Updated: Aug 9, 2022
In October of 1979, I was a twenty-seven-year-old, singer-songwriter whose life was sputtering, personally and professionally. In a few short months I'd lost my recording contract in London, moved back to San Antonio feeling defeated, divorced my high-school sweetheart, and gone through some semi-serious binging on "sex, drugs and rock-n-roll." Broke, sad and scared, I knew I'd hit bottom and that it was time to try a different approach to life, although I had no idea what that might look like.
Earning enough to eat and pay the next month's rent was definitely a priority, so when Craig Pennel, a fan of my music, offered to hire me to paint houses with his company, it seemed worth a try, even though I'd never painted professionally before.
But when I showed up at the jobsite the next day at a stately, two-story Victorian home in the historic King William neighborhood, Craig took one look at the thick, leather gloves I was wearing to protect my guitar-playing fingers, accurately assessed my level of inexperience and ordered me to brush a primer coat on an unobtrusive rear wall of the second floor. He assured me that it was a safe space to practice my technique, with only one caveat: "Whatever you do, don't spill any paint on that antique cedar-shingle roof," he said, gesturing to the porch beneath me.
Sure enough, within a few minutes, a whole quart of paint had slipped through my awkward, gloved hands and landed on the shingles with a loud splat that brought the crew leader scrambling up the ladder, lickety-split. She could easily have fired me on the spot, but instead she graciously offered to help me clean up the mess and remained friendly throughout the process of doing so, even though it took us the whole morning to get all the paint off.
When noon finally arrived, it only seemed fair to buy her lunch at El Mirador, a restaurant around the corner. Zet was so calm, friendly and easy to be with that before the meal was over she and I had become good friends; within two months we'd become constant companions and business partners, too. We got married on the Summer Solstice in 1981 and have enjoyed a wonderful relationship ever since.
Thirty-five years later, I can still recall the look on her face as she came up that ladder, as clearly as if it had happened last week. Her immediate response to my messy mistake was so kind, so caring and non-judgmental, that it represented a major shift from how I'd experienced myself and the world up till then. There was no shame, no blame, no games; just possibilities for making new choices. In retrospect, I can see that the light shining out of her eyes in that moment was my introduction to a whole new way of life, one based on feeling unconditionally loved and loving; being compassionate toward myself and others; seeing life as a series of opportunities to practice being as loving as possible, whenever possible. What a wonderful teacher she was, and is, to this day.
Of course, it hasn't been all peaches and cream; Zet and I have certainly encountered our share of personal and professional challenges in our relationship. And sometimes I still feel so small and unloving that it scares me. But time and again, whenever difficulties arise, I remember what Zet and a number of other powerful teachers have helped me learn since that pivotal moment: that my true purpose in this lifetime is to experience, explore and express the free flow of Love. Period. Everything else is just details.