Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Black Soul group sings a still popular song by the title, “Serpentine Fire.” That song has always spoken to me, but even more so now: “Come on tell the story, Morning Glory, all about the serpentine fire. You know as a people, you will laugh one night in the serpentine fire.” I suppose this is the night. I may not be laughing (yet), but I am feeling the victory of my recovery from one of the most important events of my life, and it is at the end of long journey fraught with deep thinking and multi-tiered feelings that I am finally prodded by forces within to actually start to write (again) in earnest. The urge, like the reflex that makes one regurgitate despite an equal urge to hold back, is larger than I am, and though I’d like to know what I shall say, and would want to wait until I could structure it, I can’t hold back any longer. The time has come and the story will doubtless tell itself. But this will be a collection of disparate essays and notes, and journal entries that attempt to trace my spiritual development while documenting my esoteric thought on new age topics. I am not sure I can chronicle the journey of my late life to this new phase of it, but it seems I necessarily have to start with my encounter with the “serpentine fire.”
I will talk here about the lightning strike injury that I sustained in 2002 and the vicissitudes of the initial impact on my life, the day to day coping, and the gradual healing and grand changes that it affected in my life. But I also want to tell anecdotes and tales from the broad road of my travels. As a confirmed and seasoned feminist, I continue to think of my writing life in terms of the dialogue: as a Black woman, woman, a lesbian, and a senior, a person with disability and, more recently as a spirit healer.
I intend to show scenes from my life, ideas from my brain, and images from my imagination that snake through this recounting. I intend to capture the undulating flavor of my spiritual journey while tracing the evolution of my writing from secular and sensual to metaphysical and practical –the divine outcomes of my trials and growth. This collection of essays is not so much about the lightning injury as it about the turning point catalyst that it turned out to be. And it is about none of the above.
It has been nearly ten years since I was zapped by a lightning bolt. Suffering post traumatic stress disorder and confused by bouts of memory loss, initially, I experienced the cold terror of the prospect of sudden heart arrest. I lived with a whirling vertigo and an inarticulate struggle to make sense to others when I tried to speak. Back then, I was holding my breath waiting for the other shoe to drop. That shoe could have been anything: paralysis, kidney failure, heart attack, grand mal seizure, blindness, and hearing loss. It has taken this great distance from the actual event in that Las Vegas hotel room, July 3, 2002 for me to settle down and realize I am not going to suffer some further catastrophic physical break-down. I have had to learn to stop listening at the irregular beating of my scarred heart. I had to wait for a time when I could stop reliving the circuitous loop of shock and terror that I recalled over and over again in the months that followed the injury.
In order to share any of my journey with you, I had to be able to think straight, trust that my words would come out, easily and logically as they always have. I had to be able to trust my brain to send the proper impulses to my nerves and hands, so that the words would not turn into caricatures of themselves or morph into other forms—and believe me they still do occasionally. I had to know that my childhood dyslexia had not be multiplied ten-fold, and that I had muscle control enough to steady my tremulous fingers as they range over the key board. I had to feel I still had access to my subconscious vocabulary—the ability to turn inward for the spontaneous rising of the “just right“ word. I needed to know that my gift for writing simply had not been lost or impeded. Rest, medication, and physical therapy, prayer, medication, journal-keeping, and the care of those nearby finally got me back from the static white zone that washed over me in that awful moment when I was struck by lightning.
I know now the limits of my physical exertions. I can now manage my residual condition from the lightning injury, and I look and act as able as the next person. So, I feel I can now trace my steps back through my life—at least topically. It’s time.
I have always known that my short attention span, called Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and Multiple Personality Response have made it impossible to gather my life in neat lines and deliver a seamless chronological narrative. That is why I have not attempted traditional autobiography. But, as I begin to write now , I must confer upon you a level of intimacy and assumed common reference that cyber space, newly, allows. It is an assumption of a familiar, bonded relationship. There will be no antecedents for some of what I say, kind of like the missing years of Jesus’ life, but the collective import ought to be felt and understood. I am writing as both a professional and a personality as an expert and as a messenger. Believe me, it is how I feel I must gather my life.
I realize that the ordinary blow by blow narration from birth to the present is unavailable to me, partly because I have blocked memories from childhood abuse, both emotional and sexual, but also because I don’t remember some things that were essential to a chronological telling. Besides, I am older now with spotty and elusive memory quirks called “senior moments.” And these days the right side of my cranium is always asleep. The doctors and physical therapists see nothing on the MRIs and Cat scans, but I live with this gripping numbness above my right ear and a vacuous buzz in it. But that is a small price to pay for having my glorious life.
I realize that the ordinary blow by blow narration from birth to the present is unavailable to me, partly because I have blocked memories from childhood abuse, both emotional and sexual, but also because I don’t remember some things that were essential to a chronological telling. Besides, I am older now with spotty and elusive memory quirks called “senior moments.” And these days the right side of my cranium is always asleep. The doctors and physical therapist see nothing on the MRIs and Cat scans, but I live with this gripping numbness above my right ear and a vacuous buzz in it. But that is a small price to pay for having my glorious life. My waking experience is glorious. I am walking neon of the Touch of God. I am the Light, a glowing Soul, alive. Transformed by the proverbial “dark night of the soul,” I must necessarily used the self-definitions that have brought me to public notice as well as to this phase of my life, but I see myself as having been transformed by fire, blasted by a brilliant, merciful light, I stood momentarily at the door of heaven with the Thundering whisper of God reverberating in my ears.
It was an initiation by serpentine fire.
I began this essay at midnight in February, 2005. I was in Oakland, California. At that time, Oakland was the latest of my several habitats since the lightning injured my finances and ability to work. Like the undertow of a tsunami, it slid underneath my life and drug the land I stood on out to sea. I pause now as I did that evening to gather my thoughts, to surrender to the impulse to write–again–finally. From the mundane numb occupation of watching cop shows with unseeing eyes, I raised myself to a meditation on that evening and meditated for a few minutes. In that short silence, I had a vision. This poem-like bit of free-writing followed:
In the dark of myself I dove into the ocean of the void and swam
The deep black was as thin as India ink, and as light weight as silk.
I swam fluidly, easily enjoying the presence of joy and the solitude of being.
Then, a huge sperm whale arose from the formlessness of the blackness
Taking shaped as it emerged, leveling, paralleling me in the water
Just enough to lock one giant, gray blue eye on me as we swam
Side by side. I seemed to be as big and facile in the endless dark sea as was
The whale. I did not fear or even flinch at its appearance or presence.
Shortly, it dove—sounding—sea men call it—when whales head downward
Into the depths of the deep. I followed it down into he utter depths of the
“Waters” (for lack of a better word). I followed going league for league
Into my inner worlds, not sure what it was telling me….
I know that the whale is a symbol of the ages beyond the history of the Land.
I know that my diving down, accessing my Own deeply guarded–perhaps sacred
—knowledge Soul History is also Symbolic.
The whale did not sing, and I do not recall any other details from this surprise vision and visitation. I don’t know what I learned or saw there, but I do know my inner-workings well
enough to know that just by the very act of diving, I accessed my deepest consciousness. But I believe that short sojourn was precursor to this watershed.
It would be easy to say that the purpose of this preface would be to allow me summary and overview, but at the time I wrote the first draft of the essay, “Serpentine Fire.”I had no idea where it would lead. It was and is a work unfolding before me as my life has up to now.
I suspected then that the lightning injury was so monumental that I would spend the rest of my life writing and talking about it, but no, it is just the corner stone of a building I have no blueprint for.
At various times, I have thought about writing an autobiography because my published work does have readers, yet it is scattered all over the genres in myriad publications. I have spoken in many different voices about social and political issues as well as the voice of my heart in poetry and fiction. Consequently, I do not think a cohesive view of the essence of my work exists. An autobiography could provide cohesion. The problem for me has been in gathering my interests and several selves around a conference table where all of me could speak. As confounding as that may sound, I have been, until now, seeking a concrete representation of the essential me.
Many of my contemporaries, some now deceased, such as Audre Lorde, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, Nikki Giovanni, Pat Parker, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, and Maya Angelou have documented their lives and times, have been studied, their voices and messages richly described.
My various interests and free lance approach to writing has worked to refine my mastery of the written word but has worked against my developing an identifiable voice. Now, some of my peers have moved off the scene, and I remain here with what I see as enough time to document what a free soul, empowered by destiny, can say of herself that might inspire or motivate others.
Over the years I have mused over various titles for an autobiography. I sampled “Patchwork,”“Along the Way of My Life,”“What the “S” Stands For.” “By Bread Alone” among others. Eventually, I realized I was a mystery to myself. I have so many ways of being and such a kaleidoscopic approach to life that I do not know from one day to the next what I might do or say, think or write. One day while listening to my favorite singer, Aretha Franklin, it dawned on me that the title of her song “Spirit in the Dark” would be a useful metaphor for describing my own self-discovery and evolution. I thought then that I could make the title pregnant with double entendre. It could speak about race and my racial history or ethnic and cultural experience. It could speak about my spiritual awakenings. I thought the title might even be a good play on my life long wonder at the mysterious and beautiful world we live in. Yes, yes, that would be a very good title. I could qualify my own questions about my identity and self-definitions by allowing each of my separate alternate personalities to speak. But my work in therapy and under hypnosis has largely quelled the raging committee of beings that I used to be.
Still, it’s possible that someone might emerge to speak and I will allow it, if it happens. The autobiography that I would write would trace my process as do cumulative daily journal entries. In those instances, I begin with a summary report, a problem, an emotion, or a difficulty and write until that issue is clear, resolved, or the emotion dissipates.
What’s great about the theme “spirit in the dark” is that it invokes spirituality, God, and the Mystery of God. I wanted then and now to talk about its presence in my life—not evidentially but circumstantially. I planned to write for my own spirit and for those kindred in thought. I wanted to talk to us, talk about us—if my life may serve.
In considering the name for my future and sometimes autobiography, I thought about my search for a wearable religion, a practical spiritual path, a church or house of worship that might confirm, attest to my experience of God as real and active in my life. I wanted to talk about God’s presence as dream revelation as well as in signs and wonders particular to my brand of openness to Its Expression. Again , in trying to talk about my experience of love for God, I realized I never really would be able to communicate a digestible slice of the pie that God is to me. But while ruminating on the phrase “spirit in the dark”, I have learned that one’s teachings—no matter the creed or catechism—is a personal and sacred phenomenon. So my path to this discovery is really that, the path of one who sought God as a pathway from sin and redemption to the ineffable bonding of the idea of God with my need to be that Idea. And that is the direction of this set of autobiographical essays. I will attempt to run a thread through my ever-broadening mental worlds, so as to reveal the flow of Spirit through my thought and life. I still find it an insurmountable obstacle to write a sequential autobiography. The facts of my life and the dates and seasons seem to be irretrievable. And the missing parts along with the deeply forgotten terrors won’t allow the story of a little Black girl born in Chicago, Illinois in l946. Yet I do have stories that bear telling and they form a kind of patchwork quilt. But my inner fabric is not heavy like a quilt, nor has it the thickness. Whatever experiences I have had, bad and good, they have not weighed me down. They have not made a discernible pattern as would a quilt, but they reveal the colors of my soul. I am like the AIDS Memorial Quilt, big patches of life and incongruity with love at the borders. The stitching holds together the seams of my survival.
Of course, I run the risk of being self-congratulatory. It may not be “meet” as my paternal grandmother Mama Hattie would say, to name your own graces without seeming graceless and lacking humility. I apologize now if that is the way I seem. I just do not know how one speaks of the revelations of self-love and confidence, of understanding and perception, of maintaining faith in the face of despair.
Here are two stories that might help manifest the autobiographical idea if not the autobiography in whole. I was born three months earlier than expected. Instead of 9 months, I rushed into the world at 6. I am told I emerged from the womb twenty minutes after arriving at Cook County Hospital. My birth date is January 22. I was born at 9:45 P.M. To Florence Adams, my mother, and Lawrence “Thomas Waterhouse” Bogus, my father. I was their third child, an only, tiny, premature, daughter. My father’s brother, Uncle Buck, used to say I was so small a bundle that he could hold me in one hand. I loved hearing that. It made me think of that All State slogan. I like thinking I came here in the “good hands” of God with urgent purpose and a soul’s excitement over the prospect of living in the glorious contraption of flesh called “a body.”
Born too early and dangerously close to death, and because I got pneumonia shortly after birth, I was placed in an incubator for the next six months. Risk-taker. That’s what I say about that tiny baby force of life. I was born a risk-taker. It seems I was simply not willing to sit in the egg space of the birth void for another three months. I wanted life to start. I wanted to get on with it. That level of risk-taking, of hurry, of courage—I think—has become the subtext of my life . I have moved through the days and years of my life like a blazing comet, my white-hot flaming head taking me from place to place, goal to goal, whimsy to whimsy, love to love, and change to chaos, and back again. I often say that “I am faster than the speed of thought.” Because I make rapid and sure decisions, prompt travel plans, and I deftly complete projects with adroit, time considered efficiency. “Getting the job done” is my claim to fame.
Spiritually, I suppose this may counter –indicate impatience, or worse, little comprehension of the high spiritual laws, that speak of “Divine Timing” and flow. Most people know the law of cause and effect as it has been expressed in these axioms: “everything that goes around, comes around,” waste not want not.” “what’s for you, you will get.” “when you give, you receive.” And I, too know the age-old wisdom of “No need to hurry, struggle or effort: trust that what you need will be given to you.” But knowing these spiritual laws does not divest me or anyone of choice. I am always willing to risk the lesson of patience, or economy, or withholding just to see what will happen. I played and still play, here in my late years, dangerous spiritual games. I do not believe everything I hear or accept that all that has been handed down as wisdom of God is true. If I had, I’d never have been able to live as a lesbian woman and also have the love of God or be a seer-healer (psychic) and remain a citizen of heaven. How can one know the limits and the boundaries of belief and one’s own spiritual composition if one just allows the standing agreements go untested? Do I worry about consequences? Yes and no. I know there will be consequences so I do not do things that will land me in jail, court or prayerless. So my risk-taking is measured. But I also know that I am ever tied to God and that this life and this body are for a season. From where I sit I have God’s unfailing protection and love, and I get to try on the laws of life like clothing.
I am not profligate or incorrigible– just my own spiritual imp. I bungee jump with one leg tied to God and test unforgiveness or anger, or resentment. My risks are to recognize my spiritual choices and cull my own soul’s spiritual philosophy. I see that as a duty of the journey this lifetime, aside from my sense of mission to inspire, unify, and extol the grace of the The All.
My lessons include learning patience. I was allowed my hurried flouting of the gestation, but I am definitely restrained by many circumstances so as not to get ahead of my good or derail it altogether. I would add that I even get a dollop of poise and grace with my lessons in patience, as one likes cream in coffee, or pepper on grits. Surely 38 years of meditation and other settling practices ought to have added a degree of cool to the Haley that I am. This is where the other of the two stories begins.
In the winter of l974, Waymon*, the brother of my lover at that time,TBird* and I were watching TV, “The Six Million Dollar Man,” when he said in a matter-of-fact voice that he felt useless. His eyes were very dull and filled with great sadness/ He added after a long pause that he was so unhappy that he wanted to die. Well, that triggered action in me because once when I was still an undergrad at Stillman College, in l966, I had tried to commit suicide because I was gay and felt ostracized. The issue of being a lesbian was terrible for me in those days, and I was secretly, sexually active but in the closet. My sorority sisters found out about me when I was caught by the dorm mother wrestling naked with my college and hometown love, Ernestine*. At that time, I was put on social probation and disbarred from the sorority meetings. My sisters ignored me in passing, and left me alone to suffer the Aquarian need for sisterhood and fraternity. It broke me apart. To make this long story short, since I am really telling you about Waymon, understand that I was so disillusioned by their group insensitivity, in the failed light of their stated ideals, that I went to my room and slit my wrists—just enough to get the attention and counseling I needed. Since that time, and up until about l996, I always kept a therapist in my life.
Thus, when TBird’s brother started to talk suicide, I encouraged him to come with me to see my therapist at the local hospital there in Los Angeles, not too far from Inglewood where I lived. He agreed, even though he was in a low state of mind. Naturally, I felt the need to hurry. This was before 911 and other emergency services of this kind. Well, I was about two blocks from the hospital when a California highway patrolman pulled me over for speeding. He asked for my license and told Waymon and me get out of the car. He was frightening because he was tall, well-built, and he wore a crash helmet and wire-rim shades that obscured his eyes completely. His nearly knee-high black boots, and that shiny badge, to say nothing of that big, holstered gun on his hip made him a model of intimidation. Frustrated by his stop, I frantically jabbered that I was hurrying to get this young man to the hospital because he was threatening to kill himself.
The officer, not an African-American or Eric Estrada, scowled and asked me to step away from the car. I got angry and said, “For what! I told you this is an emergency! I need to get my friend to the hospital!” That was when the officer put his hand on his gun, and repeated, ‘Step away from the car.” That incident was one of my most incautious days. But it was one of those days when I was protected and preserved for this writing. Death is never far from me. I have had some hairy brushes with it, this incident was my fourth since being born, and this was different because I was no longer in the Birmingham, Alabama where I was raised after my mother’s passing. There I knew better than to mouth off at a policeman. But because I was in California, I took one of those birth-given risks based on my assumptions about the myths of paradise and goodness of those who lived in the “warm, California sun.” I may have felt tough as a little, male identified butch on that day, but the menacing appearance, the manner, and the voice of the officer made me realize that I could be shot or killed for speeding, worst still for being Black.
When the CHP officer was satisfied that I had no outstanding warrants, and the car was not stolen and had no drugs or other contraband, he sent us on our way. I got Waymon to the hospital and into consultation that day.
But by contrast to the fierce little 104 pounds self-image I held, I did not let that incident color all of my future interactions with the police. I did not want to make that incident a template for suspicious, hateful or fearful interaction with all police. I just filed it in the disparate place of my disparate inner records, as an isolated incident. This may be letting go and letting God. It may be just letting go. I see that life is too short to carry the baggage of every instance of worldly negativity. No, I didn’t really hold onto that fear that the officer instilled that day because a week later, Waymon killed himself with a shotgun wound to his chest.
Incidents like these haunt me, but have served to change me toward caution and circumspection. I don’t tend to hold life’s racisms against Life and hence making Racism a power over my life. It is a power, but it is not controlling my life as Soul. I look to the hills from whence cometh my help; my help cometh from the Lord who made heaven and earth. This is not to say I do not grieve or hurt. It is to say I grieve and hurt with the knowledge that “all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and seek to do Its will.” Or as the sages say, “This, too, shall pass.”
I am not a fundamentalist. I have a fundamentalist’s Christian background and a PhD in Sunday school with a major in Bible study. Some verses and the old time religious conviction that informed my earliest days of faith are still with me. I am glad they are. I would be unable to speak of transformation in the serpentine fire without the foundation of the Baptist church or the ritual exposure I had to the Catholic faith as a girl. I believe in Jesus Christ, as a Son of God, and the Wayshower for humanity. His gifts are ours, and I accept Him as God’s emissary to my life. He advised me that my birthright is as an heir to the kingdom of heaven. I am a citizen of the heavens visiting earth. This, I know.
Still, I do miss those who leave me in this life, going on to the other side however that transformation works. I sometimes wonder if my mom, dad, friend Cheryl, Audre, Aunt Katherine, Grand Mama Hattie, among the many gone on, are having more fun there than I am here. Oh, I meet them in the occasional dream or feel them near on apt occasions, but I go on with life like a new born bear gobbling up every berry of delight that I can find. I ask that you do not take these remarks as being flippant or dismissive. I honor my incorporeal loved ones, as much as any one loves and misses their critical life companions—friends, lovers, and family, but I know they still live. I tell myself this truth because I can. I am allowed. It is how I keep peace with my soul.
These days I seem to others to be in two or three places at once. Some say I seem to have limitless energy and stamina, and that I am hard to catch up with because I move like lightning from one place to another, one project to another, one thought to another. All true, I can “get in the wind” as my dad used to say. But sometimes it isn’t true, and at those time that I write. Some of the essays to follow, show how untrue my divinity can seem. I revel in my human experience; it’s all toward the highest good. On the day I was born, I got my way. I got here early and opened my little eyes to the wonder of being in body. But before night fell, I was in an incubator. For every hurried advance I have made without adequate attention to consequence or heed of risk, I have paid for in financial loss, loss of employ, of sleep, loss time, love, and the understanding of others .
Spiritually, this is the acceptable trial and error of Soul, and I believe that we cannot really make a mistake that will separate us from the love of God, nor condemn us to any hell. What hell there may be lives in our minds where blame, suspicion, judgment, resistance, false memory and ideas, unforgiveness, as well as self-recrimination have control of one’s shackled higher thoughts. These constructs I have known as I know there are bones in my hands. These constructs of hell I grapple with daily and win. Because I know I am eternal. So except for lessening the incidents of going too fast toward goals and desires, I have come to my 60s with new found energy, greater certainty of my place in the world.
Where I once tended to get ahead of myself, even re-making plans I had made months before, I now ask of the pressing errand I have created for myself: “Do I have to do it right now? Do I have to get this letter to the post box even though it is after pick-up time? Do I have to finish this autobiography in one sitting? Do I need to drive at 80 miles an hour because traffic is travelling that fast? This is a mellowing, I suspect, brought on by the critical lightning injury that blinded, crippled and deafened me for a time. I had to be still. I had to be slow. I had to rely on God, and watch how It walked me back to health, through the adversity, some call the dark night of the soul. I have emerged from that dark, a Spirit whose eyes see only the Glory that was lit by that crackling, thunder-laden blaze of light ten years ago. That is one story I am definitely telling. But as a healer and an artist, among many self-definitions, these essays are a sampling of the herstory of my life . The title Spirit in the Dark was what finally I settled on because I have unfolded as a healer after so many other careers and expressions of talents. This has been a snaking road, downright serpentine, and I am just pausing to summarize at this juncture. I see the sunrise of my recalibrated life after being tried by fire in a moonless dark. “Come on tell the story, Morning Glory,” say Earth, Wind and Fire. Okay. but my name is not Morning Glory. It is SDiane, and the “S” stands for Spirithealer.
*names changed to protect privacy