Letter From New York Dec 4 2014 An Attitude of Gratitude

Today I am in the apartment in New York, the afternoon sun is pouring in as it begins to shift to the west, slowly setting. I attended a Holiday gathering in the city last night at the Upper West Side of my friends, the Foxes. They live in an elegant, classic old apartment in New York with spacious rooms and tall ceilings. Doubling as an art gallery, walls are adorned with modern works by up and coming artists. It was the perfect setting for a city party.

The room was filled with young people, middle-aged ones and those of us who are departing middle age for the third act of life. One of the young ladies serving will soon be on the boards on Broadway, having landed her first role in a Broadway production. Two of the Fox’s sons chatted with their friends and their parents’ friends, both are artistic in nature.

There must have been a hundred people crammed into the apartment, jostling each other while sipping wine or champagne or eating the mountain of shrimp from the dining room table. The party started at six; I arrived about seven with barely enough room to hang my coat.

Shortly after my arrival, I contemplated my departure. I’m not good in crowded situations, especially if playing the guest, not the host. I wanted to be sure I said hello to my hosts before slipping away but before I could do that, I found a moment of calm in the office, a space undiscovered by the hordes. Sitting there was a young man named David and we started chatting, the icebreaker being – wasn’t it good to find a spot where one could breathe? We chatted; he was an actor now transitioning to becoming a director. Seemed to be doing rather well with that; he’s assistant director on a couple of Broadway shows.

When he left, others filtered into the room, seeking respite. The room became a kind of mini-party. A bottle of wine found its way to us and we started a philosophical conversation on the power of gratitude.

One man, a hair dresser to the blue haired ladies who lunch and who sport classic old line names like DuPont, stated that every day he was grateful for what he had and was able to do that day. And he was grateful to God. Another member of the conversation, a retired Wall Street banker, declared his atheism but also said he was grateful, if not to God, per se. I chimed in and called what they were talking about as the attitude to gratitude. We all agreed that gratitude helped us psychologically, whether or not that gratitude was directed toward God.

As the party ended, I was invited to stay on for dinner. We ordered in Indian from our favorite local place and when it arrived sat down around the now cleared dining room table and chatted, six of us in total: the Foxes, three overnight guests and me.

We were a lively crowd with lively chatter amongst us; subjects ranged from travel in India [several of us had], to where we would like to go in the future, to the jewelry made by Tina, one of the six.

Inevitably, the subject came up of the decision that had been announced earlier in the day that the police officer involved in the Eric Garner chokehold death would not be indicted. The room was filled with deep concern about it and a sense of frustration. Were police immune in deaths of minorities in America? Following on the lack of an indictment against Darren Wilson in Ferguson it might seem to be that way. There was no conclusion; no dining room indictment but there was concern.

The concern spilled over into the streets last night, mostly peacefully. Some were arrested but on minor charges. Crowds marched up the West Side Highway, chanting: We can’t breathe! We can’t breathe! I can’t breathe being the last words of Eric Garner.

There was an attempt to disrupt the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center but that wasn’t going to happen – the police were well prepared for that, causing someone to tweet that the police were protecting the tree better than they did Eric Garner.

The Ferguson tragedy was one scene in the play of race tension in America, the Eric Garner case another.

This morning, running late to an appointment, I hailed a livery service. I asked the driver, a white man, and immigrant by his accent, how he was today? He shook his head, “I just worry about justice in this country.”

And that summed up how all of us had felt at dinner, worried about justice in this country. Two incidents, added to other incidents, caused us to ponder whether justice had a level playing field, not just between races but also between social classes, between the mentally ill and the healthy, between “the other” and ourselves.

Texas will perhaps execute tonight a man who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, who defended himself and called as witnesses, among some 200, the Pope and John F. Kennedy. Hundreds of people and dozens of organizations cry for clemency for a man they see as mentally sick. Probably their cries will not be heard tonight in Texas.

As one who attempts to practice the attitude of gratitude, I hope that one day I can be grateful that concern over justice in this country has abated.

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