The ultimate goal of our training under MD, at least in part, was to become free of enslavement to our sin, to our addictions, to anything that would limit our ability to love others in purity and truth; and additionally, for the men at least, to be fearless in the face of danger and difficulty so as to be of benefit to others in their need, in times of great difficulty. I’m sure there were many other goals as well as these which I never fully understood, due to the narrow limits of my intelligence and perception, but also because I didn’t stay to complete the course. When I left in the spring of 1997 I had completed about a third of it so I will likely never know what more was intended.
Our final year together saw our small community living in many various locations, together and apart. We lived on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, in Santa Barbara, in an old chicken coop south of Sebastopol, and several miles up a dirt road off Highway 1, in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in what is known as the West Waddle Creek State Wilderness. The road in was essentially a path which led up into the wilderness and in several cases, it had washed out entirely and was impassable, and one would have to walk the final mile or two up the hill to get to the old shell of a cabin which was standing on the property which we rented. The name of the road was ‘Last Chance Road’ which I found amusing, and I wondered if there were some poetic and prophetic nuances to this which I should be aware.
While in Tahoe M finally gave up, and left the community one night after another particularly difficult scenario. It surprised me on the one hand because he was among the toughest people I’ve ever met, and he seemed to be able to endure anything, but then it didn’t surprise me as well, because he was pushed to an extreme limit repeatedly, and eventually everyone has a limit I expect.
Also while in Tahoe I was finally asked to sign the contract agreement that everyone else had signed several years earlier, acknowledging the potential dangers inherent in the course and our willingness to take part freely, without coercion. This also surprised me because I didn’t think I would ever be asked to sign this contract, especially now after so much had transpired and I had already gone through so much.
I continued to work on landscape projects throughout the bay area during the week along with S and J; and the three of us would return to visit with MD and W over the weekends. Another young woman had also joined our community during this time and she stayed with MD predominantly, although she also worked with us on landscapes. Over time she became an integral member of our community and we all cared for her deeply. So it was, one Friday evening the three of us took the long drive up ‘Last Chance Road’ to join MD and the ladies at the cabin for the weekend.
The next morning we joined MD as he was grading and leveling a large area beneath a huge pine tree on the property. I don’t recall what was going to go in this place, but he had been working throughout the week cutting and filling this location, and now the three of us came with shovels and picks to join in the work. I began to shave away at the uphill side of the excavation with a pick, loosening the clay soil and eating away at the hillside, while S and J worked together to grade the area smooth along with MD. I was working some thirty feet away from the others as I heard the familiar escalation of rhetoric and volume that denoted the beginning of a ‘scenario’. It appeared that I wasn’t involved as I continued to work, and it seemed that it was only involving S and J but I turned to observe as MD swung a shovel in wide arcs towards the others. They dodged the shovel and moved away as MD came around towards me. In a flash I discovered that I was involved in this one after all. The shovel came down upon the crown of my head and I staggered for a moment.
In the next moment I considered retaliation with my pick but I didn’t want to hurt anyone, then I considered escape over the embankment which I had been creating with my pick, just moments before, but I didn’t want to run away, so I chose to endure what was coming as best as I could. Another several blows from the shovel crashed down upon my scalp and I began to feel blood washing down over my face and neck. I staggered and fell to my knees as I raised my arms in defense. I felt the shovel blade hit my arms and I lowered them to support my weight now so I wouldn’t collapse to the ground. I felt it was imperative not to collapse and I willed myself to stay on my hands and knees against the coming blows. My world became very small now as I concentrated my consciousness within myself to endure the attack. I closed my eyes and focused all my effort to try to stand up again. I believed that I was doing it and felt myself rising to my feet and I was relieved and encouraged that I hadn’t been conquered. I thought I had risen by my own efforts but only later learned from MD that in the midst of my trial, my dear friend J had come to my side and held me and it was by his help and support that I was able to stand up again. The scenario ended and J helped me walk up the hill towards the cabin.
On the way up the hill MD walked past us by a different trail, and he and I had a brief exchange. I was covered in blood and had a number of wounds on my head and arms but I was in good spirits all things considered, and I imagined how strange I must look being up here in the woods and so damaged in my body. Maybe I was delirious, but I joked about how tough the squirrels are in these hills, implying that my wounds had come in an attack by an angry squirrel. We smiled and laughed for a moment, and then continued on our way. The others helped clean me up and bandaged me, and I went off to my small campsite across the road, out on a small rocky promontory overlooking the ocean in the distance far, far below.
Interactions like this one and others like them made me stronger, more resilient and increased my confidence. I felt that I could face pretty nearly anything or anyone and nobody could really harm me. This of course was one of the goals of the course, but another was to be ready and willing to fight back if the situation warranted, and this goal I never reached. I just didn’t want to hurt anyone, at least not anyone I knew, if I could help it. So in subsequent altercations, when MD would try to get me to fight back and defend myself I never was able to do it.
Eventually we would be on our own again, the course would end, and we would be sent out to help bring healing to “a world at war with itself,” as MD put it, “to defend the weak against ravenous wolves intent on destruction, and to stand in the breach, offering ourselves in service to others.” My personal weaknesses precluded me from arriving at this worthy goal, but I achieved some small measure of it before I left and went out on my own.
(to be continued)