She envelops me in an embrace I have no hope of escaping, pressing me close as if we’re old friends and not newly met. Her arms are strong, holding me tight, and the draping fabric of her clothing billows around me, making me one with her for a brief, brief moment. Then she steps back, holding me at arms’ length, and looks me over.
“It’s so good to see you, so good to meet you,” she says. Her words only hint at an accent, but her skin is dark, and her hair is dark, and her eyes are dark, and her clothing is bright. Bangles knock against one another on her arms as she moves. “I’m so glad we’ve been introduced, please come in, come in.”
Her home is warm and inviting, just as she is. The rooms are spacious-enough while also managing to feel den like. Yellow on the walls, dark wood trim, carpets with a vaguely eastern look to them on the floor. Pillows and couches, candles burning, the lights dimmed, but the windows thrown open. She leads me from room to room, showing me this shrine, that altar space, this other worship area, her meditation nook. She brings me out doors, into her back yard, and into the building that houses her gods for public worship. “I’m not a priest,” she tells me, “that’s someone else who does that work, but I host these few here, and we use my home to come and worship. You’ll meet them, later. They’ll be over.”
“I don’t know,” I tell her, and I’m nervous now, about meeting others, but she’s still so close, and it’s hard to feel too nervous here. She’s so warm. She’s so comforting. We talk a bit about my own shrines, altars, and worship spaces, past and present. She nods happily as I speak of my Husband, when I name Him, as I tell her a bit about my past as a pagan. Being in her presence is like being in a sunny spot in the house on a cold, cold day. It’s catching that rectangle of sun through a window, like a cat, and curling up in it to bask. She touches me, on the shoulder now, then a brush of a hand, then a quick embrace, or a half-hug, always smiling, always patient and kind and quietly enthusiastic.
“You’ve held public rituals before; you won’t be leading, you won’t have to interact too much even, but I think you’ll find we have to offer you what you’re lacking, what you’re looking for. There is a place for you, and you are welcome. It’s not as different as you might think . . .”
Her cat comes to join us, a grey smoke Persian who reminds me so much of our Luna that I approach this cat as if she is Luna. She decides I move too slowly, perhaps too deferentially, and she scolds me with an all out attack, hugging my arm, seizing my hand, and biting down, with no teeth. She kicks her back legs at me, but there’s no scratching, and then she’s up and I get to try again, and when I move quickly, with assurance, she leans into the attention, purring up a storm.
We speak of Vishnu, and I tell her about my hesitation with Krishna, and she cannot, cannot, cannot stop speaking highly of him. “He is my husband, my heart,” she says, but the words do nothing to convey the depth of feeling that comes from her as she speaks of him. I’m surprised that she refers to herself as a bride of Krishna’s, and we speak of that for some time, about how he came to her and changed her life, about how her devotion has made her who she is, about how endlessly wonderful he is, etc. She shares with me that we’re coming upon her ‘birthday with Krishna,” which I’m to understand as an anniversary of sorts, and she presents a gift to me. A ring that symbolizes an acceptance of Krisha, or a celebration of meeting him, and nothing more — it makes sense at the time, but that begins to blur immediately. It’s a ring that is somehow pearl, two solid pieces that are plied, as one.
I wake up with Durga’s name on my mouth, and a feeling of warmth that lasts the day. Understanding how, why, even what, matters a little bit less. I wish I could bottle that feeling.