One August night in 1969, I was hitchhiking from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I was 22. I had the romantic idea that I’d hitch all day as far as I could, and wherever I found myself in the evening, throw out my sleeping bag and spend the night.
I was in for a suprise.
It never occurred to me that people wouldn’t want a stranger in a sleeping bag sleeping on their lawn! Plus, someone who’d given me a ride let me know that the police would arrest me for trespassing if I went on private property, or vagrancy, if I tried to sleep on public property. I also remember being told that the motels and campsites were full.
So, as the sun was going down, I found myself on the Pacific Coast Highway, around Carmel, with nowhere to go for the night. At that spot, it was a 2-way road; one lane in each direction. Lots of dangerous curves. Behind me were some trees or hills. Across the road from me was a drop directly into the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t stay there, so I tried to keep hitching south. After a while, when no one picked me up, I just wanted a ride anywhere, and tried hitching in either direction. It was dark, the fog was rolling in, I was tired.
I began to wonder how I’d gotten myself into this and thought about my lack of planning.
But then, something happened.
My mind began to remember all the thoughts, even before my trip, that had led me there, too. Then — the thoughts that led to those thoughts, and so on. It kept expanding, until I realized that every thought I’d ever had in my entire life, even years earlier, had led me to that very place, at that very moment.
Then, I saw G-d.
I can’t tell you more than that. I wasn’t a “believer;” I didn’t do any sort of prayer or meditation in those days. I didn’t see a Light; certainly not a form or any other image. It wasn’t an idea. Nor a belief. I wasn’t drinking or using drugs. It was just an awareness of G-d as a Real Presence. G-d was suddenly truly present to me. I can’t describe it. But I knew it was G-d.
I wasn’t suddenly ecstatically happy. I wasn’t “seeing G-d” in some kind of natural beauty. I wasn’t suddenly “sorry for my sins,” as some people describe their experience. (Actually, I didn’t even think at the time that I’d done any sins!)
What changed in me, in that brief moment, was: I could no longer doubt that there is a G-d. I’d had an experience that I couldn’t deny or rationalize. It didn’t feel like I’d suddenly found my “life-purpose” or my “mission.” What happened just happened. (Writing this now, though, I realize that after it did, I was no longer at all concerned about how I’d gotten myself into such a spot, or what was going to happen that night.)
Directly after that moment, someone picked me up and took me to a campsite he and some friends were sharing in Big Sur. The next day, I headed back north with them to San Francisco and Marin County. While there, I visited again with some NY friends who had moved there. They were highly intelligent, articulate people — far more than I. At some point in the conversation (in which I was usually more of a passive listener), something was brought up about doubting that anyone could believe in G-d.
Then — I did something very uncharacteristic of me, especially in those days. I disagreed with them. I didn’t “argue.” I simply said, “I believe in G-d.” There was no tension in me, there was no defensiveness. I simply made my statement, then described what had happened to me on the highway. I remember the room being kind of quiet. They weren’t sure what to make of it, but were ready to pounce on the idea, I think, except that they saw that I wasn’t trying to convince them. One man, Michael, said something like, “If that’s what really happened, it was very profound.” He could have been quite scathing, if he’d chosen to be. But he was only highly skeptical, without being unkind. I just shrugged helplessly. I couldn’t explain or discuss it any more than that.
I’ve almost never spoken of it again, in all these years. I intuitively felt that it shouldn’t be talked about too often or too commonly. It seemed like a “private” matter. But I never forgot it. It felt very easy and good to write about it tonight (3/3/11), almost 42 years later.
Remembering it suffuses me with a special peacefulness.