Good bye day. You've been so good to me I can hardly let you go. There's a tug of war going on between the dark sky and my sleepy eyes luring me to bed. Gazing out at the San Francisco skyline is making me high. Just let me look a little longer so I know this is real.
Toto, I have a feeling this isn't Canada anymore.
I have an entire wall of windows in my hotel room. In the middle of that view, perched on Telegraph hill overlooking the Bay is what looks like a small lighthouse.
Coit Tower is not a lighthouse. It's a monument. And tonight she gives me a souvenir from her 1850s book of spells. Pointing phallic-like into the sky yet built from unstoppable feminine fire, Coit could not be more balanced.
Calling the front desk to ask about the tower not only breaks my sky trance but also draws me into the story of a cigar-smoking, fire-fighting cross-dresser from the 1800s. Elizabeth Wyche "Lillie" Hitchcock Coit knew how to live true. Tonight she pokes fun at my herbal tea and raises an eyebrow at my too-neatly folded suitcase. A feisty and impulsive anomaly in her day, 85 years after her death Lillie makes her way into my quiet life.
San Francisco, as if I needed another reason to love you.
When the neighborhood fire truck couldn't make it up Telegraph hill, 15-year-old Lillie Coit didn't stop to wonder if it was proper for a girl to get involved. Throwing down her schoolbooks, she got on the ropes urging passersby to dig in and help too. A crowd gathered and gave local Knickerbocker No. 5 the extra push to get up the hill when its engine was falling behind. It would be first to the fire, and Lillie would become a local hero.
It wasn't her privilege or her intelligence that made history that day. It was her instinct to act on what she knew was right. It was her boldness.
Erected after her death with a portion of her estate, the fiery life of the tower's namesake pulls me into a San Francisco legend. Lillie would become obsessed with fire fighting. Disappearing into the night at the call of a siren, she earned the title of mascot for the Knickerbocker and became an icon of hope for all fire fighters.
It isn't her teenage heroism that captures me. It's her shadow. Having traded in late nights of drinking many moons ago, I get a personalized kind of coaching from the ghost of Coit. I imagine her urging me to live a little more boldly. She makes me think about how often I shy away from stepping forward because I'm afraid I'm not quite good enough. Hoarse words dotted with a cuss word or two, she whispers "Stop doubting yourself." Swirling from the spell of the Coit-topped skyline, I conjure her pointing a finger "Could you let things get a little messy already?"
Plodding along comfortably but secretly wishing for a blaze of change is no way to live.
There is a kind of soul-death that occurs when we don't light a fire once in awhile. We need to burn away the old, get into the unfamiliar, and char our edges a little.
Following her highest excitement, Lillie inspired others by being her colorful, passionate, even reckless self.
No wonder Californian women won the vote almost a decade before the rest of the country.
Boldness looks different for each of us. Whether it comes to raise awareness for a cause, protect something we love, or wear cherry red un-sensible shoes to work, it really does not matter.
It's your fire after all-smolder the way you want to.
I'm not giving up herbal tea. But that night I promise myself (and Lillie) that I'll take up the torch for my truth. I'll stop playing small and let the wilderness back in.
As I give in to the crisp white bed, I tuck myself in with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for all the brave women who have walked the firey path. Before drawing the blind I take one last glimpse of the darkness outside my window. Meeting Lillie tonight has changed me.
She's made my tidy life burn just a little bit brighter.