I stumbled up three flights of narrow, wooden stairs before arriving at her door. It had at least six locks that I could see from the hallway but when I knocked, the door opened freely. Inside the tiny living room sat three elderly women each comfortable within her own world and my friend Jan. Each was waiting her turn and no one was speaking.
After swishing a couple of roaches (six legged) from the chair, I sat down next to Jan. She had convinced me earlier to come to Harlem for my birthday. She wanted to buy me a breakfast of waffles and fried chicken and receive a tarot reading from Ms. Milner for my present. I was 21. It was April 17, 1969.
“There are too many things going on in that head of yours,” Jan told me. “You need someone to help you sort it all out.”
Ms. Milner was an old Jamaican woman. She sat in a wooden chair behind a standard sized card table set up at the foot of her bed. Her dark leathered skin from years in the sun contained her aged face. Her fingers were long, narrow, and curved like the stairway. They perched upon the table’s edge with a deck of cards.
She slowly raised her head and stared toward me standing in the doorway. She wore a grand motherly stare but her youthful eyes, like those of a wondering child, lit her face fully. She invited me in and I sat down to what became the first unfolding of my life.
She must have sensed I was a nonbeliever. After all, I was a philosophy major. This mind was honed on questions and logic. Nothing about tarot was logical. I was only here to please my friend, Jan.
Then with a few simple turns of the cards laid out before me, she mapped my pain in life. She answered questions which have haunted me for years. Questions no one but me knew I thought. So I believed. She read my life like a storybook.
Over time she taught me the symbolism of the tarot. She cautioned me not to interpret anything from a place of fear when reading the cards. That the inverse of a card is not necessarily its opposite. To trust my heart over my mind. “The cards are simply a tool for connection,” she said.
I felt comfortable under her tutelage. My understanding of this life grew. My consciousness of the world expanded beyond the nutshell to which I had it restricted. Many times over her words echoed in my life.
During one of our last visits, I asked her, “Who am I?”
Without hesitation she answered. “You have the gift, my friend,” as she pulled a card from her deck and placed it into my hands. “You are ‘The Fool’ a soul in search of experience.”
That was the greatest compliment I have ever received. Those of you who know tarot will understand.