The desert rose found in deserts around the world
The "desert rose", aka: adenium obesum, is a flowering succulent found in various desert areas around the world. While it is native to India and Africa, it has found its way to most places inhospitable to "normal" flowers, and so is much at home in parts of the southwest, as well as Silicon Valley. Like another, more symbolic rose, it flourishes there. So does the Rose Cross, probably unsurprisingly.
A few months ago I learned there was to be held a conference at the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC), better known as the Rosicrucian Society and, in some instances, Order of the Rosy Cross or Rose Croix (this last especially in Scottish Rite Freemasonry, where it is one of the 29 additional degrees). As a member of AMORC and a Scottish Rite Freemason this was of particular interest to me, and brought with it also a practical excuse to sign up for the conference ("Hidden In Plain Sight" was the theme, in keeping with Dan Brown's most recent esoterically-themed novel, "The Lost Symbol"): The US headquarters for AMORC are located in San Jose, California, in Silicon Valley, where lives my oldest and closest male friend, a guy named Marion with whom I went to high school, him having turned up in my neighborhood during the summer of 1963. We'd bonded quickly, being two of the three angriest young men within a square mile at least (Carl Bernstein was the other), as well as having similar interests (girls, alcohol, better living through chemistry, and enlightenment, pretty much in that order, though each, we found, did lead to the next, so no harm, no foul).
[An aside here: The Rosy Cross is not a religious symbol, and it predates Christianity by possibly thousands of years. It is traceable back to Egypt and the ancient mystery schools. It is therefore associated with many hermetic societies, schools of thought, etc. The Rosicrucian movement as we know it was begun in Germany in the 17th century with the publication of a 3-part manifesto, the 3rd of which may be the best known: "The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rozenkreutz". It is also closely associated wth the Eye of Horus, an egyptian icon. In fact, there is a quite comprehensive Egyptian museum located at the AMORC headquarters. No Rosicrucian conference is complete without some waffling reference to one of its more colorful former members, Aleister Crowley, nor without mention of other famous Rosicrucians and Freemasons, most especially William Shakespeare and William Butler Yeats. This time was no exception].
Later my friend, Marion, joined the Marines during the Vietnam fiasco, while I stayed home and carried on the fight on the home front. Like most of my other male friends, Marion got home on occasion during his stint, and eventually wound up back here in Maryland, specifically in Takoma Park, aka: Azalea City, which would one day become known, among other things, as The People's Republic of Takoma Park.
Marion and I both had father issues, very different sorts, but the end result was one more reason for the bond we shared. When he returned home to stay he came back with a wife, a woman I'd known since high school and, indirectly, had been responsible for his knowing. It's complicated. I was also married, though unwisely, but that summer of 1969 was an appropriate setting for what was essentially the Morning After the End of the World (1968). I remember him showing up at the door of our basement apartment out of the blue, signalling his presence by scratching at the screen door like a dog and making sounds like a chicken coughing. A joyous reunion and exchanged surprises over our respective spouses ensued. Although Marion snarked at me then "Figures I'd find you living in a basement," I soon enough learned he and his then-wife were living in an attic. It was summer. I was either smarter or luckier.
Later, a lot of other things ensued, most of them better left unreported, since the various statutes may not yet have expired. Suffice it to say we picked up where we'd left off before the war, and the search for enlightenment continued, along with those other things I mentioned earlier. We even bumped into Caesar Chavez, who had set up his DC offices in Takoma Park. Since I'd been radicalized originally in 1960 by exposure to the plight of migrant workers in Delaware, I was sympathetic. Marion was, and still is, what I believe to be an empath, though he'd probably point a gun at me and insist I retract that statement. At any rate, when not incoherent we were both tilted toward the proposition that the world could be a far better place and that if we didn't act on our own consciences toward that end then we wouldn't deserve to enjoy the betterment when it arrived. We had no idea what a long, slow process progress can be.
By the early 1970s I'd lost track of Marion as he'd begun to move around a lot, probably a pattern of restlessness that finally took him across the country in search of enlightenment, transformation, Don Juan and less humidity. He wound up in Santa Clara County, California, but I didn't know this for many years, as I tried to locate him. As it turned out, we'd been traveling very similar, parallel paths, as though separated only by a tall hedge or perhaps a Jersey barrier. At any rate, after 27 years, numerous marriages (I have yet to catch up with him), and countless dead ends, Al Gore invented the internet, and not long after that I sent out an email to a Marion who seemed to match up in many unlikey ways with the one for whom I was looking. I dashed off an email to ask if this were, by any chance, the same Marion I'd been hunting for all these years. I'll never forget the first reply:
"That sounds like AJ Calhoun."
Before long Marion made a pilgrimage back to the Holy Ground of Takoma Park, crashing on my basement floor at night and wandering with me through all the old haunts. It was appropriately surreal and, well, quite enlighening.
Then, of course, it was my turn to go out to visit his home and his wife and family. It took me over a year to get out there, as I was then going through a divorce, but in May of 2000 I finally arrived in San Jose. It was during that visit I met my next great love, one that would last seven lovely years. During that time we visited Marion and his charming wife numerous times, he visited us (it's roughly 400 miles from San Jose to Laguna) and once or twice we all wound up in Santa Barbara. It was, as a friend of mine later put it when I found myself at a loss for words, "like a dream."
As I've chronicled here recently, that romantic interlude ended some years back now, and I returned to the east coast to get myself in order, since it was clear to me I needed some work. It's funny, the way that sounds, because all the seeking Marion and I have done over the years via various movements, organizations, disciplines, insane experiments, etc., is always referred to as "the work." Whether it was my familial Freemasonic legacy or Marion's time at a Gurdjieff commune, chemicals or meditation, study or taking wild leaps of faith, we've kept close touch and continued to fight the good fight.
When the announcement of that conference in San Jose landed in my inbox I realized it had been four or five years since I'd visited Marion, so told him I was planning to be in town. As always, he insisted I stay with them, which is always a pleasure anyway. The opportunity to bring my friend into an experience he'd not had before, though he'd often wondered about it (the Rosicrucian Society), was an added bonus. The fact that one may bring in non-members, that women are welcomed (and even hold leadership roles) and the general feeling of geniality and lightness that pervades these events made it a wining combination.
My daughter's Rosy Cross pendant, 1998
So it was last Thursday I hopped a plane (or two) for California for the first time in probably half a decade, to see my best friend and to attend with him a conference (and a Rose Croix lodge opening) of a sort he'd never experienced, while at the same time having the opportunity to spend time with him and his wife at his very welcoming home, to laugh, to talk, ponder, debate, laugh some more, eat, drink, and, yes, on one of those nights, engage in the sacred (to me) absinthe ritual, something else Marion had not done before. Most fortuitously (to say the least) Marion and his wife have a cottage on their property they've rented to the same fellow for a very long time, so that the tenent seems like a character in an old-time sitcom, wandering in and out at random moments. It was because of this wandering and Marion's asking him for advice on where to score some good absinthe, that he shortly walked across the back yard with a large bottle of a very fine variety of the very stuff we were looking for. He then produced two of the special glasses used in the ritual, along with a dropper, one of the special spoons used, and even a few sugar cubes (long story, quite a process, well worth it when it's done). All he needed to ask for was some ice water, which was handy enough. He then prepared the two glasses as I gazed at his extremely reverent way with the materials and utensils, then finally said "There" and took his leave.
Suffice it to say the rest of the evening was interesting in ways difficult to describe. Nothing bizarre, no kinks, just a sort of evening lit by the Green Fairy (as absinthe is still often called, just as it was in France during the mid-1800s, before it was eventually banned nearly worldwide for its perported "evil" effects. It is alleged to sometimes have hallucinogenic properties, and there was a period in which it fell into disrepute but has at last been rehabilitated both in the US and Europe, much to the advantage of anyone who has an interest in gentle, novel ways of altering one's consciousness without blanking out or getting crawling drunk).
The absinthe interlude seemed uniquely appropriate to this occasion, what with the AMORC conference sessions and the company and our rather remarkable history stretching back to that magic summer of 1963 to, so far, this magical summer of 2010. What's certain is a clearer reading of Don Henley's musical comment: "Everything's different; Nothing has changed."
Some things don't change; they simply improve with age.