There is no sun in San Francisco today. Only a mute white ceiling of soft clouds above the bus wires. As though a giant mother standing in the Pacific, with feet the size of trolley cars, unfurled a white bed sheet into the sea salt wind. Taking hold of its cotton edges, obedient winds then pulled it taut over Bernal Heights, over Alcatraz, over the two towers of the Golden Gate Bridge (which should really be named the Red Rust Bridge on account of its scabrous surface). So large is this sheet that it comfortably insulates the entire city. Satisfied with the fit, she then layered on another and tucked it under.
From the cafe window, the one with the jungle of tiny potted trees on the sill, I watch a young man pace the Geary Blvd sidewalk in oiled leather shoes. He holds his phone like he’s trying to catch any crumbs that may fall from his well trimmed beard. “I’m just pumped to make something that’s successful! I only do success!” He barks the words directly at my unkempt hair, but I suspect he is just yelling at the pane of glass that separates us.
Spinning, he inspects a yellow fire hydrant. Then he throws the heel of his shoe up on the nipple of the hydrant and scrapes off a wet chunk of dog shit. Satisfied, the man lifts his gaze to an approaching Uber. His impatient brown eyes inspect the sky as he ducks into the back seat. “Look. I won’t be happy until-” The Uber driver with the bluetooth ear piece slams the Escalade door. The black door flashes white as gloss catches light.
Until when, I wonder.
As the barista passes, I ask, “Where is the most spiritual spot in San Francisco?”
“The Mission,” blurts the barista. Her conviction surprising even herself.
My phone vibrates. The coffee surface ripples. A message from Tim: “My place in the Mission in SF is empty until Aug 14 if you want to use. Let me know?”
That was fast, I thought.
Within hours, I am in the middle of the Mission with my new friend (and Tim’s roommate) Dani. She has volunteered to hand out toothpaste, granola bars, socks and soap to the homeless and I have agreed to help.
For an hour, we walk the streets in the Tenderloin, handing out granola bars and sidestepping dehydrated puddles of pork grease and urine. Turning a corner, an elderly woman with a crooked back catches my eye. I approached her, stepping through the warm steam of a sewer vent, and entering the pocket of perfumed air under the pale flowers of an Acacia tree. She smiles, as though expecting my arrival. Her thin lips pull back to reveal soft pink gums. No teeth.
We began with introductions. Though I forget the words we used. Words didn’t matter all that much. She was beyond words, really.
She electrified the air.
Her squinty blue eyes were so alive with joy, I began to second guess my assumption that she was actually without a home. As if reading my thought, she reassured me.
“Been living out here for 22 years now.” She pointed to a small silver lamp on a white blanket turned grey with grease. “I found it and cleaned it up. Isn’t it beautiful?”
I agreed it was a lovely find.
She reached to my side and took my hand. “Come closer. Come look. It was so dirty when I first saw it, but it just took a couple wipes.” She laughed to herself as she plucked up the lamp and admired the metamorphosis.
I stayed with her a time. Listening to her eyes. As I did, her exterior shell of a body dissolved. I could see her. Not the soiled sweater, not her cracked leather cheeks. I could see her. The pure mind, the consciousness that lived clean and untouched, deep behind the blue fog of her milky retinas. After a time, we said our goodbyes. I excused myself with a slight bow, and released her hand.
The eye is a galaxy. The pupil, a black hole. That tiny black sphere is a sun. There, the colossal concentration of energy is so massive that not even light can escape its gravity.
Yet, if you look deeply, you can feel it.
There is no sun in San Francisco today, I thought. But I was mistaken. I am walking among a city of suns.