by Bob Howells
I’ll start this story at the end, at 5 a.m., January 1, 2010, my 57th year on the planet, and the best year ever.
Euphoria. Ears ringing. Ecstasy. Body joints singing with...strong stimulation. Exhaustion. Not the traditional kind. Not the “I gotta get to sleep” kind. Rather, a knowing that the body needs rest now, so I submit to that—while my soul flies on its own, soars blissfully into a stratosphere filled with love and gratitude, echoing with sounds and sensations, silence and inspiration. And did I mention love and gratitude?
Michael. It’s all Michael. And for Michael, blessed Michael, I now shift the time and revert to the beginning. Ha! It’s so clear to me that in our timeless world, beginnings and endings—like clocks and calendars—are mere constructs. We live beyond them. But I’ll let them serve my purpose now: to recount as best I can the 2009 New Year’s Eve Meditation and Celebration.
Arrival. 8:45 p.m., and Calvin is lighting candles behind a gauzy curtain and they cast a magical glow in a room already transformed. It’s a place ready to receive, ready to host, ready to grow silent and explode.
Calvin, Reza, and Mark S. have articulated the beauty of the room. Greg B. and the men of the Yes Collective have spearheaded the day’s cleaning, prepping, and decorating to bring it to this magical state of readiness.
David G. greets me at the door with a bear hug. His impetus and leadership were instrumental in bringing us to this point. Our men, the Yes men, stand with presence. Our friends are arriving. We greet them, welcome them. Let the hugging begin!
Larry J. and Tom P. hustle in the background, working with Karen C. and many other beautiful women to ready the food, drink, and mood for the celebratory feast that will follow. Arnie’s a greeter, too, and he hasn’t stopped smiling.
My station is outside, standing under a full moon, and each Royal Wayan who arrives strikes me as the most beautiful person in the world. Some come bearing desserts. All the better! Chris B. deftly receives them and delivers them to the kitchen. I greet Maggi—an annual pleasure and honor—and as I park her car I remark to myself how extraordinarily beautiful she looks. Her glow outshines the candles.
Maggi signals the beginning of the meditation. Ja-Cums. We call on God to fill our lives, to fill our room, to rise up here in us and bless the world. A brief thought—our dear friends at the Ranch are doing exactly the same at exactly this moment. We link, and the universe hums with our calling to God. What a pleasure to hear nothing but that.
The bell rings. Time to sing. Steve M. and I sing “Timeless Journey.” A few seconds in, our voices connect and somehow we’re more than two old friends singing. We are the words to the song, this beautiful song by Richard and Des G. Greg B. and Rick K. stand to sing “Being with My Teacher,” and the room grooves to the truth of the words and the jazzy lilt these guys bring to Greg’s song. John P. and Larry J. sing “Here I Am,” by Harry H. I feel so proud, so full of love for these guys. All three of them. Harry, man, you are divinely inspired.
Ja-Cums. Then silence. Silence beyond silence. This, I know, is where I live and who I am and it is impossible to say more than that about this. It is the meaning of this event, of all we do, of who we are, of all that Michael gives us.
Bell. Its ring lingers in a quiet that’s tinged with anticipation. And then: BA, BA, BA! Go for it, John F. and Masoud! We’re with you! (John F.? Look at this man standing before us. Wasn’t he flat in a hospital bed a week or so ago? Such pride, such manliness. Both of these guys. Lions!) BA, BA, BA, BA! (How does Maggi’s voice shine through a room of 240 voices?) BA, BA, BA, BA....
This will remain, we chant. This is our life, and what we feel now will always be. BA, BA, BA!
Happy New Year! The words are being uttered in parties everywhere. The world may say it but we know what it really means. It is 2010. It is a happy new year. The year is born from silence and emerges like a sweet bubbling cherub in a room filled with love and welcoming. I kiss my wife. Is she beautiful or what?
We rise from our seats and everywhere is a beautiful soul to hug and repeat the words and know what they really mean. Smiles, joy, happiness. The room is rocking and the music hasn’t yet begun.
Toasts. Tom, Greg, and Masoud honor our Beloved Teacher Michael. Their words are our words and we are all one in drinking to Michael’s health and the blessings he has showered upon us. As the men speak their toasts, I’m drawn to one face in particular. Tim M. Pure joy. A smile that extends way beyond the lines of his face, a smile that says it all, and I am moved to tears.
Later I mention this to Tim. After all you’ve been through, I see you standing here on January 1, 2010, with nothing but joy on your face. Tim: “It’s because of all I have been through and all that Michael has given me through it all that I can stand here with pure joy on my face.” I love this man.
The music begins and we are ready for it. Arash is our first disc jockey and we match him beat for beat. Two hundred forty unique souls dancing uniquely with joyful abandon. Pulsating energy, and as we like to say and love to know, “It’s not the music!”
Scents of feast waft over the top of the beat. There’s a joy in this room for every one of our senses right now. Man, this is fun!
After 45 minutes of full-on, beat-filled music and dancing, the drummers form an arc on the dance floor. No stage for these guys. They’re us, not performers. They’re the men of Royal Way. We are the men of Royal Way. The best men on this planet. We dive into the beat. Go, Bijan, go! We surround the drummers and their beat. Nothing else in the world exists. I imagine there are women in the room and I imagine they feel the wild masculine abandon of the best men in the world dancing to a beat that feels timeless as the spark of life itself. The women are here somewhere. But I know where I am, and I am entirely, totally, here, dancing beyond anything I have ever felt, beyond anyone I have ever been. Each dancer is like a drummer, articulating a thumping, ecstatic wild beat. One by one and together, we celebrate the joy of being men with Michael.
Music again. Women again. So beautiful. Maybe even the more beautiful for having bathed in the extraordinary masculine energy that has been filling the room. I don’t know. I just know they are beautiful.
At last, I’m hungry. Good food. Pasta, chicken marsala, lamb chops. And talk about dinner entertainment!
Michael H. is spinning the tunes now. You gotta love a DJ who can’t stop smiling, who can’t stop rocking to the very beats he’s playing.
“I Will Survive.” A New Year tradition. Dig those crazy divas. More passion than the real singer ever had!
More music, more dancing. I didn’t wear a watch tonight. No idea what time it is. Swinging my wife. There’s Doug Doss swinging his. There’s Masoud swinging his. Steve D. swinging his. Are we cool or what? Woo-wee!
Then: A single dramatic chord is all the Royal Way divas need to hear. We’re hours into the night, but this party isn’t over yet. Because “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has begun. “Ain’t no valley low. Ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from you-oo!” There’s Leila, nearly as dramatic as Katherine, singing into rose microphones. Sarvy and Jan. Sachi and Shauna. Shauna is hilarious. The world’s tiniest diva. A few game men form a ring around these babes. This moment is theirs. And babes they are—smolderingly hot. Wow! And check out diva Maggi. She rises to the occasion with soaring, searing drama and for all the fun and theater of the moment you know she’s in a place of ecstasy.
We all are. The lights soon come up, and people move to retrieve jackets and chairs. Bags of leftover food are put out. Nothing wasted. Most people have headed off into the night, into the year, dancing their way back to Long Beach, back to the Valley, back to Brentwood and Santa Monica and beautiful Culver City.
But the party hasn’t ended. Not for the men of the Yes Collective. The floor is ours. The final dance is ours. David, Scott, Calvin, Steve Day, Steve M., Michael H., LJ.... (Hey, Riley, Reza, Sheldon—yes, you were too sick to be here, but we’re dancing for you guys! Larry Wolf, you’re with your wife, but you were a big part of all this. We’re dancing for you too.) We dance in a ring of our own. The Yes Collective. Maggi lilts by us: “Great job, guys!” Music to our ears. “Good night, Maggi!” We keep dancing until finally we have to shut down the sound system.
We transform the room once more. We put its pieces back together. Masoud directs the breakdown. Scott dances up and down ladders—a man as comfortable on ceilings as on floors. We fold tables, we stack chairs, we sweep the floor.
Calvin blows out the candles.
And you already know the end of the story.
I love you, Michael.