The directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt were:
All of our mistakes have made us into the people that we are today, and so this is not meant to be an exercise in regret, but rather a fun look back with the thought, “that was maybe not such a great idea.” Tell us about a past exploit of your younger, less wise self.
It only took seconds for me to know what I would be sharing!
I moved from Florida to Washington State in 1966 to go to a conservative Christian school named Seattle Pacific College. Months before I arrived, the administration had granted students the privilege of being able to go to movie theaters. The school still had rules against wearing pants on campus, except on Saturdays, and they didn’t allow students to play cards, dance, or drink alcohol.
I believe it was sometime early in 1968 when I decided to become a volunteer at the First Avenue Service Center. That was a place where the homeless men and women from “skid row” could wash their clothes, bathe and have a place to hang out during the day.
I have no memory of how I found the Center but I loved being there. I talked with the people who frequented it and tried to bring some light into their days. I played a lot of pinochle with them even though I knew my college would not approve; pinochle was a major past-time for those who gathered at the Center. At some point, I wrote a letter to my mother saying something along the line of “Oh mom, I am meeting so many interesting people. I am getting to know ex-cons, drug addicts, drag queens, and prostitutes!”
I was very surprised when my mother wasn’t as excited about my adventure as I was. In fact, she told me she would be sending me a plane ticket home! I had no intention of leaving Seattle or the Center. While I don’t remember what happened next, since I never received the plane ticket, she must not have followed through on her threat. And I didn’t leave the Center.
My involvement with those people was not confined to my volunteer time. I would hang out with some of them outside of the Center as well. At one point, I started dating a young man who was a heroin addict. I was madly in love with him and did everything I could to spend time with him. To his credit, and my luck, he never asked me to get high with him. I had no interest in using any kind of drugs even though it was the 60’s. I just loved hanging out with him. I was so co-dependent though. If he wanted me to drive him somewhere I did it. I remember being so eager to see him that I drove back to Seattle non-stop after I had finished a summer job in New Mexico. The first thing he did upon my arrival was ask me to drive him to Portland … then … and I did it.
I didn’t know anything about co-dependency in those days, I just knew I was meeting fascinating people and my life was full of adventure. He eventually lost interest in me and took off. Looking back, I believe that he never considered me to be his girlfriend. I think I was mainly a chauffeur and he let me tag along at other times.
In hindsight, was it wise for a naive 19 or 20 year old to be volunteering at a place like that? Was it appropriate for me to be hanging out with “ex-cons, drug addicts, drag queens and prostitutes” outside of the Center? Was my “dating” a heroin addict a mistake? I would answer “No” to all of those questions, although I have to admit as I am writing this blog post, I am wavering on those answers a bit.
Would I want my daughter to have the experiences I had? I’d answer “Yes” in regards to some of them, but definitely not to all of them. I put myself into some very dangerous places and painful situations. Did I make mistakes? Yes I did, but I learned from them. And as Sreejit said in the prompt directions, everything that happened during that period of my life contributed to making me the person I am today.
I still remember a few of the people I met in those days. And the lessons I learned then allow me to do a much better job of keeping myself safe now. I also have a lot more compassion for my mother than I did at that time. I can certainly understand why she would react to my letter by telling me she would be sending me a plane ticket home!
Later in my life, I met my spiritual teacher, Amma. When I asked her for a spiritual name she named me Karuna. Karuna means compassion. I think that my sense of compassion and my adventurous spirit really blossomed and came to fruition during the year or so I volunteered at the First Avenue Service Center. I don’t have any regrets.
Photo Credit: Clipart Panda