Will Powell aka, Shaky Jake

A beautiful man I know, John Von Kieckebusch, son of Michael and Judith Von Kieckebusch, among the most heart-centered Humans in our Universe, recently wrote to me, saying, ‘Life is a crazy roller coaster…’ Man, ain’t that the truth!

I was at the Mission for supper earlier this evening after having spent the first part of the day today journeying deep within my soul in solitude at my secret sanctuary on the bank of the Sacramento River. It was another hot day which, at this point, is a meaningless statement in Redding. Every day is hot and I’m quite used to it by now. I like the heat as long as it’s dry heat. I’ll take 110 degrees and dry over 80 degrees with 80% humidity any day.

My journey was intensely pleasing, surprisingly so, filled with insights and discoveries by the which my world, my soul, expanded incrementally. One of these insights was the revelation of the Dragon in the fractal outline of trees. I mean, there it was, its mouth open wide and its head angled toward the sky. I wonder only now, as I write this – was it roaring, swallowing, declaring? Funny how it never occured to me to ask this question in the moment, in that moment, as I lay by the river. In any case, once I saw this dragon I then saw a thousand more here, there, everywhere along the arboreal fractals. I transposed this illumination onto what I had learned thru reading of the true meaning of Dragon as viewed in the East which is that it represents the Divine Presence within us whose fire symbolizes the Power of the Divine within us to burn, destroy, create and transform. Connecting the experience to the learning brought me to the realization that Dragon medicine is ever-present and thus crucial to our evolution inasmuch as our understanding of it allows for the introduction of other ideas and insights by the which, once gained, grants us expanded views and variations of possibilities and power.

Still in journey mode, I then met up with Thunderheart, a shamanic soul who just arrived in California from Springfield, Illinois. He hails from South Carolina, a ‘whiteboy redneck born in Africa’ who grew up a ‘military brat’ who now finds himself in California, and at the Mission now, due to a scam that promised work and a place to live. A healthcare professional who works triage, he shows all the signs of a mystic healing soul for whom the hidden reveals so much more than the seen. Thunderheart, aka Will Rowe, is an intriguing soul to say the least, one from whom I will learn and gain and confirm and wonder in this love-train of evolution and unfolding. We spent several hours at the library sharing

Arriving at the Mission I ran into a soul I’ve seen a few times this week. He stands out as much for his ‘look’ as for the fact that he pushes a wheelchair everywhere he goes, one which holds a fairly large, black backpack, some used, hardcover books, and his radio which is always playing music. My notice of him really took hold when, a couple mornings ago, I heard a cool, soulful, R&B song from the 70’s blaring from his radio. It was a song I remember from my childhood in the South Bronx, the classic kind that never grows old to my hearing. It was ‘I Love Music’ by the O’Jays.

He wears a worn, perfectly-fitted black fedora faded to a dusty charcoal color and pulled low over his brow, crowning his handsome, gray-bearded face. Wrapped around the rise of the fedora is a floral print, 3 inch-wide band, knotted at the back and long enough to drape and hang in two tails by a foot or so over the wide brim down to his shoulders. This brother has flowers – big daisies, blue and red and orange, sticking out of his hat, pinched between the floral print band and the hat itself. His orange and white tie-dyed t-shirt hung loosely over his slender frame. He wore dark-colored jeans and had more flowers pinned to his pants above his ankes. He walks slowly, pushing his wheelchair, and I wondered how long it must take him to get from place to place walking that slowly. It helps, I’m sure, that he doesn’t wear a watch. When you walk that slowly time has to cease from being a consideration at all.

I had run into him earlier today in the morning at around 6:30am when breakfast is served at the Mission. We passed each other while crossing the street heading in opposite directions, him away from and me toward the Mission. We met at the middle of the street and I said, ‘Good morning my Brotha. Blessings,‘ to which he replied, ‘Good morning, my Brotha. Walk your path and be at peace.‘ His voice, gravelly and strong, bore the gravitas and firmness befitting wisdom and a life well-lived under its grand and humbling tutelage. It all fit together perfectly – his words, his look, his pace, and how he felt.

This time now, feeling blessed to see him again at supper, I was determined to engage him.

“Hey, my Brotha, how are you? Good to see you,” I said excitedly. The setting sun was behind me so that it’s golden-orange light shone on his brown skin highlighting it so that it glowed like brilliant copper.

Was his skin highlighted by the sunlight or was the sunlight highlighted by his skin? Hmm…

“Good to see you, my Brotha. I’ve seen a couple times before. I know you,” he said matter-of-factly. “I felt you from far, man. You are clear, pure. Keep flowing the way you do, Brotha.”

I was used to hearing that kind of talk, not about me by the way, but just that kind of mystical talk in Mt. Shasta and in gatherings of souls intent on evolving spiritually, whether in Califorinia or in Missouri where I lived in a metaphysical community or in conscious Brooklyn where I lived years ago with Genisis, an old girlfriend and true Soul-Sista. To hear it here in Redding, and with increasing frequency the more time I spend time here, is such a blessed feeling of home and heart and soul. Truely, home is where the heart is (thank you Carlos Bulosan!).

I didn’t quite know how to respond so I simply said, “I am Sariyd. What is your name, my good Brotha?”

“Will.”

Hmm, I thought, another Will, (like Thunderheart).

“Can I walk with you?” I asked. I felt like a child when I did, which I liked.

“Sure, sure. I’m just gonna park my wheelchair over here and we’ll head inside.”

As we walked I inquired, “Where are you from originally?”

“I was born in the U.S. and then from the age of 3 months to the age of 15 I lived in Paris, France, then a month in Switzerland, a month in Germany, in Spain….all over. I was a military brat.”

Huh, ain’t that something! Another Will who grew up a military brat!

“I speak French, Spanish, a bit of this and that.”

We entered the cafeteria in the middle of prayer as church service was finishing up. I respectfully paused until the prayer was over. I saw Steve, his chihuahua in his lap, sitting by himself in the corner at the back of the room. I greeted him with a firm but friendly hand on his shoulder and said ‘hi’ but he seemed to be somewhere else in a distant thought-space. I didn’t know if it was the prayer that had him shifted a bit or meds or what, but I decided to leave him in alone to rejoin Will who was heading toward a table to sit down rather than stand at the back of the long food line. I saw Thunderheart from a distance and we greeted each other with a brotherly wave. I wanted to join him on the food line but I had already chosen to devote this time to Will. I heard Andrew’s voice call out to me and I turned to him. We embraced warmly and as we blessed one another I could smell the stench of unwashed bodies emitted from the men standing around us. Creator is in that stink, too, I thought. This is my own effort to seek out and see, and feel moreover, the Unity in all things, pleasant and unpleasant (now if only I could remember to seek for It and feel It in Caroline whenever emotions flare up between us! we all have our cross to bear – you know?). Andrew, just so you know, always smells clean, fresh.

Rejoining Will, I sat across from him at the table. I proceeded to throw questions after question, asking him anything and everything about his life that I could without intruding.

Here’s what I learned from this beautiful Human (who gave me his permission to write about him):

His name is Will Powell. He’s 68 years old. His mother – Puerto Rican; his father – Jamaican. Will graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971 with a degree in horticulture, specializing in horticultural pathology.

He is the oldest of 8 children and the oldest nephew of General Colin Powell, who, by the way, grew up in the South Bronx in the Hunts Point section. Will served in the military for 2 years and was expected to make a career of it like his father and uncle had. In fact, his uncle, Colin Powell, asked him pointedly, insistently, “You should serve in the military for the rest of your life. Are you going to?” When Will told him he had no interest in doing so his uncle replied, “Then I am no longer interested in you,” and that was the last time they spoke.

Not interested in conforming, he chose instead to follow his youthful impulses where they would take him. He ended up in the orbit of Jimmy Hendrix, who would die young, like Janis Joplin, of heroin overdose. Seeing the common element of heroin in both deaths he had no interest following that path so he ended up following the Grateful Dead for years and years, dipping into pools of altered consciousness through the use of LSD, psylocybin mushrooms, mescaline, and cannabis. In his words, he became a ‘total hippie’ and identifies to this day as one, at least in spirit if not in word. And he still journeys, doing so to access ‘the memories of the Universe inside of me.’

His father was a drunk, an extraordinarily violent one, who committed unspeakable atrocities against his own children. Will was on the receiving end of whippings with electrical cords while tied to the bed naked no less, and Will’s younger sister was repeatedly raped for years by this monster. The abuse ended only when Will’s mother killed his father by cutting his throat. His mother was imprisoned for murder, sentenced to life. She was ultimately released when Will furnished the suicide letter written by his sister before taking her life, showing it to the prosecuting attorney who presented it to the courts for her exoneration. The State, it turns out, can be swayed when the evidence is clear and compelling…but only if it chooses to be, as we all know.

Will is also known as Shaky Jake, a blues/folk/rock/rhythm & blues harmonica player. He played with Bonnie Raitt in 1971, among other notables in the music world. The nickname came from the way he shook and swayed when playing harmonica. The ‘Jake’ part of his nickname is the product of the creative word-play emblematic of the music world, wherein names are chosen and personas contrived at the intersection of cool street and creative avenue in the soul-section of town.

When I asked him how did he end up at the Mission he only said, divorce. I didn’t press for the details.

It turns out that Will is leaving California next month, September. He’s moving to Florida.

“Are you coming back to California?” I wanted him to say yes. He noded no while looking at me gravely. I think he could feel my question was more of a plea.

“No, my Brotha, I’m not. My daughter lives in Fort Lauderadale with her husband. She’s a corporate attorney, her husband is a medical doctor. They have a little daughter, my granddaughter. They live in the house I inherited which I gave to them as a wedding gift. I’ll be returning there to live until….”

He didn’t finish….and I didn’t ask.

We joined the food line, invitingly short now. Dinner was brown rice and black beans with summer squash and a bread roll. I refused the salad which always looks way too institutional for me. I also said not to dessert – apple pie (which I LOVE!). I always refuse the desserts to avoid the refined sugar and the inflammation and body odor it produces in the body. Bacteria feed on the refined sugar like it’s crack and when they shit in your body you get bad breath, smelly armpits, funky feet and sour ass-crack. No thanks, not while I’m still living in my car anyway.

We finally got our food and sat down to eat, mostly in silence. He shared his garlic salt with me, which I sprinkled on my food, thankful for his sharing and for the enhanced flavor. He then poured it onto his rice & beans and his salad like a New England snowstorm. I mean, damn that was a lot of salt!

We finished our delicious meal as the place readied for evening church servie, a nightly ritual at the Mission. We walked out together and as we did Andrew came over to share his excitement at having attended ‘real church’ earlier this morning at Bethel Church, a Christian mega-church in Redding attended by thousands in Redding and visited by many others world-wide. Andrew was lit up like a child on Christmas morning and my heart rejoiced with his. He pleaded with me to stay and spend the night at the Mission which I cannot bring myself to do.

“Will I see you tomorrow, Brother?” Andrew asked, so beautifully child-like and innocent in tone.

“Yes, you will,” and with that he disappeared into the Mission, his steps a bit haltered, a lingering effect of his strokes.

Shaky Jake and I walked together for a bit, no words spoken as there was no need now. Our hearts and our silence said it all.

Suddenly he stopped and turned to me and looked me in the eyes.

“Brotha, who am I? Who am I??”

I heard in his tone the slight alarm of a soul unsettled by the question and the lack of a clear answer.

“Who’s asking the question?” I returned, not wanting to presume or pretend to know an answer.

“Well, I once heard someone say that he is a spirit having a Human experience.”

“If I may, my Brotha, I say that the question posed was not by your spirit, your eternal Self. It’s not interested nor invested, and maybe not engaged at all, in providing an answer to that question. Beyond that, I don’t know. But I will say that a better question might be – what do you choose to be/to become? Because to ask who am I? demands an answer too defined, too narrowing and constricting, relegatng us to a boxed, packaged concept of ourselves. On the other hand, too ask – who or what do I choose to be/become? – offers us an infinite pool of possibilities, or as many as we can imagine, from which to choose which engages our eternal Self without the box.”

His reply simply was, “Life is a mystery, Brotha!”

“Yes it is. A grand, dark, beautiful mystery. Blessings, my Brotha, have a beautiful night.”

“Blessings, Sariyd.”

As I drove away I blessed Will and considered all that we had shared. I smiled to myself and gave thanks for the day, for Will, for Andrew and for Thunderheart, knowing I’d see them again soon.

I look forward to my next visit to the Mission where life’s roller coaster takes a crazy drop. And even at this crazy crossroad, where we all arrive through circumstances the heart has so much to say and share.

Blessings

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