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It was hot, my shirt was sticking to my torso and I had to stop in the shade multiple times within the seven blocks I walked in order to get a free meal at a catholic church in Gilroy. My new friend from yesterday had mentioned it and invited me to stop by. I was apprehensive as I approached; the speaker blared out harsh words as the pastor was reciting bible verses, not a single person in sight. I ducked into the bathroom in order to splash cool water on my face and use a toilet. A woman was inside doing the same thing. As I emerged from the stall she stood facing me and asked if I knew where the Lord’s Table was held. I sighed out in relief and told her I was about to ask her the same question. We laughed and she apologized for her mouth as she covered her face. She demanded my name and I told her I was an artist. She gasped and said I think God wanted us to meet.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by those words anymore, though I felt a shock through my heart when she said it. We ventured together from the bathroom and arrived to wait in line for the depressing nachos, salad and fruit that was piled high and generously given by stone faced frowning middle class humans. One lady yelled out if they had any more sour cream, the head woman in the line scolded them to watch their portions. I commented on Frank’s red and white striped apron, joked that he looked like a candy striper, to which I got a twinkle of confusion and they thrust my food at me to keep moving.

After my meal, I returned and offered them all StrawberryPropaganda. The response was pity and oh you don’t have to do that. Maybe a bit too loudly I scoffed and asked if they just didn’t want them. Realizing that I needed to stand strong, I tried again and explained that it’s a token of love, that I give them in order to spread smiles and laughter. I told them I’m an artist and I’m looking to paint a mural in order to purchase a new van so I can continue on my travels. Frank gave me a hidden smile and I left them on the table, unsure if they cared enough to pick them up, or if they ended up in the trash with the flies and uneaten bites.

Back at the table, Alida was filling my small notebook with authors and artists she thought might inspire me. And then slowly, I received her story:

Alida is 67, her father was a psychiatrist who diagnosed, drugged and used her as an experiment throughout her childhood and adolescence. She had been repeatedly abused, drugged and molested by neighborhood boys, then boyfriends and eventually a husband, between spending time in mental hospitals. She says she has no self esteem and so embarrassed by her teeth that she never smiles. Her fragile sweetness came through and I recognized that stubborn optimism I seem to have been born with. She ended up at this church tonight because a dear friend who committed suicide had attended there and she needed to feel his presence.

She’s been looking for support to move through her trama, searching for a sense of community. She senses Gilroy might be the place for her, she listed off the people she had met who had given her kindness and I nodded in agreement. She said she was hoping to find a woman about her age who she could live with. She’s so afraid of being alone. She’s had no such luck and she’s afraid she will never feel strong or whole.

After we cleaned our soggy plates up, I realized my phone was dead and started thinking of what kind of a place would be open in order for me to charge ibrick. As if she read my mind, she pondered if she wanted to skip her next event and asked if I wanted to go with her to her favorite place. I asked if they might have electricity, she thought so and we set off down the street together. Excitedly she described a peaceful open place, with high ceilings and full of healing spiritual energy.

About half a mile down the road we arrive. At Nob Hill. An upscale grocery store. Not exactly what I expected, but I suspended belief and let her give me the tour, commenting on how nice it was that they hang their bananas so they don’t get bruised. She showed me a piece of paper that she had pinned to the bulletin board, proud that it was still there after 2 days. She wants to be heard, to feel like she is making an impact in the world. We sat down under the painted clouds and she wanted to ask me something.

She said, “Do you think that even though I’m really scared, maybe I should get an apartment and live by myself.” I smiled and gave her a hug. I reflected that sometimes the things that are the most scary are the exact thing that we need to do. I encouraged her that Gilroy is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to and it would be a wonderful place to let some roots grow so that she can be strong and whole.

We continued talking for a few hours, I explain my Ganesh tattoo, the eight limbs of yoga and answered a few questions about Buddhism. She tells me of the couple she’s staying with, how they took her in, gave her a bicycle and are helping her find some permanence. I tell her my grandma’s saying about eating an elephant and she resolves to see the apartment tomorrow, feeling more confident as I tell her that she is stronger than she realizes.

She was picked up and as we farewell’ed, she thanked me for opening her heart. She said from now on, she wants to spread love too and she resolves to now talk about the God of Love instead of the resurrection. And then she tells me that I have a beautiful smile and she is so happy I’ve finished my tears. She wouldn’t let me take her picture, but she asked if I could take a picture of her note on the bulletin board. I have it pictured below. She says she will pray for me tomorrow as I figure out answers for my beloved myrtle and if in fact I will be able to paint this mural. Then she exclaims that she is going to go home and write a list of things she is grateful for, excitedly smiling and letting me see her broken teeth.

I am indeed blessed. I am in Gilroy for a reason. I am grateful for the beauty that the world offers. The Uhlone people expressed their love of beauty by making ordinary things beautiful. As PinkRiches, I see the world and the ordinary as beautiful and Gilroy’s lesson is continuing to blossom.

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