected her suspicions.
I picked up our six-year old.
“How’s Adam.” Lori was fishing. “Did you guys have an okay drive?”
“Yes. That was fine. He has a car that plays music and we listened to it. I liked the music he played in his car.”
When I had smoke with Adam and Max, I had no need to conceal my activity. This was different and it wasn’t going well.
I kissed Catalina.
“Hi Sweetness. How’s my girl.” She liked it when I picked her up. I hoped that the cool air and food aromas might shroud any lingering smell of pot.
“Hi Daddy. I’m cold.”
“Oh no! What if I hold you tight and then you’ll be warm forever?”
Catalina was the singular blessing of our lives. We had brought her home when she was just two months old while we still lived in Virginia.
“Yes, my love.”
“How come you came so late? Mommy’s choir already sang.”
“I wanted to come with Adam. He picked me up.”
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know, honey.” I looked around, “I haven’t seen him. The last time I did we were getting bowls for the soup.”
“I like yours. It’s pretty.”
“Thanks, my love. I’m going to put you down and get something in it.”
I moved forward in line, hoping to avoid Lori’s continued investigation.
“Were sitting over there with the others from church.”
“Let me get my soup. I’ll come over.”
I didn’t do too well with Lori but now had to worry about eating with the ‘others’ she had mentioned. They were members of my churches. I didn’t want them to have any idea that I’d been smoking.
Since my tenure began at the two parishes some six years prior, it had been okay-not perfect, not awful. People were mostly happy with me until I came up with an initiative like a Spanish service or border related ministries. Those kinds of projects and the increased involvement with others to make them happen brought out the chinks in my armor; my on-the-fly planning, my impatience, and my directness. That work also brought out the negative traits of the people I worked with- their dysfunction, indirectness, and penchant for gossip. Sunday mornings usually went okay. It was the extra-curricular activities that led to trouble.
When I decided on my soup, I found my way to their table. I tried not to say much knowing that opening my mouth could put me in jeopardy. People that recognized me came by for a greeting and we exchanged a few words, but nothing to get me in trouble. My congregations liked that I was outgoing with them, but my growing extroversion with other, non-church types would soon be a problem. Church folk can be possessive about their clergy’s time and energy.
The brisk evening proved too cold for my parishioners and they decided to leave. Cata and Lori indicated the same. Relieved, I bid them all a good night and looking forward to the rest of the evening unsupervised. Once I finished my soup, I absented myself from them pretty quick. The fire awaited ignition so I made my way to watch the burn.
Since becoming a handyman, I began to carry a hand little penlight in my shirt pocket. I rinsed out my soup bowl and headed toward the crowd standing before the great wooden pile waiting on the riders. Someone needed my penlight to find something in the dark. Before returning it to my chest, I shined the tiny light into my hand made bowl. What I beheld mesmerized me! The small bulb’s light reflected off the inside glaze and made a strange-and wonderful- golden glow.
“All manner of things shall be well,” said Julian of Norwich. I believed that to be true at that moment.
I gave thanks for the English mystic, hoped I could become a mystic too, and then proceeded to tell the Pit Fire crowd that I had discovered the secret of the Universe in my soup. I might as well have found the Holy Grail, so enamored I became of my glow-bowl. For the rest of the evening, I ambled about, looking for friends and acquaintances alike to share my magic discovery. I’d approach someone I knew, hold the bowl up, then give the pen light a click. Sometimes, depending on the mood of my audience, the trick led to praise and even applause. Other times, the show fell flat and people stood puzzled, wondering what the big deal was.
Dissuaded not, I continued to share my charm with others. On occasion, someone commented that perchance I’d been smoking wacky tabacky. Clear of family and church friends, I responded that I could neither confirm nor deny the use thereof. People smiled, laughed a bit, and sent me on my way to the next encounter. I knew this much: I was having fun. Yes, even though I was the pastor of two churches and trying to make a difference along the border, I was lighter on my feet and enjoying myself.
A couple hours into the fully involved kiln and my AAA batteries exhausted, I found Adam and a female friend of his. We partook of the herb on the outskirts of the fire, talked about how weed use might be a way to avoid relapse into alcoholism, and then went our separate ways. I reminded Adam I didn’t need a ride home.
A little anxious I might have trouble finding one, I relaxed when I ran into Stiles and his dog Meteor. More an acquaintance than a friend, Stiles, a few months prior, knowing I was clergy, said he didn’t know how to address me. I told him I preferred Seth. It impressed me that he had that kind of sensitivity. Some of the Bisbee clan I had met at the Desert Café and other places, when they learned I was clergy, let loose their disdain for clerics and the church. Too easily they made gross comments associating me with embezzlement or pedophilia. That Stiles respected my office –even though I bristled against the expectations of it -went a long way to endear me to him.
Before we left, he and I and Meteor went for a walk into the desert. I had smoked a little more with Adam and his companion. I had a bit to share with Stiles, but he declined saying that he’d had his fill. As Meteor sniffed about the sage, returning to his master when called, then back to his nocturnal research, Stiles and I got to know each other. I learned of his upbringing and told him about my pastoral work. With the stars above us and the fading glow of the large fire a little distant, I made an authentic connection with another man. That’s not easy for white guys and usually happens only when intoxicants help. My marijuana did to be sure. It reminded me of my drinking days in college when, after consuming a significant amount of alcohol, dorm mates and other young people, knowing of my vocational aspirations, began to share their lives with me in ways they had not when we were both sober.
Stiles and I headed back to Bisbee in his diesel vehicle that also ran on discarded cooking oil. His commitment to the environment impressed me then and continues to impress me now. We got into God talk and I told him I believed that God is Love and that every other claim about God must square with that assertion. Referring to a book titled, Love Wins, by a disgruntled Evangelical Christian, I told Stiles that my theology holds that judgment, condemnation, and eternal punishment are false and that, as the title of the book claims, “Love Wins.”
This resonated with Stiles. As we climbed back up the hill and towards our homes in the Mule Mountains, Stiles began to exhale a mantra, “Love Wins!” he shouted each time more loudly. I agreed and thought it something worth shouting too out, into the chilly night, to whomever might be listening on the empty highway.
“Love Wins! Love Wins! Love Wins!”
No condemnation allowed. No judgment for a toke or two. Eternal punishment be damned. My a priori claim -then and now-sums up my theology: God is Love. I made a new co-traveler that night in Stiles. We would adventure about as my escapades unfolded. We would also come to some similar conclusions about intoxication. But that was literally and figuratively down the road. For now, just as my soup bowl glowed in the cool night from an external light, I glowed from within courtesy of my new elixir, and the company of Saints Julian and Stiles.
Meteor just slept.