Melinda and I looked over an empty mountain meadow in the Los Angeles National Forest for Jimi Castillo, a Tongva spiritual leader, who had invited us to the Spiritual Naming & Tobacco Blessing Ceremony. Didn’t he say two-o’clock start? Feeling conspicuously white, we held hands and walked through the tall grass to the long haired, dark-skinned, round-faced women hanging ceremonial shawls. Thankfully Jimi burst out of the kitchen and we were welcomed with warm hugs. Soon enough the meadow was filled with people, and a few white faces.
As dusk fell, the group settled in two circles for the tobacco blessing ceremony. A bear was seen a hundred yards away, blessing us with a good omen as the Tongva are Bear People. I touched Melinda’s shoulder as I got up for my turn to add lavender from my garden to a large pot of tobacco and herbs that Jimi stirred, while everyone sang sweet and powerful songs. We all received a handful of the blessed herbs.
With the darkening sky, a roaring bonfire was built and those of us who were participating in the naming ceremony found a spot in the center with the rest of the people forming a large circle of protection around us. I stood behind Melinda with my hand on her shoulder and bestowed her spiritual name, Listening Deer. I had meditated on this name for a week and concluded what I value most about my friend is her empathic, gentle listening. Her beautiful brown eyes tell you she is with you, feeling everything with you. We switched places and Melinda gave me the name Dancing Butterfly Who Soars on the Wind. Gazing out on a multitude of stars, with songs in our hearts, buzzing with the magic of evening and the power of our new spiritual names we drove down the mountain.
I met Melinda Rodriguez at a book signing at the Enchanted Fairy Box for the Teen Spell Book. She bought the book for her daughter, but ended up reading it herself and dropped it in the water while taking a bath. I loved that story so much; I gave her a new copy. We hosted a retreat together in Big Bear, discovering our triggers as two divas sharing the stage (mine was going Widdershins in circle and hers was Alone Time). At countless ceremonies, I have danced ecstatically to her incredibly talented drumming. For more than 12 years, we have walked a spiritual path together, sharing laughter, wisdom and a great love and friendship.
Today, we struggle to understand and release the cancer that began in her ovaries and moved to liver and lungs. When I visit, I don’t know if I should talk as if nothing is going on to distract her or ask about the cancer or inspire her with spiritual affirmations and quotes. She can’t talk because of the nodules on her lungs make her cough too much, so I brought her a chalkboard and colored chalk. Chemotherapy will start next week. Some days I feel strong, and other days, I fear that scene in Beaches when Bette Midler looks over at her dying friend. I’m not ready to sing the Wind Beneath My Wings, even though she is….