This story is not about what you might at first think it's about.
Nearly a year ago, Bruce and I put exactly 20 minutes of effort into finding a new place to live.
After stumbling onto a Craigslist ad for a gorgeous artist's studio in Mill Valley, I call the number and speak to a woman named Kathryn, who tells me she once hosted a storytelling circle for the better part of 16 years (!) and that she is currently waiting to see if her prospective tenant's grand piano will make it up the stairs.
I invite her to call me back if the piano doesn't fit. That call never comes, and no more Craigslist ads are answered.
10 months later, we decide over morning coffee that it's time to invest some real effort into finding our dream apartment. We agree to bring it up in causal conversations and to make a habit of checking Craigslist once or twice a week. Then we retreat to our separate corners of the city to work.
An hour later, I receive an email from him saying the place we'd loved in Mill Valley is back on the market and that I should call immediately!
I call, and Kathryn calls back. I remind her that we spoke a year ago and how did it go with the piano? She laughs; the piano never made it. She doesn't remember our conversation; she asks what I do for a living and tells me again about her storytelling circle. Then she invites us to come see the place on Thursday morning, which we hastily shuffle our schedules to do.
When we pull up at the very top of the hill to a house surrounded by redwoods, Kathryn emerges and ignores my proffered hand, instead pulling me into a sweet-smelling hug.
She is perhaps 65 years old and wearing unique two-toned glasses, a delicate embroidered jacket, and two printed scarves tied round her neck. She is warm, gracious, welcoming, and so obviously in her element as she leads us through the spaces she's spent thirty years creating.
Redwood ceilings and floors, enormous windows that open to the forest, a full kitchen with butcher block island, a wood burning stove, a table and chairs on a private patio, a skylight-and-window-surrounded bathtub and another outdoors to share. There are even redwoods growing through the porch. It is heaven.
Then she leads us through a maze of outdoor decks and nooks and studios, pausing to tell us the story behind this iron headboard suspended over that doorway; this couch gifted to fit that wall precisely; this pair of pots that appeared right when she needed homes for a pair of dying olive trees she'd rescued from a dumpster.
Every object has been chosen and placed to create a sum of beauty that is far greater than its parts; every room hums with loving care and creative joy.
When we arrive at the outdoor washer/dryer, she causally mentions that she "manifested" it for the tenants to use. I ask her to elaborate, and she turns to look directly at me.
"It's very simple," she says, "when you are falling asleep or just waking up, you must visualize the thing you want clearly in your mind's eye, and feel the feelings as though you have already received it. Then -- and this is very important -- you must let it go. And it will come to you."
Kathryn says, with a laugh, that what she really needs to work on is quantity -- because she didn't specify that she only needed one washer/dryer, and so ended up with six!
With every story she tells, I fall a little bit in love with Kathryn.
The fear I'd felt at having a landlord so close by has evaporated. The exorbitant rent, which nearly prevented Bruce and I from coming at all, seems suddenly reasonable and well within our capabilities.
Our eyes bright for the future, Bruce excuses himself to take a call in the car, and I remain on the deck with Kathryn. I am in awe of her and what she has created; she says she loves the way I talk. All systems are go; I can feel the kismet, the universe conspiring to make this most beautiful thing happen.
Suddenly, she grabs my wrist: "I need to tell you --
I'm going to give it to someone else."
"But maybe," she says slowly, her eyes searching mine, "maybe we can be friends?"
She gives an explanation, says she hopes I don't think she tricked us into coming all the way out to Mill Valley for nothing -- but that she just felt, for whatever reason, that we needed to meet.
And, strangely, I'm not mad. I don't feel tricked or manipulated or resentful in the least.
Instead, for reasons I can't explain, I feel a tiny wave of relief.
I relax, and reassure her, and say that yes, I would like very much to be friends, and perhaps I'll come visit the next time I hike Mount Tam.
Then, as we linger and continue trading stories, she tells me that a year ago, the doctors gave her anywhere between 2 weeks and 2 months to live.
But she refused to accept THEIR story, and now has every intention of sending them her blood work when it comes back clean, along with a list of all the things she did to heal herself.
Standing there gazing at this woman, I am overcome by the sense that something magical is unfolding in this very moment.
I feel, for the first time in my life, as though I have crossed paths with the kind of woman I aspire to be -- someone who has designed and built her own custom life, and devoted herself to making her ideas of beauty manifest for others to enjoy -- in such a peculiar way as to afford us the opportunity to truly know each other, outside the roles of landlord and tenant; and remarkably, before she is gone forever.
It's times like these that make you feel a profound sense of mystery and awe at the world you've lived in your whole life, and yet whose inner workings you will never truly understand.