She spent the earlier part of her life as a nun before she was called to leave the church to help others hone their spiritual gifts.
When my time is over onboard O’Kane, I take orders to Point Loma in San Diego, California.
The base where I'm stationed overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
I watch sea gulls and kite-boarders from the panoramic window of the front office, run five miles from the base to Sunset Cliffs and back every morning before work, and eat my lunch at the lighthouse at the tip of the point, alone and surrounded by water.
It’s the first time on land that the sanctity of the ocean is inside of me.
I'm a part of something much bigger.
Everything about San Diego feeds my spirit, and my intuition grows stronger; now I know that I can hear my wise, confident little voice much clearer when I’m conscious about how I treat my body.
Farmers markets’ fresh produce, clean fish from the sea, and 20-mile runs keep my channels clear, but my social life is on fire and it’s hard not to fall into the rock star-like, Southern California scene.
Before long, I do.
Paul is a Marine that I met a year into my stay here. Somehow he can party all night and wake up fresh to run at 4:30 am. Vacations, gifts, and fancy dinners fill our time when we're not naked.
We look great on paper, but we get into horrible fights that are regularly fueled by alcohol.
It’s a week before he has to leave for his second deployment this year, and we're in an old bank turned gold-and-velvet-draped hotel in San Francisco.
I’m standing in our room in a black dress that clings to me in a way that feels like almost nothing, and heels that make me tall enough to barely reach his lips.
We're fighting. I'm screaming. He's stoic.
Through the static of my buzz, I hear it.
Stop. You have to stop.
Everything Paul is saying turns to a mumble.
I look down at my hands, holding a fresh full glass of pinot noir that we had delivered to the room after we got back from a night of multiple bottles.
The thickness and color of the wine hypnotize me.
My stomach seizes.
Stop, you have to stop.
My body is electric.
I am more alive than alive.
My arm moves back like a puppet under someone else’s control.
I launch the wine across the suite and it smashes against the wall by the window, leaving splatters of red all over the glass and classic white walls.
In the moment, I couldn’t tell you what made me do it.
What I do know is that I realize Paul’s love of all things Paul is getting in the way of a time when I should be saving my spirit as I’d promised Pop-Pop.
Paul leaves for deployment. I stop drinking and start focusing more on running, lifting and filling myself with goodness.
My Navy friend Luna and I bond over our Catholic childhoods and beliefs in a spiritual realm we cannot see, but both know is there.
She wants to visit a psychic downtown that she’s heard about through a trusted friend, so I go with her.
A bell jingles when Luna pushes the door open.
Everything is blood red and velvety except for tiny sconces with tea candles that light up the corners of the room.
A woman appears from behind a heavy, rope-lined purple curtain, sweet and dainty like Emma Stone.
She tells us that she spent the earlier part of her life as a nun before she was called to leave the church to help others hone their spiritual gifts.
I’m two steps into her shop when she grabs my arm and looks me square in the eyes.
“The church is in your blood,” she says, and sends a shockwave through me that locks me in the moment.
In an instant I process this: My grandmother is a Della Chiesa, “of the church” in Sicilian. My family history is thought to include St. Anthony Della Chiesa who was said to perform miracles of the mind. Pop-Pop is a Mesagno, “of the blood” in Italian.
With her one comment, she gets my buy-in.
“You have a very strong gift. When you’re ready, I’d love to work with you.” She lets go of my arm, leaving me in wonderment before she and Luna disappear behind the curtain.
Almost a week after meeting her, I recall what she said and am motivated to explore the gift that she saw in me.
I’m on the balcony of my third-floor apartment overlooking San Diego Harbor.
For the first time in my life I call to my inner voice on purpose, hoping to gain clarity on my impending decision as to whether or not I should leave the Navy after my contract ends next year.
I take a deep breath and use my experience on the café balcony in Australia as a template.
I connect to everything around me.
I fixate on the sky, its indigo hue and the way it moves in waves with the water below me. I connect to the seagulls calling to one another along the dock, the warm wind against the skin of my arms and how it cools on its way in through my nose.
I follow my breath inward to my chest as it rises and soothes my heart.
Are you there? I ask. Timid. Curious.
I’m always here.
I feel it in my stomach. It’s a fullness that resonates through my heart to my head. Wise. Confident. Certain.
And before I ask my question about whether or not I should leave the Navy, I hear the answer.
You have to go to Ireland.
This time I know that I have to leave the Navy as soon as my contract is up. Although I’m aching to know why I have to go to Ireland, I don’t take it as an urgent message.
I’m starting to learn how to use these feelings - the knowing - as a guidepost.
I know that I need to leave the Navy, but with a year still left on my contract, I won’t be in Ireland anytime soon.
On February 9th of 2010, after 10 years, five months and 24 days of service, I drive to the administrative building at the top of Point Loma.
A starry-eyed new sailor, with a perfectly coifed coif of blonde hair and a pressed black uniform with a sparkling shine on his shoes, greets me at the door.
“Good morning, FC1 Ryan,” he says, and leads me to a chair at an over-sized, polished-slick desk where he hands me one of those heavy, executive ball point pens that you only find at the finest Navy establishments.
There’s a stack of papers on the desk in front of me, staggered in a pile like a staircase, so I can see the line at the bottom of each of the pages.
“I flagged all of the places you need to sign,” he says.
Diamonds fill the air around us and that Divine peace where it all makes sense washes over me.
I sign my name eight times on eight crisp pages of type, not reading any of it. I finish and look up at him as he stands at attention and holds out his hand. I take it and stand up into the light.
“Have a great life,” he says through a whole-faced, squinty-eyed smile.
“You too,” I say, and as I walk to the door my shoulders relax for the first time in over a decade.
Glitter envelops me as I drive away, down the hill, away from the point, away from my beloved Navy.
I miss Mom.
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