On Saturday, October 13, 2001, a memorial service was held to honor the memory of Lorna Roberts, a shaman and one of Dianes most beloved friends. The following essay is Dianes tribute to that friendship.
Lorna had been diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago in 1997. She had a lumpectomy. Her children begged her to have a mastectomy. She had a mastectomy. Then she said, No more. She was a shaman. Shed been initiated into the South American lineage in 1988. It was her work to heal — to bring others from death to life, to accompany them on their last journey.
Lorna and I met in our backyard over shit — dog shit. We both lived on a private street in the West Village, a half a block from Greenwich Avenue and 10th Street. She lived at number 4 Patchin Place, where e.e. cummings lived for forty years. I live at number 10, where Marlon Brando and John Reed lived. Lorna was a poet. In everything she did — her singing, dancing, speaking, painting — there was poetry. I am a professional storyteller and covert revolutionary.
In 1986, for several days, each time I would open the back door to our garden I would step into dog shit. Finally, one morning I stepped over the dog shit and went and got a trowel. I carefully placed the dog shit on the trowel and knocked on Lornas back door. She opened it, smiling. I can hardly remember her ever not smiling. I held out the trowel and said, I believe this is yours. She who had the only dog on Patchin Place, studied it seriously, and with a twinkle in her eye looked up at me and said, Thank you. I am the owner. This belongs to Boogie. Her openness, her humor, her honesty, her intelligence led to an immediate friendship that grew with the years.
Two years later, we were sitting in the garden and she said to me, I do not know if I am overstepping the bounds of our friendship, but Im worried about you. Ive been watching you and your life force is slipping from you.
I had had eight car accidents since 1983. My nerves were frayed. My back and neck were in constant spasm. It was painful to walk, to sit. What do you suggest? I asked her.
Id be glad to work on you, but your structure is not holding and whatever I would do would not hold. I can recommend a very good chiropractor and then a body worker.
It took me nearly two years of very painful work three times a week, but then the spasms were over and I could stand and walk without pain. We began shamanic work in her room, which had once been e.e. cummings studio. Just to enter her room was to enter healing: the smells, the peace, the music, the stones gathered from all over the world. I lay on a beautiful rug and she would work on me for nearly an hour a half, after which we would talk about the blockages in the body and spirit. We had seven sessions.
Then I went with Lorna on two journeys to the jungle of Peru. There were twenty of us, and she took care of everyones physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. She was tireless, cheerful, clear, wise, very beautiful. I began both journeys terrified of everything: the Shining Path [guerillas], snakes, scorpions, lightning. I returned each time lighter, less protected, less fearful and more in awe of Lornas love for others and courage.
She made hardly any money on the journeys. And then began a spiral journey downward. She was divorced. Her father died. Her beloved Boogie died. She was forced to leave Patchin Place where we had had so many extraordinary fire ceremonies. She moved to an apartment in Brooklyn which had no fireplace for fire ceremonies. Her work was with fire. It was tending the fire and using the fire to burn the past and bring forward new intentions and manifestations. Nine months after she moved that apartment she was diagnosed with cancer and a few months later fell from a twenty foot loft, damaging her knee. In 1999, the cancer had spread to her bone and she was given three months to live.
In the last year of her life, she left New York. I visited her five times. While people praised me for visiting my friend who was dying, I kept wondering why I wasnt just staying with her. Although it was emotionally difficult, I loved being with her, living or dying. Despite the excrutiating pain she was in, her humor and wisdom were always present. We had long intimate conversations about love, life, death, art. Being near her felt like the best place to be.
The last three times I visited Lorna were at the home of her sister and brother in law in Kansas. On the first visit, Lorna was still strong enough that we planned her journey back home to New York. We had a last fire ceremony in her nieces large, wild garden. During the ceremony, I asked for an Open Heart. Her sister Kay asked for Transformation. Lorna asked for the Shaman. In our visits, I talked with Lorna about the strength and love that she brought to healing others. Eighteen people flew from all parts of the world to visit Lorna during the last six months of her life — eighteen people willing to change their lives because Lorna had so changed their lives. But when Lorna and I spoke about her healing herself, she admitted that it was much easier for her to give to others. And yet, she had at last asked for the healing powers of the Shaman.
The second visit to Kansas at the end of July was urgent. Her sister called to say it was the end. I flew out. Finn and Aris, her son and daughter, were there. Frederick and Sandra, her two apprentices, were there. We all arrived ready for the last ceremony. We held a beautiful fire ceremony in Kays backyard in Kansas. For fear of disturbing the neighbors, we used candles. But there was drumming, singing and dancing. Beautiful dancing. Lorna lay on a rug, glowing and so happy to see her family and friends united in love for her.
She spent the night in the garden. The next morning, she said she had never felt so loved. Frederick and her son warned her that she might lose consciousness, and urged her to consider making the transition now when all her loved ones were with her. She said it was not the time. It took a lot of strength, in the pain she was in, to say no, but she said no. I returned to New York. When I called the next day, she said she wanted to see me. I said I wanted to attend the Buddhist retreat of Thich Nhat Hanh that I had planned to go on so that I could be of more use to her. She answered, You are always of benefit. Dont let anyone tell you you are not of benefit. Ill wait.
Our last visit of five days was amazing. We lay in the garden — Lorna on a chaise lounge, me on the ground — and held hands and watched the monarch butterflies. It was August with cerulean blue Kansas skies. Lorna could hardly walk, but each day, with great effort and the support of two people, she would go down to the garden. She was in diapers and one of the days took too much Miramax so that she shat 16 times. I brought her bedpan, changed the shit, and we laughed over the beginning and end of our shitty friendship. I did not cry. I could not cry. I wanted her to live. If I cried, then she would be dead. As I was about to leave and go out the door to the waiting taxi, Lorna appeared at the top of the steps and began to walk down the steps by herself. Her last words to me were, When will I see you again?
I called every few days and spoke to Lorna, her sister, Kay, or her niece, Prairie. On Friday September 7th, Kays husband, Gary, said that Lorna was scarcely able to swallow. She was in terrible pain. She was barely conscious. Her daughter was arriving on Tuesday the 11th.
I was numb all day of September 11th . In the morning, I stood at Sixth and Greenwich Avenues with the crowds who watched the World Trade Centers second tower fall. I went home to watch it on TV so I could hear people saying what I had seen had truly happened. As I walked home, I prayed for those who had been harmed. I prayed this would be the moment that America would stand for world peace, not further violence. The sirens were blaring. The fire trucks were heading south towards the towers. I walked past Lornas house to get home. She would have been on the phone reassuring others, comforting others. But the phones werent working.
The next morning, Lornas sister called to say Lorna had died yesterday at 9:11 p.m., but the phone lines were jammed and she couldnt get through to me. Lorna had chosen September 11th to die. She had waited. I was in such shock from the events of the day that I couldnt take in Lornas death. No traffic was allowed below 14th Street, and the streets of the Village were eerily empty. I stayed inside and watched TV. I didnt want to do anything.
Then my upstairs neighbor knocked on my door to say that there was a candlelight vigil at our local fire station, a half a block away at 10th Street and Greenwich Avenue. Seven of the eight men who had gone out in the truck had died.
That was it. That was where I would go. I brought two large candles a blue one for the firemen, and a purple one for Lorna, my firelady. A quiet crowd of about thirty people were standing in the street, lighting candles, praying, reading the signs on the beautifully painted fire station — hand painted signs that said, We love you. Come home safely.
A young Chinese man was lighting the candles that the wind blew out. I lit my candles and saw a very large man arrive with an enormous bouquet of flowers. He put them with the other twenty or thirty bouquets. I said, Ill go get a vase. I went home and returned with a vase filled with water. He was still there. We put the flowers in the vase.
Then I sat down on an empty flower box next to a man who was reading a Bible. As he closed the Bible and was putting it in his briefcase, I asked him if I could borrow it. In the loveliest Irish brogue he said, Sure, please, Ill read with you. I remembered how every night Kay and Lorna recited together the 23rd Psalm (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want). As I finished reading the 23rd Psalm aloud, it hit me: there were a hundred candles burning, and I was attending the greatest wake anyone could imagine. I was sitting shiva for Lorna, and Lorna was accompanying the souls. She was doing the work she had always wanted to do: to love and care for others. She had waited for this moment. She could have died any day in the past two years. But now she was there, helping the others in their journey.
I began to sob. The large man came and sat down next to me and held me. Then I sobbed wrenching sobs. So loud. Everyone there began to cry as well. It was eerie because it was so silent in the Village. And then I stopped. Louis, who was comforting me, had lost two friends in the World Trade Center. The young Chinese man named Ming had been standing from the World Trade Center, and had seen people leaping from the building. He was shuddering and trembling as he described the people helplessly jumping — hundreds of people jumping — and I thought Oh, Lorna, take their souls with you. Help them. If anyone I know can comfort and care for others it is you and I love you so much.
May Lorna and all the others be comforted by our love. May peace prevail on Earth.
In loving memory…
April 18, 1942 — September 11, 2001.