[Annapurna and Steven Palmer at the
corner of Haight and Ashbury, October 2005]
Thank you for spending time talking to me by phone yesterday. I had the need to be close to your mom and speaking to you helped me connect. I appreciate this blog as well since it allows me to relate my story of meeting Annapurna and the magic that she helped weave into my life.
I met Annapurna in October 2004 on a flight from San Francisco to New York where I live. I am a clinician at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York where I work as a physician assistant in the outpatient HIV clinic. So I was returning from a conference in San Francisco. She was on her way to Europe with her mother for a cruise. She had the window seat, me the aisle. I don’t remember what sparked our conversation, but it might have been some remark about how often I have to get up to pee, a predicament that Anna shared and I think she was relieved that she didn’t have to excuse herself a dozen times since she simply followed me to the head for our micturation excursions.
Anyways, through small-talk, I found out that Annapurna had graduated Berkeley in 1966 and moved to the Haight-Ashbury shortly thereafter. Now I was hooked. I am an archivist of the Haight-Ashbury and am conducting interviews for an oral histories project on the Haight, so I was drooling. She spoke about the scene, seeing Joplin and Big Brother and what a thrill the weekend dances at the Avalon and Fillmore were. She related having gone to the Human Be-In on January 14, 1967 and what a blast it was to see how many other people were heading in the same cosmic direction. She didn’t much like the Grateful Dead – she just didn’t think they were that good. She told me how she picked up a bad vibe at Altamont so went back to the car to wait until the concert was over. She discussed an intense acid trip she had out on the beach at the Great Highway and how she saw an image of Christ on the cross with arrows piercing him in several directions. I told her that image would have freaked me out. She told me she just saw it as another dimension. She told me she had 13 bad trips before she had a good one but continued on because she thought it was important. She was impressive and daring, a real pioneer of mind and spirit, as well as a strong woman.
Now here is where the story gets a little self-indulgent, but speaks to what a magic encounter we had that day. I had gone through a very rough period from the spring of 2001 through the end of 2003/beginning of 2004. In brief, I turned 40 which was followed by the 9/11 attack on New York, the death of two grandmothers, my partner, David, becoming deathly ill, the death of a patient from medicines I had prescribed which made my soul feel nauseous, and then turning 42, the age my mother was when she died. It was an intense period but the intensity of what I was going through felt somehow larger than the sum of all those events. By the time I had met Annapurna, the worst part was lifting though I still felt tenuous and reeling. She asked me my astrological sign (how 60’s!). I replied that I was a triple cancer to which she said, “wow, you’ve just come through a rough 2 and a half year period.” She said something about Mercury, etc. But I was just floored by her statement. I had been so cocksure before 2001 in the worst new-agey way. Then I was brought to my knees from this extended period. Annapurna caught me as I was brushing off but still dazed and wondering how to proceed. Her statement and the conversation that ensued helped steer me toward new openings when I wasn’t sure there were any. Let’s say I was having a crisis of faith.
Annapurna got me in touch with Jo’Ann Ruhl, a psychic who read my chart and gave me some insights that further normalized that difficult period. Jo’Ann got me in touch with Irene Siegel, an EMDR practitioner, and my life again feels fresh and expansive. I don’t mean to have this sound like hyperbole. I really see that “chance” meeting in the plane as pivotal to where I am now. Annapurna was not pushy. She was a darling and seated right next to me when I need nothing other than what she had to say.
In 2005, she met David and myself at the corner of Haight-Ashbury for tea at a nearby cafe. It was so nice to spend the afternoon with her. As I mentioned earlier, she was a doll. She was jubilant, unassuming, and pointed in her speech. When I found out she had died I was stunned and brokenhearted at the idea of her loss. But the sadness I feel about Annapurna dying coexists with immense gratitude. In the movie Shadowlands Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger are lovers. DW is dying from cancer. While on vacation enjoying themselves, DW brings up her cancer. Hopkins interrupts her and says “let’s just have happy times”. She says, “the happiness we feel now is the sadness we feel later – that’s the deal.” Thus it is when I think about Annapurna, a mixture of feelings I wouldn’t miss for the world.
I wish for love and happiness for Annapurna and for all those who knew and loved her.