Archive for May, 2011

Letter From New York

May 30, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

Right now, this minute, as I begin to write this, I am high above the US, moving east on a Virgin America flight out of Los Angeles after having, last week, crossed the country by rail in the company of my friend Nick. We then drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at Santa Cruz for lunch with Carolyn Reynolds, with whom I worked years ago at A&E. We visited Hearst Castle after a three-hour detour because of a rockslide on Highway One. We stopped at a local restaurant and the waitress told us how to get around the rock slide; there were no signs from Cal Trans, perhaps because Cal Trans knew better than to send the average Joe over a glorified goat trail with a 1000 foot drop and no guard rails. Nick, good chap that he is, did a minimum of hitting the ghost brake as I maneuvered us along this road.

I could be very flip and attempt to be witty about the trip I am finishing while flying across the country but that would not be appropriate; it would not capture the essence of the journey. That’s what this trip was, a journey. It was a commitment of time to cross the country on a train and it was also a commitment to being open to interesting experiences, to people, to opportunity, for more than the ordinary. To attempt to be flip about the experience would be to diminish it. And I would not want to do that.

Nick is intrinsically gregarious; he cannot help himself. Once a presenter for the BBC, a man who covered the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, the fall of the Soviet Union, a reporter in his heart and soul, he could not help but find out the stories of the people with whom we shared meals on the trains across the country. They ranged from a cross country trucker and his wife to a history professor [who did not seem to know a lot of history] to a couple who have dated for eighteen years but never moved in together and who share a love for the silent film era to a lovely couple who had been married for 62 years and were still totally in love with each other.

We saw the beauty of the Rockies, the magnificence of the Sierra Nevada range, covered with fresh snow, to the starry nights of vast plain states.

We were civilized on our train journey. We stopped at six; I made martinis. We had cheese and other nibbles. We toasted each other; we talked of things present and past. We discussed the end of the world that did not happen. I waited with him while he waited to hear that this oldest daughter of three had been granted her degree by a British university system I do not understand.

It was a time of magnificent beauty, a reminder of the vastness of the American landscape and the endurance of settlers who claimed the west, though I must confess to feeling an occasional twinge when I thought about what had happened to Native Americans. Europeans, most particularly the English in the case of North America, came to this continent and created a vast country, an Empire of sorts, unique, inherently democratic, restless, vast, varied. Sliding out of Denver and all through Colorado, there was a stark beauty of ochre rock vistas with rose red striations as we trundled by with the Colorado River bearing the first of the season’s white water rafters. A guide joined the train and told the stories of the building of the railroads and their Railroad Barons. He told the tragedy of the Donner party as they crossed the pass that carries their name.

We both listened to James Baldacci’s CHRISTMAS TRAIN, which takes place on a cross-country train trip. It’s plot stretched credibility but he captured the folks who work the rails, for whom there is no other life than the one they have. It gave both of us time to think. For me it was a time to savor the life I have had, the one I am having and adventures that are still before me. It was a time to play solitaire; backgammon with Nick, a time to cherish the friendship of Nick who has gone from stranger to best friend in a little over two years of working together, sharing both work and life. At a dinner one night he opened my heart to feeling once again the great emotions that are usually blocked by convention and fear.

It was a time for connecting with old friends like Carolyn and Donna, who we visited off the train in Northern California. On a sunny, windswept beach Nick and I drank white wine, ate cheese and breads while he read CANNERY ROW and I listened to THE SUN ALSO RISES. We strolled the pier at Cayucos, reading parts of Ginsberg’s HOWL to each other.

There were, of course, office crises that came in over the transom, needing to be dealt with. As we left New York, Nick and I began taking pictures of each other texting, sure that everyone in the office thought that was all that we would do while traveling.

And under the starry night of Utah near midnight, there was a sense of God, of a magnificence not well understood, if at all, of the grand mystery that is life and this universe.

There were great laughs, a quick pass through LA, a couple of business meetings prior to dropping off the car before flying back. Departure came, a plane flight made. While I napped Nick made friends of the other occupants of our row, bringing together in conversation and laughter a man from New Zealand, living in Tokyo, and a woman from Australia studying to be an interfaith minister.

It was a journey, not a trip, a land voyage, providing the luxury of time and thought given by a voyage, a rich gift to be taken when offered.

Letter From New York, May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

I am crossing the country by train with my friend Nick; outside the window of the compartment are the fields of the great farms of the American Heartland – having moved south from Chicago, west into Iowa, through Nebraska during the night and now across Colorado as I write. The sun is making an effort to come out through the gray overcast. On a stopover in Chicago, the sun blessed the day as we met an Odyssey member, Robert Black, of the Chicago Sunday Evening Club and his Director of Development. We had a lovely lunch and then began the long journey from Chicago to the West Coast aboard Amtrak’s California Zephyr, reputedly one of the two most beautiful rides in America on the train.

It is bucolic and beautiful, peaceful and languorous, as we move along, gently swaying, a soft clacking of the equipment becoming a steady backdrop to the ride. Despite some intrusions of small crises from the office needing to be sorted, it has been extraordinarily pleasant since leaving New York. I’m glad.

Glad that is pleasant because, after all, I am facing, we are all facing the beginning of the end of the world, starting today, the 21st of May, about 6:00 p.m. according to certain Evangelical Christians. They believe that the Rapture [where good Christians get uplifted to heaven while the rest of mankind is left behind to suffer the Apocalypse] begins today and, according the reports I have been reading, anyone still alive but not raptured will be gone by sometime in October.

So, if that’s going to happen, I thought that being on a train, moving through the beauty of the American West, is not a bad place to be. I will do my best to be sipping a very good champagne when 6:00 p.m. rolls around – seems a civilized way to meet the end of times or at least the beginning of the end of times.

Also, if it is the beginning of the end of times and I do survive the initial catastrophe that will be ushering in the end, I am sure I will be far too busy to be doing my normal letter plus who knows if the Internet will still be on line? So I thought I should scurry a bit and get out a letter in advance of this potential end, reach out to all of you who have been kind enough to read my epistles over the years! Been a privilege to write them, sharing my thoughts, quirky though they may sometimes be, with all of you.

I am sanguine right this minute. I don’t think the world is going to end today. It was supposed to have ended several times in my life, once even on the day my father passed away. The same man who is predicting that it will end today, predicted it would end in 1994. When asked about why he was right now when he was wrong then, he announced that previously he had not fully considered the Book of Jeremiah and that was where he had gone astray. I don’t have time now between and the end to study Jeremiah so I won’t be able to venture a guess as to where the good Reverend went wrong.

So here I am, in Denver, momentarily, approximately ten hours from the end of times – or not. As it approaches, and I am sipping my champagne or martini, I will be thinking of all of you. If it is the end, it’s been interesting writing this for almost ten years! Thanks for reading.

And if it is not the end of times, which is more than likely, I’ll be back next week, more thoughts, more adventures, and after I have done some more thinking about what it might mean to be present at the end of times. Until then! Or not…

Letter From New York May 4, 2011

May 4, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

I am traveling on an Acela; as always, I find time on trains a good time to reflect. The greening countryside is rolling by; a soft rain is falling – it’s on the dark and drear side. Good contemplative time.

Osama bin Laden is dead and that has filled the newspapers and the minds of the world the last few days.

But my mind is much more on the weekend I have just experienced. Business had taken me to Minneapolis last Friday; I stayed over for the weekend. The trip began magically. Early for my flight, I went for coffee. Two ladies were behind the counter. As I finished paying they got great smiles on their face and beamed at me, telling me I was the best put together person they had seen for awhile. My hair, my glasses, the color of my shirt, my demeanor – I was a good looking, well put together man and they thought I should know. I didn’t know what to say, except thank you and what a wonderful way to start the day, the trip. I smiled back. And walked away, shaking my head, glad for the “God Shot.” I wasn’t feeling any of those things at that moment, having roused myself at oh dark hundred to catch the flight.

The business meetings went well and I segued into a dinner with my friend Christine Olson. We talked for hours and she blessed me with an affirmation of the importance of our friendship over the years. The next morning I had brunch with my sister-in-law, Sally, who looked radiant and centered. I basked in the long, good years we have loved each other, having liked her from the moment I met her in my pre-pubescent years.

Coffee followed with another old friend, Jean Cronin Olson, who had written me at Christmas, hoping for coffee my next visit. Sitting down and chatting, we picked up as if we had spoken the week before. And that was followed by time with another friend who is in recovery. I observed that people in recovery are usually much more open with their emotions and thoughts. He agreed; for them it is a matter of life and death. That set me thinking on how much better we would all be if we were better able to articulate our feelings, our emotions, fears and joys to one another rather than stuffing them down, killing them with substances or releasing them through violence.

There was a family dinner on Saturday night. My brother, his friend Deb, two of my nieces, the oldest, Kristin, and the youngest, Theresa, her boyfriend Steve, all gathered at a round table in a restaurant, La Chaya Bistro. We laughed. We teased. We cried. Theresa sat next to me and held my hand quietly for a while, occasionally resting her head on my shoulder. Thinking of it, I feel tears on the edges of my eyes. Kristin and I laughed. My brother and I teased each other, laughing hardily over things in the past.

Later that night Kristin and I texted. She affirmed me. Hopefully I affirmed her. Sunday was more family, more affirmation and then the flight home, wrapped in the quiet of travel and thought, realizing I had had the best visit to my hometown I had ever had, feeling from the time I ordered my coffee on the way out, I was bathed in love, moving towards integration of past and present with a glimpse of future goodness, looking for time with those I love and who love me.

I experienced the magic of family and love while across the world, we hunted down the greatest criminal of our time, a man who somewhere lost his ability to comprehend and respect our common humanity, regardless of religion. It is only through common respect, if not love, we will survive our burgeoning troubles and challenges.

The strength gained this weekend is helping me face my challenges. May the same happen for all.