Saturday night in lower Manhattan, the Hudson river offers a marvelous, unexpected display: fireworks on the Jersey side.
I've just arrived. Not alone in amazement, a woman also standing beside the guardrail turns towards me and remarks, "what a surprise! I love fireworks. They're one of my favorite things."
She pulls out a camera to record the scene. I already have mine out. I notice a difference in how we approach what's happening. Her eye is focussed exclusively on the view through the camera. I am holding it a distance, and thanks to its video monitor, am aware of seeing through its lens and at the same time, not losing sight of what my whole body is experiencing.
It is a dance dynamic by nature and interactive by intention. I play with the settings on the camera, allowing "mistakes" in so-called "clarity" to reveal the next movement, next setting, next time to click the release button. This happens over and over again. Click, click. click. I don't know what I'm looking for.
Then it happens. The camera, slightly slow on the uptake and saturated with what it's seeing, discovers something new. I stop. I'm seeing a creature of light flying beneath a waxing moon. The buildings soften in that light. Distinction recedes in to the background. In that instant, something amazing happens. What the camera is seeing becomes what all "my" senses experience: expanding, body pulsating, heartbeat strong and at the same time breath softening. This quality of sensing with more than what eyes see shifts as swiftly as the colorful shapes and shadows.
The night whirling builds in intensity while the cool air and slow moving river steady the flow.
My body shakes as sound builds to crescendo. The reverberating crackle of the crisply breezy night is oddly calming. For a moment, we who gather here stand immobile in awestruck silence. Auspicious this moment, not a special occasion by cultural standards. Not a holiday. Was it even advertised? Many locals are out of town. The riverway is sparsely populated.
Attuning, I sense a shift. Without thinking, I let out an exuberant cheer. Others begin to clap. Soon, we're celebrating the moment at full volume. We look around at one another. There is a shared recognition. Soon enough, sound dissipates as we disperse and allow this flow to continue through us.
What is it about the unexpected? Why is sharing such a moment significant? My body senses the significance though words inevitably fall short. The Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu describes the experiencing as "ichi-go ichi-e" ("one time, one meeting.")
Earlier that day, I am resting in the Cuxa garden of The Cloisters, a museum of medieval design in upper Manhattan. Pink-hued marble encloses the space and provides a softly cool place to sit and gaze out at the lovely plants and flying creatures enjoying them. The scent of lavendar soothes as does the sight of an occasional bumblebee. The scene is heavenly. People from all over the world pass through. I hear snippets of conversations.
My ears prick up in hearing a little girl begin to cry. Her father comforts as her mother asks, "which color?" pointing to a bandaid. "Pink," the girl says, stopping her crying instantly. He remarks to his wife in a near whisper, "I told her to be careful with that blue pin but she played with it and cut herself." I realize he's referring to the round clip-on pin we are all wearing as a sign of admission to this place. Cameras are in steady supply. People are snapping photos from every angle. I hear the buzz of multiple languages spoken at the same time. Clouds drift through blue sky overhead.
One week earlier, my friend and fellow chaplain passes from this life. Harriet Huber, a beacon of kindness and compassion, has been living with cancer for over a decade. Several years earlier, I meet Harriet in the Chaplaincy Services office at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Her eyes sparkle as she shares the joy of volunteering one day a week to visit with patients and their loved ones. I share with her an idea, a vision of caring, creativity, and community. I say, "Sensing Wonder." Her eyes get big and she brings her face closer. With a full voice she says, "I love it!" We laugh. We talk about many things. Each and every moment with her sustains me through difficult moments, which follow. She offers cheerful confidence to continue to connect and envision what cannot always be seen.
Going home that night, I light a candle given to me earlier this year by the widow of a client whose memorial service I officiated. Feeling his presence and Harriet's, the space expands and my body seems light, like at any moment I could take flight. Standing there, tears come. Waves of sadness and gratitude interfuse. I breathe deeply and slowly sit down. Gazing into that light, I see her smile, bright-eyed and direct. I see that confident smile joining with that of others I've known who, preceeding in passing through this precious life, lift up what matters most. Amazed and comforted, I realize that I too am smiling.