Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

Letter From New York 11 30 15 Stepping up to hope…

November 30, 2015

Brian Gallagher.  Joe Boardman.  Amtrak. Hudson River. West Point. X-tra Mart murder.  IS.  COP21. Climate Change Conference. Producer’s Guild of America.“Tut” SpikeTV. Christ Church.  Hope.

It’s a grey day, chill and gloomy.  The train is crawling south toward the city.  In front of me is Brian Gallagher, who is the sidekick of Joe Boardman, President of Amtrak, who is sitting across from him.  Brian is by way of being a friend and  I went up to say hello to Brian when I saw him, realized that Boardman was across from him and said hello to him too.  He seems a very shy man, something Brian is not.  Perhaps that’s why they seem to make a good team.

The Hudson River is smooth as a mirror, reflecting the muted colors on the banks above it.

With me I am carrying twenty pounds of textbooks from which I must choose the one I will use in the class I will be teaching at our local community college near the cottage.  It’s challenging and I have to make the plunge by Friday.

That said, I’m excited about teaching the class. 

Waking up around seven, I almost immediately plunged into emails and got lost in them.  Before I drove to the train station, I organized all the Christmas presents I’ve purchased during the year in piles for the person for which they are intended.  With Christmas carols playing, I found myself in a festive mood.

Which is the mood in which I intend to stay.

It was, as you know, a harsh weekend out there.  Our local tragedy was that a woman, working at the X-tra Mart not far from my local grocery store, allegedly went into the restroom, gave birth to a baby boy, strangled him and disposed of his body in a trash bin outside the store and then returned to work.

She is currently in the hospital receiving a mental evaluation.

As is the man who shot dead three in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

We’re all a little crazy.  I think it is part of the human condition but these folks are really crazy, in tragic ways.

Crazy zealous are the members of IS, who, I think, honestly believe they are doing what God wants of them.  How you believe in such a crazy God is another question, but they do.

On a brighter note, COP21, the Climate Change Conference, has begun meetings in Paris.  Out of this might come good news, of nations agreeing to work together to cool the planet, which was warmer last year than any other year in recorded history.

That’s important to remember that we’re talking about “recorded history.”  The planet has gone through much colder and warmer times. 

As I am a member of the Producer’s Guild of America, I get screening copies of movies and television shows to watch for judging purposes.  One of them I got was “Tut,” the massive SpikeTV mini-series.  As I was watching, it occurred to me that it is amazing how humans seemed to make a leap toward civilization about 10,000 years ago and haven’t looked back.

The time we have wandered the planet as beings you and I would recognize, has been an incredibly short amount of time.

As I am choosing to be joyous, nature has chosen to support me with a burst of sunshine.  We have just sped past West Point and the sun is glittering off the river water.

Every Sunday that I go to Christ Church, I light a candle for myself, for a friend who is struggling with brain cancer and one for all the things I should be lighting a candle for, like world peace and the eradication of poverty.

I’m older now than I have ever been and will only continue down that path and as age piles upon me [with attendant wisdom, one hopes] I will continue to seek to be grateful for all the wonders of the world, those which I have experienced and the ones which lie ahead of me.

Letter From New York

September 19, 2011

September 17, 2011
Or, as it seems to me…

My own private 9/11…

One of the most vivid memories of the time of 9/11 came on the 12th. It was morning, and I walked out on to Spring Street, where we lived at the time and walked up and down the street. I paused, across the street from our apartment, and my mind took a mental snapshot of the moment. Ever seen ON THE BEACH, the 1959 apocalyptic film with Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck? In the final frames, the camera pans deserted streets; everyone is dead, there is only the wind, loose paper blowing like tumbleweed, desolation without destruction.

That was Spring Street that day and my mind took a black and white photo of that moment, which remains with me today. The street was empty; I was the only person on it. Bits of paper from the Towers blew down the street; there was no sound but for the wind and the air was heavy with the smell of melted plastic. The moment seared itself to my brain.

So it was that on 9/11I wanted to go back there, to stand in the same place that I had when my mind captured that moment, to capture a new photo, not to supplant the old but to add to it.

So I went there, found the place I had stood, and captured the moment. This time it was a color shot, of a street full of people, of cars and taxis moving east, a feast of visuals and a mélange of languages, of laughing people, street vendors with jewelry, none hawking, that I could see, souvenirs of “9/11” – those bits of plastic engraved with Tower Images, dramatic photos of the buildings before their fall, of dramatic shots of fire fighters or of smoking buildings after the attacks. Nope, not that day, not that street.

I walked down to the Manhattan Bistro, still there after all these years, owned by a Frenchwoman named Maria who had it re-opened as soon as she could, perhaps only a day or two later, determined to be there for her clientele. We sat there often; drink in hand, not saying much that I recall. When I arrived, I recognized the woman behind the bar; it was Maria, Maria’s daughter. I asked after her mother and was saddened to hear she had passed on August 17th; I had hoped to see her. One of the waiters, a busboy then, came over and held my hands and told me it was good to see me. He asked after Al, my former partner. I told him he was now in DC. He smiled and then moved on; I was left warmed by the fact he had remembered us and seemingly well.

My friend Rita Mullin was in town and she wanted to see me but respected that I might want to be alone that day. At first I thought I would but then determined that I really didn’t want to be alone. Sport that she is, she tucked herself in a taxi and met me there, arriving with her son Matt, who has become my friend also.

We talked about 9/11 but it was background and didn’t, as I now recall, completely dominate the conversation. I realized that their presence and our talk helped me bridge the days, the 9/11 that was and the 9/11 I was currently living. The photograph in my mind was not black and white; it was color. It was not of desolation now but of life in all its annoying Soho grandeur, noisy crowds and boisterous sidewalk sellers of art and jewelry – life.

I was glad for that, glad that my friends were with me for that moment and glad I could appreciate their presence.

There is a great line from THE GO-BETWEEN, a film written by Harold Pinter. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” It is my solemn hope that ultimately “9/11” will become a foreign country and that the one we will be living in will be that better place we can still find after all this tragedy.

Letter From New York September 8, 2011

September 8, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

I am sitting on Labor Day afternoon at the bar of Café du Soleil, my favorite Bistro on the Upper West Side, a place I know because of my friend Lionel, who is sitting next to me, who is chatting with other regulars here while I work on my letter.

I have been doing my best this weekend to avoid writing my letter. The reason? It is the week leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the city is prepping for it and I am not prepared for it. I have been having harbingers of the anniversary all this year. In Norfolk, VA I heard jets that took me back to that night and I have been running from the memories since then. They are burned in my soul and I feel that day intensely when I think about it. That’s why Norfolk was hard.

Monday was hard too. My brother was in town and before we went to breakfast we wandered through the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle where there is an exhibit on the heroes of 9/11, photos of those who lived. The policemen, the firemen, the pilots who flew the sorties over the city that are now so indelibly in my mind that the sound of those jets, the F-14’s, will take me back to that night, all their pictures are in the public areas of the Time-Warner Center and, today, reading them, I was about to start crying when my phone rang and I was dragged back into reality.

I was changed by that day; everyone was changed by that day and to think that ten years have gone by is hard, almost impossible. Could that much time have gone by? Or was it not in another lifetime that all this happened, another world that isn’t really real? But it is real. It happened. I was there. I felt the earth shake when the first plane hit the first building. My partner called me, asked me: do you know what’s going on? No. Turn on the TV. I did. The world was changing in front of my eyes. Our eyes. We all saw it, thanks to live television.

So I have had a hard time facing the fact it’s the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I am having a hard time having that day come back so immediately into my life. I am permanently changed by that day. I am, somehow, a little, scarred by that day. I didn’t lose anyone but I lost the world in which I lived. We’re not the same. The world is not the same. And I am sorry we are not the same.

It will be interesting to see how this week plays out as we move toward the anniversary. We cannot “celebrate” this anniversary. We can acknowledge it; we will – everyone will.
It was the seminal moment of this part of American history and I was there. I walked those streets with old man death. There was the smell of death and burnt plastic and my street was full of papers that were blown down from the Twin Towers. And I will, next week, walk those streets, will remember, will sort my feelings from those days and see what sense I make of it all.

I will let you all know. I don’t know how many tears are between this moment and next week – I just know that I know that I was here, that I, in the first person, experienced 9/11, have a set of memories from that day, was at the Pearl Harbor of my time, and that I am still experiencing that day because that kind of experience never dies in one who lives through it.

My brother told me in the days following that he was sorry that I was in New York when it happened. There was no other place I would have been. I was here. I was at the point of history. It was hard but it doesn’t get more real than that.

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.

Letter From New York, April 26, 2011

April 26, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

It is the end of the long Easter weekend and, as I often do at the end of Easter, I find myself thoughtful. I was raised Catholic and am infused with that tradition. I will always be infused with that. As my friend Robert said to me last year about this time: once a Catholic, always a Catholic. And I will always, on some level, be Catholic, an inescapable state.

I do not practice Roman Catholicism though I sometimes attend Catholic services, not often though. I sometimes attend Episcopal services. I have done so since I was in college.

And it was while I was in college that Easter became something more than it had been in my Catholic childhood. It became a time of reflection, of personal stocktaking, of understanding that there is a place in history that this weekend represents which is important in the course of human events. Regardless of your belief structure, it is impossible to deny that the life and death of Jesus changed the world forever.

My most important Good Friday happened when I was in college. My roommate Ron and I were driving back from Toronto where we went frequently; he was marrying a girl from there. As we drove back from Toronto on that Good Friday, driving as we were day and night, we read THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis to each other. As Aslan was resurrected, the sun burst through the dismal skies of that day and the sun made a glorious appearance through the hills of Wisconsin.

I cried that day at the power of the story. And ever since that day I have paid deep attention to Good Friday, every Good Friday since then has captured my attention, my notice, my contemplation. This past Good Friday was grey, rainy, cold and full of intimations of mortality – as a Good Friday should be or so I think now.

When three o’clock came, the time Jesus died on the cross, a death so horrible I cannot even imagine, I was listening to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor and thinking on that powerful day in college when I viscerally understood the story of death and resurrection. As I regularly do on Easter weekend, I read the story of Jesus’ death, his resurrection. The Gospel of Matthew, of course.

On Holy Saturday, the rains continued, a soft, sad nature song that fitted the Easter story, fitted the story that Jesus was in his grave. I thought about the silence of the grave, which awaits us all and that is part of what I think about on Easter weekend, mortality. And the brief mortality of the man who was named Jesus and called the Christ.

Easter itself was a special day. The sun played with the clouds, mists rose from the creek, there was time with friends, lamb was eaten, people were met and I thought about resurrection. There is a Christian Evangelical Minister named Ron Bell who is attracting attention and some derision as he is thinking of a universe without hell. He was written up in Time last week, or the week before last.

I think, at the end of the day, God is the spirit of Easter, the spirit of resurrection and hope, of forgiveness. Did not Christ say on the cross, as he died his agonizing death, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do?”

And that is the spirit of Easter. If we do not live in the spirit of Easter and if there is no spirit of redemption there is no hope for us. It does not matter what religion you practice; there is universal truth in Easter, in forgiveness, in resurrection. It is the essence of what I struggle with – I need to believe in the spirit of redemption because only in redemption will we find salvation. And salvation, even if only from ourselves, is what we seek while we plod our way across this mortal coil.