Major Test of Faith #5: “The Ex-Criminal Sucker-Punch Colorado Mountain Escape” – Summer 1992
This was one of the very first significant experiences that the Universe had in store for me when I arrived in Durango, Colorado a month before the Rainbow Gathering.
As I mentioned in ‘Major Test of Faith #4’ , no one in Durango seemed to know with any certainty where the actual Gathering would be held the following month.
A number of hippies I spoke to in Durango however, had heard through the grapevine that this place or that place would be the eventual site.
So naively, I hitched a ride to Pagosa Springs, Colorado with the first hippies I encountered who said they thought they knew where the actual Gathering was going to be held.
They said that the Gathering was going to be held halfway up a mountain, off a main highway in Pagosa Springs.
While we were driving, they told me that they were part of some loosely-affiliated, Christian-based outreach ministry, and that they had come out to the Gathering early to ‘minister’ to the more troubled members of the Rainbow Family.
Apparently, there was a significant number of Rainbow Family people who were homeless and hitched rides all year round to get from one hippy gathering to another.
The big Gathering happens over the July 4th weekend every year in different states across the country, but apparently, there are many smaller regional Gatherings throughout the year, as well as an informal network of ‘hippy houses’ throughout the country that these homeless hippies might be invited to stay at.
Also, as I would soon discover first hand, many Rainbow Family people were ex-criminals and/or fugitives from the law. Many also had severe drug and alcohol addictions, as well as varying diseases and health issues.
As a point of information, no alcohol is allowed in the Rainbow Gathering itself, but there is an ‘A-Camp’ set up just outside the Gathering for alcoholics.
So here I was, ready to serve the hippy community in some healing capacity, and somehow magically I got a hitch with these Christian outreach ministers who also had come to Colorado to minister to this same community.
It seemed to me that I was being effortlessly guided by the Universe to minister to these troubled Rainbow Family members who came early to the Gathering because they were homeless and had no other permanent place to go.
But if I thought that I was being led to my glorious inauguration and exalted appointment as a first-class, highly-decorated, Universe-anointed healer, serving the troubled souls of the Rainbow Family, boy, was I in for a huge wake-up call !
Anyway, the Christian outreach group and I drove halfway up a mountain dirt road until we reached what seemed like an encampment.
There looked to be a few dozen or so people scattered around, with campfires going and tents pitched.
There seemed to be 2 distinct encampments, more or less separated by a little dirt road in the middle.
I pitched my tent on the side of the road with the Christian outreach people and spent that night hanging out and talking with them about various ways to ‘save the souls’ of troubled members of the Rainbow Family.
The other encampment, I quickly found out, was populated by a number of ex-prisoners and people with alcohol and other addictions.
That night, a couple of guys from the troubled encampment came over to our side and sat down with us by our campfire. They were obviously drunk and a bit rude, but not to a point where we had to ask them to leave. One of these guys from the troubled camp I’ll call ‘Mr. T’.
As I recall, Mr. T had just gotten out of jail, although I don’t remember why or how long he was in jail for. There was an obvious feeling of emotional pain in Mr. T’s face, and he looked clearly undernourished and desperately in need of a shower. But what struck me most about Mr. T was his eyes. His eyes had a lot of deep emotion in them, and they seemed to pull at your heart, making you want to try and help him out in one way or another.
At least that was the Dr. Jekyll side of him. Mr. Hyde didn’t come out until the following day.
Anyway, this first night, while Dr. Jekyll was still in charge, I tried to make a personal connection with Mr. T to get a sense of how I might be able to help him clean up his life and rejoin society.
I thought I had made a good bond with Mr. T and went to bed in my tent that night feeling pretty positive about how things were unfolding and getting a sense from the Universe that the next day I would go over to the troubled encampment IN MY CLOWN-HEALING-MINISTER COSTUME, and begin ministering to these ex-prisoners and troubled addicts.
Were it only that simple !
I got up the next morning and put on my purple Gospel robe, minus the silk kerchiefs, and took a walk by the stream that went beside the troubled encampment where Mr. T was staying.
I was relieved that the Universe didn’t make me attach all the silk kerchiefs to the robe. The Universe told me that we were just taking the costume for a ‘test run’. Apparently, the full Clown-Healing-Minister costume would be reserved for when we got the the actual Rainbow Gathering a month later.
So I walked calmly into the troubled encampment with my Purple robe on, and sat down at a camp fire that Mr. T was sitting at with 5 or so other scruffy, tough-looking guys.
They were all pretty drunk and at least two of the guys had hunting knives on their belts. One of the guys seemed to have a gun holster wrapped around his ankle under his pants, or so it looked like it to me.
Not the type of people I was used to mingling with socially back on Long Island, as you can imagine.
In fact, I’m not sure if I had ever hung out with an ‘ex-prisoner’ before in my 32 years.
But I felt the Universe behind me, prodding me to calmly walk up to Mr. T’s campfire and sit down and make myself comfortable.
I felt relaxed because I thought Mr. T was receptive to my ministerial overtures from the night before.
This was a bad assumption as I soon found out !
Within a few minutes, Mr. T motioned to one of his drunken friends sitting at the campfire. Pointing to me, he said, “He’s the one I was talking to last night”.
With that, Mr. T’s friend got up and started yelling at me that I was bothering his friend.
I slowly rose to my feet and backed up while he approached me, continued to yell.
Then suddenly, he sucker-punched me solidly in the mouth.
I fell hard to the floor.
I felt my lip and saw that I was bleeding fairly hard.
Clearly there were a few different ways that a hithertofore clean-cut highly-educated Jewish boy from Long Island could have reacted to being sucker-punched by one of a gang of drunken, armed, ex-prisoners, high up in the mountains of Colorado where no one would probably find a dead body for months, if ever !
What happened next surprised even me !
Magically, I suddenly felt the Universe giving me the support to regain my senses and get back on my feet.
With my lip still bleeding fairly heavy, I felt guided to slowly and calmly walk right back to their campfire and sit down again amongst them, being very nonchalant about it.
Looking back at this experience after 19 years, I am very seriously wondering whether I was the truly ‘troubled soul’ for not running as fast as I could to escape any further violence.
But the Universe seemed to be in charge of the unfolding events, not me.
And that’s just when the miraculous stuff started happening.
As soon as I sat down once again amongst them, I felt these otherwise rough guys suddenly becoming a little nervous. They all backed up a little as I sat down.
Then, more miraculously, the guy who hit me, stood up and, looking completely spooked and haunted, started apologizing to me over and over again.
He kept saying that he felt he was now cursed, and that he was going to be haunted and have bad karma for punching a peaceful spiritual being who was only trying to minister to him and his friends.
I said nothing, but kept sitting calmly around the fire listening to my attacker fall all over himself with regret about punching me.
Then he walked over to me, and with that fearful, haunted look on his face, he reached out his hand for me to shake.
He wanted to look in my eyes and make sure that I could forgive him, and even possibly have some love and compassion for him.
Was this Divine Intervention, I thought ?
Here I was suddenly being shown great respect by this gang of ex-cons when just seconds ago I was the bull’s-eye for their misguided aggression.
I was basking for a few eternal seconds in the glow of this Divine Intervention, when all of a sudden the weather turned from sunny to ominously dark. A bad storm would be coming very soon.
Everybody quickly moved towards their own tents preparing for the brewing storm.
For me, another miracle occurred as I was walking back to my own tent across the road to the Christian outreach camp.
A tough-looking, bare-chested man stopped me in my tracks while I was hastily making my way to my tent.
The very first thing I noticed about him, was the massive tattoo around his midsection.
It read: “Aryan Brotherhood” !
As I’m sure you can imagine, it felt extremely comforting for a nice Jewish boy from Long Island to be chit-chatting with a tough-looking, bare-chested man with a huge ‘Aryan Brotherhood’ tattoo around his midsection, way up high up in the mountains of Colorado !
I was eagerly awaiting with bated breath what soothing and life-affirming words awaited me as he stopped me in my tracks.
To my complete surprise however, he spoke to me in an extremely calm and gentle voice.
He said: “I just witnessed what happened over there with those guys. I saw how you got punched and that you displayed no fear, and that you forgave the guy who hit you, showing no anger or resentment, only compassion.”
Then he said: “I just got out of jail after 16 years for manslaughter, and I have now chosen to live a life of peace and non-violence.”
“The way you responded to being punched like that has taught me a great lesson in non-violence and forgiveness,” he continued.
And finally he said: “You are ALWAYS welcome in my house” !
I was just beginning to enjoy the visualization of me and him hanging out in his house watching TV and stuff, when the ominously darkened sky turned even more ominous.
I thanked him for his kind words and we both realized that we had better run towards our respective tents before the storm erupts.
But as I was making my way to my tent in the Christian outreach camp, I got some frightening news.
While I was at the troubled encampment having my ‘sucker punch resurrection’, some other guys from the troubled encampment had simultaneously been visiting the Christian outreach encampment and had set fire to one of their tents and caused other destruction as well.
So, overruling the distress of trying to shelter themselves from the ensuing storm, the Christian outreach people moved at Godspeed to pack up their tents and make a hasty getaway from this fast-deteriorating and evolving crime scene.
Feeling the overwhelming doomsday-like atmosphere, I too ran for my tent, packed up my clown-healer costume, then pulled apart my dome tent in record time, all as the storm finally exploded downward upon us.
As I was securing my 2 backpacks, I looked towards the roadside curb where the Christian outreach people had parked their car when we first arrived.
Into the car were squeezed all of the Christian outreach people, including the original people I got the ride from, as well as those who were at the camp before we arrived.
Seeing them piling into the car, I ran towards the car believing that they would gladly squeeze me in, especially considering the escalating danger here.
To my grave disappointment, as I got to the car, the main driver rolled down his window and said tensely, ” We’re full. Sorry.”
It was then that I realized that I was not one of THEM.
I was just some hitchhiker they had picked up who had similar missionary goals to serve troubled Rainbow Family people.
But I was not one of THEM.
No, I had to fend for myself.
“So sorry” they shouted to me through the window as they hightailed it out of there, back down the mountain dirt road, leaving me standing there, easy prey for the nearby vultures.
Well I wasn’t about to be devoured, so I immediately ran deep into the dense woods surrounding the encampment.
And I didn’t stop running for at least 20 minutes, fearing that the troubled guys would follow me out into the woods leaving no trace of their handiwork once they tracked me.
I finally looked back and was very relieved that they had not followed me.
Whew ! That was close.
With my main heavy backpack securely on my back, and my other ‘costume’ backpack in my hands, I desperately needed to lighten my load.
So I found what I thought was a sufficiently safe and protected spot in the woods to stash my ‘costume’ backpack.
I figured that I could get back to this site in the future to retrieve the costume, but that my survival, plus being light on my feet, was more important at this moment then preserving and protecting my hundred-plus kerchief and purple-robed divinely-designed masterpiece.
With the forlorn sense that I may never see it again, I gave one last reverential look back to my ditched clown-healer costume, and gingerly made my way down the mountain in the general direction I figured would eventually get me out on to the main highway.
It was still pouring.
It took me a good 2 hours to make my way carefully down the mountain.
Finally the highway was in view.
I was definitely nervous that the troubled guys would see me hitchhiking on the highway, even after I had disappeared for 2 hours out of their sight and hopefully out of their minds as well.
Though I had felt divinely supported and protected after being sucker-punched earlier, the Universe seemed to be being remarkably silent during my long climb down the mountain.
“Where was the ‘Universal intelligence’ in all of this”, I thought to myself as I emerged completely soaked onto the highway and stuck out my thumb.
I was not feeling particularly enthusiastic about where my next hitchhiking ride would take me, to say the least.
No, at this moment in time, I was feeling particularly down on the ‘Universe’ for leading me into this dangerous lions den and I was not looking forward to having to go through any more trial-by-fire tests like the one I just barely escaped from.
But just when my faith was almost gone, something miraculous happened that instantaneously restored it.
A woman in a car pulled up, and rolling down her window she said: “Hello. I am a psychic and I just heard a voice in my head telling me to pull over and give you this message. You are completely fine and you will be picked up by your next hitch within a few minutes, taking you to your next destination. I can’t give you a lift because I am traveling in the opposite direction. But have no fear, you are protected. ”
And sure enough, within a few minutes I was picked up by my next hitch and was off to my next destination, which was gratefully, much more serene than the one I just escaped from.
By the way, about a week after the Rainbow Gathering was over, I actually did manage to convince someone to drive me back up this mountain so I could look for my clown-healer costume that I felt would most probably still be there since I had hidden it very securely.
Nope. Nowhere to be found.
But I know that someone, somewhere found my backpack in the woods with the purple satin robe and the 100-plus silk kerchiefs inside.
Perhaps this story will reach them and I will be reunited with my costume once again and/or learn of it’s eventual destination.
In any case, I continued my healer minister work in my Coat of many Colors and my Turkish Pantaloon pants which, along with my Ukulele, seemed to be a good enough ‘costume’ for the Rainbow Gathering hippies.