Oh boy oh boy oh boy—another June 17 has passed (I’m writing this on June 18) and I’m still here. Every year, this is my day to be careful. And to keep breathing. I have two specific associations with June 17. The first, and lesser, is that it is (or was) the birthday of my last serious boyfriend. I really thought we were going to get married. That didn’t happen, and as we were breaking up, he gave me a (probably expensive) bottle of My Sin perfume. I hurled it against the wall behind the dumpster. So much for that. And him.
The real story: I began having asthma attacks in the late 80s. Nearly every night. A friend took me to every doctor we could think of, but none of them helped me. (At the time, my asthma was acute; now it’s merely chronic and under control.) In June 1992, I was very busy doing freelance writing when I could find an assignment, looking for a real job, serving as vice president of the Orange County chapter of Women In Management (which meant I booked the speaker every month)…and breathing. My second book, A Woman’s Book of Rituals and Celebrations, was being published, and I was teaching a weekly class called Practicing the Presence of the Goddess in my living room.
On June 17, I was especially busy. I was having an all-day asthma attack, but I was so busy, all I did was just keep sucking on my inhaler. I had a meeting with my tax preparer. Suck, suck, breathe. I had to turn in an article I’d written for a magazine. Suck, suck, breathe. When I started for home, the freeway was crazier than usual. Suck, suck, breathe. As soon as I got in my door, I had to run for the bathroom. Suck, suck, breathe. I was still in there when I heard the phone ringing in the living room. I couldn’t get to it in time to answer, but I listened to the message. My publisher wanted to send me to the Bay Area to do book talks and signings in San Jose, Berkeley, Oakland, and a few other cities. Breathe!
And I had a class to teach that night. Normally, I had a dozen students, all of them women who were just beginning to know about the Goddess. On June 17, only two showed up. One was Rose, who had also lived in Ferguson, Missouri, when she was a new bride and I was a teenager, but we didn’t meet until we were both in Southern California. The other was Louise, a visiting nurse one of whose patients was the woman who was my current AIDS buddy. (I was an AIDS emotional support volunteer, too.) I was so breathless that night, I could barely whisper.
“We think you need to go to the ER,” they said.
“Can you guys drive me there?”
So we got into Rose’s car and drove a mile to the Garden Grove Hospital. The last thing I saw was the glass doors of the Emergency Room. The next thing I remember…I was zooming around the ER, right under the ceiling, and watching the hands of the clock moving really slow. Next thing, I was lying on a gurney. A nurse was attaching me to a nebulizer, and Louise was sitting beside the gurney. She said Rose was settling my ER bill. I didn’t have insurance at the time, and Rose never, ever mentioned that she’d paid for my time in the hospital. She was a human goddess on earth.
And then it was suddenly dark all around me. That’s when I saw Her. The Goddess was standing beyond the foot of the gurney. At first, She seemed far away, and She was huge and black, so black I could see stars and comets and planets, the whole universe, in Her body. A minute later, She was people-size and close enough that I could see Her face. She smiled at me. I guess I blinked, because when I looked again, She was standing beside the gurney, near my right shoulder. I remember feeling a hand on my heart.
They admitted me to the hospital, and when the respiratory therapist found out I had two published books, all he wanted to talk about was how to get published. He also made sure I kept breathing, of course, and the next day we laughed together when I told him about some adventure I’d recently had with my publisher. (BTW, I called them back and they flew me up to the Bay Area, but that was a couple months later. I led rituals in Berkeley and Oakland.)
I stayed in the hospital for three days, and the Goddess seemed to be in the room with me. Every time I thought to look, there She was, still standing near my right shoulder. She never spoke, and I’ve never known Her name, but I felt some kind of teaching coming into my head. Into my whole body. I understood that the lost boyfriend was unimportant, that my rebellious son just needed less smother-mothering, that I could call my aunt and ask to borrow some money, and that, if nothing else, I should try temp office work for a while. The Goddess fed me some common sense. And I began to breathe regularly again.
Rose and Louise came back on Friday to take me home. Louise had also fed my cat while I was in the hospital. When I told them that I’d met the Goddess, they both totally believed me. Then they asked me if I’d be all right by myself. Before they left, we held a little spontaneous ritual in which we thanked Her for standing with me.
This is a true story.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.