Commentary: Love sprouts in Berkeley, blossoms in CdM

It was August 1977 and my plan was to drive up to the Bay Area for three back-to-back national psychology conferences, followed by a week-long meditation workshop with Tarthang Tulku in Berkeley.

I'd recently become licensed as a psychologist at age 28, after earning my marriage and family therapy license at the tender age of 26. Having opened the doors of my private practice in Orange County, I was off and running in an effort to establish myself.

In the lingo of author Carlos Castaneda, I considered Berkeley, and the campus in particular, a "power spot" where good things happened. Having graduated seven years earlier, I'd immersed myself in the hippie zeitgeist of the time: sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, spiced up with radical politics.

It was during the last of the conferences, held on the campus, that my life changed forever.

After a day of workshops, an evening dance with a live band was scheduled in the auditorium above Sproul Plaza. Just a few minutes after the music begins, I'm standing along a wall, scoping out the scene, as bodies are swaying on the floor dancing. About 30 feet in front of me, I'm suddenly riveted by a gorgeous woman with thick, long, curly dark hair flowing down her back. She has an hour-glass figure, juicy lips and a smile that looks like it could precipitate global warming. She has just brushed off a guy asking her to dance. Without hesitation or thought, I walk over to her and smile.

"You're beautiful." She smiles.

"Are you Jewish?" She nods her head.

"I'm going to marry you." She blushes slightly and giggles.

For a couple minutes, I then move my arms in Tai Chi movements to the pulse of the music. Deborah follows my lead and moves with me. Something bigger than the both of us is happening.

"Let's get out of here," I say.

She follows me out and we walk a short distance down Telegraph Avenue to a restaurant called the Bear's Lair. As we're walking, I take her hand, and we both feel a current through our bodies. After we sit down in a booth, I pull out a vita from my brief case and hand it to her.

"This is who I am," I say, thinking my accomplishments will do my talking for me. In her conference dorm room, on a single bed, we begin the dialogue-dance of getting to know each other that lasts through the night. The second night, she calls her parents and tells them she's met "the one."

The next week, I go to the meditation retreat at the Nyingma Institute while Deborah stays with a friend in San Francisco. Each night, I drive across the Bay Bridge and sleep with her on a mattress on the floor. She calls her job at a psychiatric hospital in Milwaukee and says she's not coming back so fast. We drive down the coast to my mother's house in Woodland Hills after I had called to tell her I met the woman I was going to marry. When we walked in, it was one of the few times in my life that my mother was so shocked she had nothing to say.

We then drive down to Corona del Mar so Deborah can see my rented house. I ask her to come live with me and she says, "I'll live with you only if we're engaged — I have my values." I tell her I will fly back to Milwaukee in a couple of weeks to meet her parents, who end up hastily putting together an engagement party. It's the proverbial whirlwind courtship if there ever was one.

In the next two weeks, Deborah gives up everything — family, job and friends — and comes to Corona del Mar to live with me. We start planning a wedding at a country club in Encino. We design our own rings, I write our vows and choose a white silk shirt with a Nehru collar to be married in. Deborah wears a beautiful long dress that is nowhere near as elaborate or revealing as most of what is fashionable in today's bridal gowns. Having met on Sept. 1, by mid-December we're married and beginning our life together.

Already an art therapist, Deborah goes on to get a second master's degree in psychology and then a doctorate. Today, we practice together in a suite of offices in Newport Beach.

We're now about to celebrate out 35th wedding anniversary. Every anniversary, we repeat our wedding vows. Believe it or not, every month for 35 years we've marked our monthly anniversary in some way. And every day, I try to realize how fortunate I am to have seized the moment when I found my soul mate.

STEVEN HENDLIN is a clinical psychologist and author who lives in Corona del Mar.

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