Anna has already grabbed a booth for us at the diner near my house by the time I arrive. It’s been more than a week since my disastrous evening with the girls, and I’ve been under a cloud ever since.
“Thanks for meeting me—especially on such short notice,” I say to my sister, leaning over the Formica table to peck her cheek before sitting across from her on the red vinyl banquette. She beams as usual in her sequined white blouse, festive heart earrings, and, of course, the ever-present twinkle in her eyes. "No problem. You sounded like you needed a pick-me-up. I consider that my specialty.”
I look around the diner. It’s one of those modern places that strives to look old-fashioned; meanwhile truly authentic places are closing down all over town, victims of rising rents and changing palates. I picked this spot because I’ve always adored the vintage 1950s Coke signs adorning the walls, though when I spy them now, they strike me as grimy.
Anna leans forward, eyeing me intently. “What’s up?”
I swivel my attention back to her. “I wish I knew,” I reply glumly. “It’s nothing I can put my finger on. I mean, I’m bummed Brad hardly calls me, but I know he’s busy. Work’s fine. My friends are okay, even if we didn’t have the greatest night out last time. There’s Mom, of course, but nothing new there: just her desire to knock me down at every turn.”
“You know she doesn’t mean—,” Anna softy defends her.
“You know she does mean it,” I interrupt firmly. “Not with you. Only me. But Mom hasn’t done anything worse than usual. Nobody has. They haven’t changed; it’s me who has. Stuff that used to be fun grates me like nails on a chalkboard. I can’t seem to gin up a passion about anything.”
Anna looks at me for a full minute without responding. This habit of hers, taking her sweet time to reply, always drove me crazy. But now I appreciate that she wants to clarify her thoughts rather than spout the first, maybe off-the-mark idea that springs to her mind.
“You’re having a spiritual crisis,” she replies at last. She says this with the certainty of a doctor who, reading the X-rays, has diagnosed a broken bone.
“Well, when you’re a minister, I suppose everything looks like a spiritual crisis,” I say lightly. “Like when you’re a hammer. . . .”
The waitress comes by to pour me coffee and Anna, tea, and we pause our discussion while she fills our cups. Anna turns to fully face the woman. She looks about twenty-five, with rosy cheeks and dark hair pulled into a wispy ponytail with fringed bangs. Anna asks the woman how she likes her job, if she has any kids, whom she prefers in the upcoming special election. This desire to speak to everyone as if they were her BFF is another trait of Anna’s that I never understood. I mean, Anna doesn’t ever eat here, so it’s not like she’s going to see the woman again. But this Queenie, if the perky Hi, I'm Queenie name tag pinned next to her very open neckline is to be believed, grows more animated with every exchange. After a few minutes of this, she pumps Anna’s hand with unbridled joy, flashes a hundred-watt smile on both of us, and practically skips away. Anna watches her flit behind the counter for another minute before resuming our conversation.
“I know you think I’m single-minded, Lorna. But the reason I can recognize the symptoms of spiritual drifting is because I had it, too. In my early twenties. I just stopped feeling like my life had meaning. It’s what set me on my ministerial path.”
“I will not become an interfaith minister!” I jokingly protest, screwing up my nose like I’ve just eaten something awful for added effect.
“I’m not saying you should,” Anna laughs. “But it sounds like you’re disconnected. I think you’d benefit by developing . . .” She pauses, reaching for the right words, and for some reason I feel incredibly patient. “Well, I think it would help you to develop at least a passing acquaintance with the amazing energy of the universe that’s inside you—that’s inside everyone.”
“Have you been listening to that Serena Robbins radio host?” I demand, smiling.
“Oh! You’ve finally heard her,” she shrieks. “I love that woman! So what did you think?”
“Dunno. At first she seemed so airy-fairy. But I’ve listened a few times now, and I have to admit she does always make me feel better. Like she’s tapping into something meaningful and deep.”
I guess my response was all the opening Anna needed. In any event, that’s how I wind up in the foyer of her house, arms teetering under the dozen spiritual books she’s insisting I read.
The names on the spines are either new to me—Thich Nhat Hahn, Ernest Holmes, Gregg Braden—or people I had no idea concerned themselves with spirit, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, that essayist we were forced to read in high school.
“When you finish those, I’ve got plenty more,” Anna says, giving me such a massive good-bye hug, I’m surprised the books don’t tumble from my overwhelmed arms.
A few days later, I’m sprawled on my living room couch, tearing through my ninth book. Until now, my spiritual repertoire has pretty much been limited to the Bible (from childhood religious classes; I haven’t cracked it since). But these very different spiritual tracts—encouraging my personal union with my highest essence, and offering various road maps to get there—are opening me up to a different world. I’m starting to see that life isn’t about what happens; it’s about how I decide to react to those things. It’s up to me whether I choose to react by feeling angry, sad, and aimless—or, as my higher self does, loving, appreciative, and joyful. It’s my call whether to live from a place of connection or separation.
Although I can tell that putting these ideas into practice won’t be easy, I feel a bit like the baby boom generation must have felt when it got its first taste of the Beatles. There’s a whole world out there I never knew existed. I am awed by these teachings. And I am on my way.
Excerpt from Downward Dog, Upward Fog
Downward Dog, Upward Fog
a contemporary women's novel written for spiritually seeking women