This story is an event that happened before I converted. It is a simple introduction to the strange things that happen in real life.
I put this story to be somewhere around 2001-2002. I know for a fact that it happened on April 1. Because it happened at Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Yes, I was still a pagan back then.
Before you ask, no, I did not partake that day, nor at any time anywhere near. I may have had weed 3 times in my life.
At any rate it begins with an invitation.
Just before I left for work, an old friend called me and said he wanted to meet me. He was a former boyfriend, so it was somewhat unexpected, as things had ended ‘not well’.
We weren’t screaming at each other, but it was bad enough I didn’t expect to hear from him for a while. Still, it had been a year, and I had been friends with him for years before that, so I had hopes it would work out Okay.
But he wanted to meet at Hash Bash.
WHY? He said he wouldn’t get much time off because of his work, and this was the only time he was free. So I gave him a reluctant Yes.
We had had fun just wandering around the madness one year when we were dating– again not actually taking weed. Maybe we were attending ironically. My fevered plans hoped to take him somewhere else were we could talk and ‘hash out’ where our friendship was, or if it was. A sober hashing, I hoped. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to say, and not wondering why it had to be this way.
The way the timing worked out, I didn’t have time to get dressed after work, and my job was in security. I was a security guard for a car company at the time, which required a rather constabulary looking uniform. This had a tendency to upset the locals, especially the inhaling types. I was not amused, but figured I could slip on a tee-shirt and thus look (mostly) harmless. Besides, the year I’d gone (several years before), it had been shockingly laid back.
But …It was incredibly crowded this year, with people wandering casually in the streets. Most of my usual places to park were completely taken up, so I put down some actual coin in one of the paid parking lots. I chose the old 20’s parking place that was built like the Alamo of car storage. It was white, swanky art deco, built of solid concrete. It was artistic like modern architecture isn’t, and had shwoopy on and off ramps. It was also impossible to get in save via your car, as the doors only opened from the outside. You had to use a building to get back to your car. This building had guards 24-7.
Turned out, I chose wisely.
As I walked through the crowds of people “hanging out” and stoned, I went past the large field where things tended to resemble a dead head convocation. Instead, there were there was an angry mob of people carrying bottles beset by police officers. Nobody told me about the riots– and I’d listened to news radio from A2 all the way there. I snuck past the field by blending with the spectators and more quiescent attendees. I managed to avoid the sweep.
I wasn’t sure my friend had heard about the riots, and he didn’t pick up his phone. He may not have been carrying it, I reasoned, so I went to the meetup point anyway. I planned on telling him we should get out quickly and maybe meet another time.
Instead there was another group of angry people that looked about ready to start something. They were shouting. While this wasn’t much different than your average UofM football riot, I was still alarmed. I wove in and out of the place trying to find my friend.
Shocker, he wasn’t there. Instead I found a group of angry people who pointed at me, screaming about pigs. Then they approached me, pushing other people out of the way to get at me. I turned and ran. This reminded me that I was still in my work uniform.
Instead of trying to outrun them, I dashed into an alley way, then into a head shop four doors down. Then I bought the most obnoxious looking tee they had, and swapped shirts. Oh and one of those massive knit caps that at least looked friendly. I took the back way out and paid the girl extra, thus emerging out of a different street.
This worked, mostly.
Then I looked back and realized that the sidewalk I had come to my meeting place was blocked off by the police. The whole road including the sidewalk was blocked by yellow barricades and flashing police cars. I had to go around the block the long way on the other side and cut back to the parking structure, if it wasn’t completely barricaded off. I didn’t feel like taking the bus home– especially since I had stuff in the car that needed to go home with me.
So I cut around two blocks instead of one, vaguely aware that someone was following me. I tried the first block only to find about a dozen vandals with lead pipes and baseball bats destroying the landscaping and grounds of a local church that was right down town.
Fortunately for me, the church was towards the end of the block so I they couldn’t see me. I snuck past and went to the next block to cut over. Nobody followed– at least not yet. It looked safely empty and wide enough to cut through.
But after I committed to being down this cut through, I noticed that this was not a street, but an alley way.
Then I noticed that six of those guys abusing church property thought I was more interesting than trashing something that couldn’t fight back. The third thing I noticed was that this alley was a dead end. My heart was pounding, and I had sweat through that teeshirt, even though it was 28 degrees out. They were catching up with me and made a disturbing roaring sound. It was fairly clear that they were not rational.
I aimed for the high hedge at the end of the alley way. It might at least afford enough protection that they would have a hard time getting to me. I ran as fast as I could over the pot hole laden dirt road, tightly packed but still hosting icy patches. They were still catching up.
The hedge concealed a high iron fence made of pipes as thick as my arm. There were eight bars, including one fairly close to the ground. But I dug around into the hedge anyway, hoping there was some give or purchase. As I got nearer the end, I could hear them shouting at me, something about a tasty morsel and having the munchies. I don’t think they were talking about brownies. When I got to almost the end, I found a gap in the fence. I struggled through the dense foliage and found myself passing through, though the branches tore at my clothing and face. I didn’t care. It was better than being a victim in the alley behind me.
Then there was some give and I fell forward onto a beautifully manicured lawn. There was a lovely peaceful garden all around me. I struggled to my feet and walked to the nearest patch of concrete. I was possessed by hyper vigilance. I could only see threats, not beauty.
What if they followed me in?
But I heard them digging around in the bushes, yelling and swearing. They even used their baseball bats on the fence but they did not find my little cut through. They swore and swore and eventually wandered off. I couldn’t relax until they left.
Then I could finally breathe and admire my surroundings. There was the rich green grass, and the tall hedge and containers of flowers looking too full for the season. Granted the greens were mostly evergreens, but even the lawn was a deep rich green of mid summer instead of the pale fitful green from early April (in Michigan). It was much warmer inside this hedged in area than it was outside. But there was a lot of concrete tile walk way and big container pots with wonderful blooming plants. Couldn’t the concrete absorb the sun and conserve heat? I figured that had to be the explanation.
I walked around to calm my pounding heart. In the very center of this refuge was a taller than life statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She stood on a platform, looking both brave and serene. She was sculpted of smooth creamy marble, her arms outstretched with blessings. There was a marble bench directly in front of her, so I went to at least give thanks for her protection in this alarming time. I felt nothing but peace.
I was an honorable pagan, I gave thanks to whom it was owed.
She said, You’ll be back.
I said, I doubt it.
Then I realized I had a new problem. How would I get out? Sure I was safe, and that was important… but I had to get to my car, eventually. I didn’t have any friends who lived down town at that time. The door into the church was locked, and there was no other exit. I went back to my corner and could not find where I had gone though to get in.
This was both intriguing and disturbing.
Then I tried the door again. Still locked. So I decided to round the building and see if there was a gate by the front of the property next to the building… sometimes those have locks you can open from inside but not from outside. Instead, I found another bench, and a priest enjoying a cigarette in the shadow of the building. He looked disturbed that I had found him.
“Hi.” I said.
He gave me an unreadable expression, both perturbed, amused and startled.
After a pause he greeted me. “Hello, can I help you?”
“Yes. I appreciate your hospitality, but now I should go home. Do you know how I can get out?”
“Yes, I do.” He said with growing amusement, “But do you know how you got in?”
This question annoyed me greatly. I was there, wasn’t I?
“Um, yes, I got through the fence over there. In the corner. There’s a gap.”
He looked at me with something like wonder, but still highly amused.
“Really? There’s a gap? Can you show it to me, please?”
So I led him to where the hedge corner that had saved my life.
We both looked at the fence. It was tall. It was sturdy. It was completely without a gap. Each unit, including the corner was WELDED together so there was no possible gap.
“I had this fence built because of the vandals had a tendency to trash this quiet place of meditation several times a year. We made double certain there was no way in. The vandalism fortunately stopped. Then we started getting a stranger problem. It is less burdensome but none the less perplexing. There is a homeless Vietnam vetran from the neighborhood who appears in here. I still don’t know how he does it, being in a wheel chair and all. But Mary lets him in. So you must understand before you leave, that you are here because she let you in. I don’t have a say, one way or the other.”
I looked him in the eye. “I am not a Catholic. I am not even Christian. But I am not without honor. I thanked her for her space and her protection. I know I owe her something.”
He smiled. “You’ll be back.”
I started. “That’s what she said.”
He laughed. “See you soon.” he said.
As a pagan, I was annoyed and unsettled by the whole exchange. I knew for a fact I would never be Catholic… Except… Surprise.