Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"Is this your first time? You look nervous."

The first memory I have of being at church is amusing to say the least. I was about 2 ½ years old; in addition, for visual purposes (or laughs) I was pudgy with a pretty legit mullet and had my bag of Cheerios clenched tightly in my little hand. Neither the priest’s captivating sermon nor the choir’s angel-like voices hold any significance in my vivid memory. However, I distinctly remember the look of mortification on my mothers face when she finally snatched me off the floor, after I had crawled under 25 pews and was only feet from the alter (the final destination).

Apparently, she got over the embarrassment caused by her turbo-charged tubby toddler, because from that day on I attended church every Sunday with my mom and two sisters. For a solid 18 years, I woke up each week and headed to 10 o’clock mass; not necessarily, because I wanted to or was I forced—just because that is what I did. Religion quickly became a huge part of my life.

For me being a Catholic was pretty much the inevitable: my mother was a devout Catholic, I was to be raised in a 100% Irish Catholic neighborhood, and I was baptized as an infant. At the budding age of four, I began preschool at a private catholic school and as you can see, things have not changed much. Ok, unfortunately that might be a bit of an exaggeration, a lot has changed since I was four. Two years ago I moved halfway across the country and was far far away from the conservative Midwest setting I was so used to. Because of my new self-ruling lifestyle, I found myself waking up at 3 p.m. and eating ice cream for breakfast. However, my sleeping and eating habits were not the only things that changed. I could have never expected this to happen but I stopped going to church—completely!

The last nine months of my life have been nothing short of a roller-coaster, sometime in August ‘06, everything began spiraling downward and I had totally lost control. The once comforting relationships with my parents, friends, and boyfriend were frustrating, I was struggling with school, I was constantly stressed with work, and even my health was suffering. I tried everything in my power to fix it, yet it seemed the harder I tried the worse it all got (such is life I suppose).

Last Thursday morning (May 3, 2007), as I sat on Lone Mountain watching the sunrise, the sun’s rays seemed to almost be pointing at USF’s St. Ignatius church. There it was—the light at the end of the dark tunnel, the dark tunnel that had become my life. At 12:05 p.m., I stood hesitantly in the doors of St. Ignatius, one of San Francisco’s most beautiful churches. A Christian church is a place of worship, a place where everyone is welcome, and most importantly where everyone is accepted—yet I was instantly overcome with feelings of guilt and regret, as though I had let someone down (God, my mom, myself).

The priest greeted the people and spoke the words I had heard a million times before “The Lord be with you,” as the congregation rose and replied, “And also with you.” My heart had slowed down and I apprehensively made my way to a pew in the back. Jim Thompson, an 81-year-old St.Ignatius regular, slid in next to me in a near empty church, which seemed odd, but I was glad he did. “This your first time or something? You look nervous,” said Thompson, as he winked at me then smirked. I was so caught of guard, my thoughts were all over the place—who does this guy think he is, oh no…he knows I’m a bad person. “Um…um…no,” I began stuttering, and then quickly interrupted my stammering self. “No, this is not my first time in church. Yes, this is my first mass at St.Ignatius,” I said in a firm tone.

Mass continued on as it always does: stand up, sit down, stand up, kneel…ect. The congregation recited the usual prayers (the Our Father and Nicene Creed), said their Prayers of the Faithful, and offered the sign of peace to one another. I followed along and participated as I had so many times before, and it felt good. However, because of my current state of life and the fragile old man’s comment, I sat consumed and distracted by the profusion of thoughts in my head. Mass had come and gone, and I was shocked when I read the time on my cell phone—it was 3:23 p.m. As I moseyed my way towards the door, I was mesmerized by my first experience at St. Ignatius almost as though a huge weight had been lifted.

Unfortunately, church & religion do not have magical powers so my life was not instantly made perfect. However, reintroducing the sense of faith and spirituality into my life and remembering that I am always welcome in the house of the Lord, I believe are lessons essential not only for me but for everyone.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Check This Out!

Most of the major cities in the United States or the world for that matter seem to have one thing they are famous for. Paris has the Eiffel Tower with its 1665 steps while Chicago’s Sears Tower stands strong as the tallest skyscraper in the world. The Taj Mahal in India was completed almost 400 years ago and it is impossible to make the guards laugh at London’s Buckingham Palace. San Francisco has so many amazing attractions it is hard to pick the one that stands out the most. However, the Golden Gate Bridge easily trumps candidates such as the Trans America building and Golden Gate Park.

The Golden Gate Bridge has become an international icon for San Francisco as well as the United States. It was painted orange vermilion which is known as "International Orange." As opposed to painting the bridge a more standard black or grey, it was painted orange to heighten visibility for sailors coming into the bay. The bridge opened to traffic on May 28, 1937, and as of June 2005, 1,779,032,891 vehicles had crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.

The facts and data about the GG bridge go on and on, but numbers and dates are not whats important. Maybe it is because I am from Chicago that I get so excited about the bridge. However, regardless of whether I am heading to Stinson beach for a day of fun or Marin Country Day School to coach a volleyball team, every time I am on that bridge a wave of excitement comes over me. Rusty Smith, who has been a toll booth worker for eleven years, said “I don’t know what it is about that bridge but the smiles on the faces that drive through here everyday are what keep me going.”

The 6,450 foot suspension bridge is absolutely breathtaking, whether it is glimmering in the hot summer sun or the towers are poking through dense San Francisco fog. If you have never been to San Francisco or never driven on the bridge…I strongly suggest you do.

1. Eleven men died during the construction of the bridge.
2. The “Half-Way-to-Hell-Club” is a group of 19 men, whose lives were saved by a safety net,
which was used as a precaution during the construction.
3. The bridge cost $35,000,000.
4. The two towers stand 746 feet above the water.
5. The bridge was originally named "Chrysopylae," meaning "golden gate," by Captain John
C. Fremont in 1846. (Thank God they rethought that one!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Herb Haven

San Francisco became something of a safe haven for hippies, hemp, and herb almost forty years ago when the members of the Grateful Dead, who would ultimately become one of the greatest bands of all time, bought a house on Ashbury St. The Grateful Dead basically created the framework for what we call the ‘hippie counterculture’ of the late 1960’s. A lifestyle based on the ideology of “peace, love, and personal freedom.” To this very day one would not have to look far to find a hippie, whether they are 17 or 75, snacking on ‘special brownies’ in Golden Gate Park or the nearby neighborhood known as Haight Ashbury.

Glorious Golden Gate Park is known for a million different things: beautiful lakes and waterfalls, gardens, museums, endless trails, and even a herd of buffalo. However, if you know where to look, somewhere in the midst of the 1017 acres you can find your one-stop cannabis super shop—hippie hill. Hippie Hill earned its name during halcyon days in the 1960’s when George Harrison could be found playing his guitar and free-thinkers and drum circles called it home.

An unsuspecting tourist may be caught of guard by the cloud of smoke that lingers above the grassy rise or the man dressed-up like Darth Vader drinking a 40 at noon on a Monday afternoon. However, locals find hippie hill an “amazing place to get away from the city and there is never a shortage of ganja” said the man in the Vader get-up, who wished to remain anonymous.

The days of the Grateful Dead and deadheads are long past, so one might wonder what they would find if they stumbled upon hippie hill today?

An average day on hippie hill--On the sun-swept hillside there would be an abundance of people playing bongos, guitars, frisbee, and soccer. Free-spirited homeless people lay relaxing burning some fern along with long lost hippies and misplaced business men. Cowboy hats, skateboards, dread locks, and boom boxes are just a few of the odd things a person might see on this holy hill. Fresh baked ganja cookies and treats can be purchased from fifty year old men, who are missing their four front teeth and their left shoe. A homeless man rocking a Cubs batting helmet might be throwing tennis balls into the 'crowd', like a spirit squad at an NBA game. And a plethora of people can be found merely enjoying the sun and the contact high they can experience on this city-park hideaway!

Want to relax? Want to get high? Want to experience a day like you did back in the 60's? Want to see homeless people heckling each other? If you answered yes to any of these questions then hippie hill in Golden Gate Park is the place for you!