God Bless the Sisters, and God Bless Ruby
In my last post I wrote about San Francisco Pride, and shared how meaningful the event is for me. The celebration was marred this year by a tragic event, a multiple shooting on Market Street perpetrated by someone not of our community. I’d just left the street party half an hour before, and heard the shots from my home, followed by shouts of fear. I felt that clenching feeling in my chest. Who had been hurt? Why? Had our community just been taken away from us?
I couldn’t hold back the tears as read the account of the evening below. This is an uplifting description of something good that also happened that night and is a reminder of how Light persists and prevails in this world, proving it can overcome anything that tries to take it away.
I thank God for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who keep that noble flame and practice that mission of goodness in my community and many others around the world. Those nuns in drag do more good for the world than just about any organization I know. They’re so GOOD.
So I invite you to read this message from Merry Peter, one of the Sisters who made a difference in the life of one woman that night, one future life, and demonstrated to all of us what it is to be a force for Good in the world.
“Midwife to Joy: A Pink Saturday RevelationShare, written by Merry Peter, 28 June 2010 on Facebook
Her name was Serena but she was anything but calm as she stood sobbing at the Castro and Market gate at 11 p.m. on Pink Saturday. Sister Barbi called me over to answer her question about where to catch the 24 Divisadero bus that normally ran straight through the Castro but tonight, because of the event, had been re-routed.
Serena was pregnant- just a week from delivering her baby- and had just finished her late shift as a sales clerk at Claire’s Boutique. She wanted to ride the bus home to Bernal Heights as she did every night. But with 100,000 people in the midst of the largest queer block party on the planet her normal stop was not available. Her fear and exhaustion got the best of her as she took in the scene before her and realized she would have to wade through the crowd to get to her bus which was now running three blocks away- on the opposite side of the street fair.
“My baby, my baby” she kept saying as she cried at the gate. “I can’t go through all those people!”
At that moment, it was evident Serena needed more than information about where to catch a bus. She needed an escort to help her navigate the sea of revelers. I looked up at Barbi and an unspoken understanding flashed between us. “You’re the nun in charge now,” I told her handing over my walkie talkie and bull horn. “I’m taking Serena through the crowd.” “Absolutely!” said Barbi without a moment’s hesitation.
I looked over to Serena and said I would find a way through the crowd and asked if she had enough energy to come with me. “Okay” she stuttered, still sobbing. “Take my hand and stay right behind me, honey,” I told her, promising that she would be safe walking in the wake of a giant drag nun. “If you get scared or need to slow down, squeeze my hand hard.” “I will… I will” she sobbed.
With Serena’s hand in mine we began the walk down the hill from 17th and in moments we were enveloped – the crowd pressing in on all sides. As I moved I looked for gaps in the crowd and tried to put ourselves into any stream moving in the right direction. “Excuse me darlings” I kept saying calmly to everyone I passed. I smiled at each person saying, “Sister coming through just trying to get someone safely home.”
Though it was after 11 p.m. and many in the crowd were already feeling the effect of booze and other chemicals, they responded to my invitation to be gentle and kind, parting before us as we made our way over to 18th, negotiated the corner and headed to the safety of the sisters’ command centre where I could take Serena through the blocked off empty street with ease.
As we walked, I kept looking back to see that Serena was alright and to let her know how much progress we were making. “Not much farther now” I kept saying. She held my hand tightly and pressed on.
On the other side of the crowds Serena shared that she lived far up Bernal Heights almost at the end of the 24 Divisadero bus route. At that moment, I understood why the goddess gave me princess parking when I arrived at 4 p.m. for my first shift: my car was just one block up from where we stood and I knew I had to drive Serena home.
“Serena, honey,” I said as soothingly as I could, “I know we’ve only just met but you and I have just made it safely through quite an ordeal. If you can trust me a bit more, I’d like to take you right home in my car.”
“Can you do that sweetheart?” I asked.
Serena was still crying softly but looked up and said “Yes, I trust you.”
That was all I needed. Two of our EMTs were standing nearby and they watched Serena while I sprinted up the hill to my car. In moments I had her back in the passenger seat and she started giving me directions to her home. As we wound our way out of the Castro and through Noe Valley, up Folsom into Bernal Heights she shared her story with me.
She had only moved to San Francisco in November and had no real friends or family in the city. She was, as I suspected, a single mother who had just dropped out of school and was working to save enough money to travel to Nevada next week to be with her mother when her baby was born.
I asked if she had given her baby a name and she said “Yes, I’m going to name her Ruby.”
“Wonderful!” I exclaimed, “You’re going to give birth to a little jewel!” She gave a smile and the first little laugh of the evening. Her breathing was growing calm and less laboured.
Serena continued guiding us, mapping out the bus route she normally took home. As we drove together she kept apologizing saying “I’m so sorry. I’m not usually so emotional.” I told her there was no need to apologize at all.
In fact, as I looked at this young girl a week from delivering a baby I couldn’t help but be struck by her strength and determination. She was alone in the city, working a tough retail job and, despite her exhaustion, took the hand of a stranger dressed as a drag nun to guide her through a rowdy crowd of thousands. She was at risk the entire night but once she took my hand she never waivered in her purpose to get her baby safely home.
To me, it seemed that going through this ordeal she was polishing that precious ruby inside her, fusing all her own strength into this gem of a little girl so that she could walk this sometimes harsh world with confidence.
Finally, we made the last left onto her street- a nondescript row of grey single-story stucco apartments in the foggy outer edges of the city. She was calm now and thanked me for all I had done tonight. I shared that it had been my honour and privilege to spend this time with her and that I admired her courage and wished her nothing but the best in the weeks ahead.
As she got out of the car we hugged and I whispered in her ear, “Serena, when she’s old enough I hope you tell your daughter Ruby the story of this night when a giant drag nun led you safely through the crowds. It’s a whopper of a fairy tale!”
“Oh, I will” she said, “I will!” Then she turned the key in her front gate, looked over her shoulder and waived goodbye. “Good night, sister!” she called as I drove away.
At about the very same time, a young man from a Bayview neighbourhood gang got into a fight with a 19 year old boy at the corner of Market and Castro- just a few meters from where I met Serena less than 40 minutes earlier. The boy drew a gun and shot the other boy dead and wounded two other people.
This senseless violence has been all over the news this weekend and has shocked the Castro. Though it had no connection to Pink Saturday or to the neighbourhood other than through an accident of location, it reminds us all that energy waves as large as Pink Saturday and Pride lift all the boats in the harbour not just those ready for the voyage.
But as we try to make some sense of events in the wake of Saturday night and the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Pride that followed, I want to lift up my voice and share the story of Serena and the journey we made together.
We were a most impossible couple- a young, straight Latina from Bernal Heights and an old gay nun from Toronto. But when we took one another’s hands we were given to each other and our lives, so different and separate, were woven together in the common cause of shepherding a new life to safety.
We must grieve for the young life lost on Saturday. But I hope we will also rejoice for the young life that will come into our world next week somewhere in the Nevada desert. May this Ruby enter the world sparkling with just a hint of pink and all the glitter a drag nun can bestow and may she grow into the promise of the prayer whispered over her mother’s belly yet to be fulfilled: “One Joy! More Joy! Always Joy!”
We must realize that it falls to each of us to play midwife to the promise of Joy coming into being. So let us send our light and love to Serena and her mother and to this beautiful Ruby child making manifest to everyone the joy hidden in each and every moment!