Friday, November 25, 2011

Keeping it Clean

It's not what I'm expecting. The flash sparkle of many white lights in the tower above me dazzles. Naomi and I look up. This is one of the new towers being built in lower Manhattan's World Trade Center. The view at night is markedly different than by day. With construction continuing even at this hour, I'm disoriented by the simultaneous presence of stillness and pulsing flow.

We move, cellphone cameras in hand, past signs for the newly opened 9/11 Memorial, past a church, past subway stations and folks heading home from what I imagine to be long workdays. They look tired. Tourists and construction laborers activate the scene as we continue to walk. A large hotel seems strangely out of place.

Two weeks earlier, riding a BART train from Berkeley to San Francisco, I'm heading to to an exhibit at SFMOMA, a collection of drawings by sculptor Richard Serra. En route, around 10am, I decide to stop in Oakland to see the "Occupy Oakland" encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza. Exiting the BART station, I'm looking around in an attempt to orient myself.

A tall middle-aged man, African American, says to me, "you don't want to go over there." I ask why. He says, "the cops are there. They shut it down early this morning." He tells me of moving to Oakland from Louisiana years ago and that, "things are different here." Not inclined to join the "Occupy" scene, he tells me, "It's complicated. The Black market, the drugs, they're controlling the underground economy. It's killing our young people. No one's talking about it and that's where the problem is." As we're speaking, I'm aware of his skin color and mine, of his experience and mine, what distinguishes us, and what brings us together.

I ask him why he stopped me. He smiles and says, "you look like a traveller." I say, "takes one to spot one." We laugh. I assure him, "I'll be careful," and add, "though need to see for myself." He says, "ok, just keep your distance." Walking one block further, I cross the street to the plaza and am stunned to see a line of police wearing helmets with plastic face shields.

My body flinches to a moment a decade earlier when I see a line of police in so-called "riot gear." Standing in a plaza in Seattle during the "summit" meeting of the World Trade Organization, I suddenly begin to choke as tear gas floods my senses and sends me running for a way out. I am here to witness and explore the possibility of dialogue.

Today in Oakland, I arrive with a similar intention and am encouraged to see several police officers talking calmly with "civilians," people standing at a distance of perhaps 30 feet, mostly young people. This is striking particularly because of the volume of voice needed to be heard across that distance. Some of the conversation revolves around boundaries in place following the dismantling of the encampment. I attune, mostly to tone of voice. The sharings are sincere while the "positions" of those standing here are very different.

In the distance, I see a wire fence and what appear to be remnants of the "occupation" piled up. The place is clearly off limits. At the same time, what remains is a sense of people occupying space while not knowing what to do next. A surprising quality of spaciousness offers an opportunity for connection. For me, the line of police shifts from a perception (based in part on past experience) of what it represents to simply attuning to the posture of bodies and tone of voices. The "civilian" people hanging out seem equally caught off guard. I see glimpses of individuals interacting in community, each with a story bringing them here now. Including myself.

I turn and head for BART. An hour later, standing in the museum, I'm with a group in the Serra exhibition as the guide shows us several abstract pieces, huge white canvases with layers of thick, black, tar-like paint caked over the surface. Serra uses a "paintstick," which is like a crayon.

Emerging from two (slightly different sized) black rectangles is a triangular sliver of blank canvas, which reveals white space. It feels like a crack of light piercing through. I glance at the small card below to see what Serra names this. I am shocked to read, "The United States Government Destroys Art, 1989."

Our guide tells us that Serra made several pieces as a response to the U.S. government's decision to remove his outdoor sculpture, "Tilted Arc," that same year. Ten years earlier, the government commissions the sculpture as a permanent work for the its Federal Plaza. Ten years later, officials say Tilted Arc obstructs the flow of foot traffic in a busy section of town.

In an article entitled, Controversy in Public Art, Vera van der Meij writes,

"Tilted Arc", a massive, wall-like steel sculpture that responded to the commercialization of art by grounding the sculptural object irrevocably in the center of a geography of a rich, diverse, and busy area of lower New York City, was removed after years of trial and public debate. It was due to be moved, but as Serra claimed to have made it specifically for that site, relating to architecture and the size and other aspects of the Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan, on which it was placed, "to move it was destroying it."

Curious to read more from the artist, I locate Serra's "On Art and Censorship":

"I am interested in a behavioral space in which the viewer interacts with the sculpture in its context. . . Space becomes the sum of successive perceptions of the place. The viewer becomes the subject."

and in Notes on Drawings, he writes:

"The preoccupation with site and context was paralleled in drawing, in that my drawings began to take on a place within the space of the wall. I did not want to accept architectural space as a limiting container. I wanted it understood as a site in which to establish and structure disjunctive, contradictory spaces."

A week or so after returning to New York City, I pause from a busy day and go on Facebook. A friend, Brock Brereton, posts a link concerning financial instability in Greece, with this to say about it, "Greece is about to blow!" to which multiple friends "comment." The conversation includes people who seem highly informed about the details of economic policy making and issues. They make connections, revealing a bigger picture, bringing in Italy's and Spain's economic difficulties.

It's the first comment though, that captures my attention. A friend of this friend writes, "my give a damn broke."

This guy's statement is not simplistic apathy. He is speaking to something more complex. As he continues, I relate to how honest and direct he is in naming his experience. I notice that to stay open, I have to attune to what his feelings might be, maybe overwhelmed. I can feel this in my body as I read more of what he shares. "Who cares? just be thankful we live where we do and keep on keepin on." At this point, a friend, Mike Mathog (who holds a Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown U.), posts, "a euro collapse will have huge "care" because there's a chance of loss of real wealth and real living standards."

I am drawn to this conversation. It is thoughtful. These guys are not agreeing. They are challenging one another. At the same time, it's a compassionate conversation, which does not shy away from complexity. Brock responds, "nobody is talking about it because few are aware of the threat because 'nobody cares' ".

These words and the way he strings them together stop me. Two words reverberate: "aware" and "care." I post about this, then ask, "What is preoccupying attention? And how might that shift?" to which Brock responds, "J, your question is all important. What will it take to make anyone aware, not to mention care..."

Mike responds, calling attention to tangible issues, "people on the right tend to see 'free market capitalism' as an end in itself. (I use the scare quotes because such a thing doesn't exist. capitalism has many forms, the right is just referring to one form.) me? I love (a certain type of regulated, taxed, publicly invested) capitalism. however, I love it because I see it as one excellent means to building a super decent, high living standard society. It's not a moral imperative to me, it's just a mechanical system."

Brock responds, "Yes, I like that vision!"

I suddenly get why I like this exchange. There's a flow, a spark of imagination, which invites visioning. It emerges from partnership in process rooted in a strong commitment to be both "aware" and to "care." Even the fellow who on the surface asks, "who cares?" elaborates that his concerns are focussed on local action. The interaction is unspokenly dignified. The issues being intricately interwoven, each brings his own expertise while taking time to consider and respond to the other's point of view. "Moral imperative" drives this dialogue without stifling diversity in its expression.

It feels like an answer to an unspoken question that's been gnawing at me since the whole "Occupy" movement begins. That question centers on "how?" How do I respond authentically? How do I respond to the stuckness in me, a mix of confusion and angst? Now it's happening, it's shifting into something I can only name as "possibility." I'm encouraged and open while not knowing how to respond next. Yet what has shifted is my capacity to trust this flow of "not knowing." For me, trust is the moral imperative.

A few days later, I meet Naomi Namba, an artist friend in SensingWonder, for dinner. We are considering when to visit OWS when she asks with a sparkle in her eyes, "want to go down there tonight?" Trusting the moment, I say, "yes!" Within minutes, we're on a train heading to the last stop, "World Trade Center."

As we arrive at Zucotti Park on election night, moving along the sidewalk beside the encampment, I see a sign attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It says, "Capitalism forgets life is social." This is my first time here since a month earlier when I visit the park during daytime. The scene at night is markedly different. We wander by a food vendor. Coffee seems to be a popular item. As we round the corner, I spot a table with a sign saying, "Nobody 2012." Nearby I spot a familiar face.

"Jeff!" I exclaim, delighted to see a friend whom haven't seen in over a year. He responds with equal delight, "Hey Judy!" We hug and catch up. Jeff tells me he's on the night shift here 2x/week. Jeff Thompson is a Caucasian-American NYPD detective in the "Community Affairs Bureau." He also is a professional mediator who "practices" in the tradition of Zen teacher and humanitarian Thich Nhat Hahn.

Jeff's face lights up as he tells me about playing soccer with his 6 year old son. Then the conversation shifts. I ask him about the night scene at OWS. Jeff says, "actually, there are a lot of scenes within the scene here, as you might have noticed walking around. Over here it's the quietist, people talking casually." He points towards the interior of the park, "you can enter there, Main St." I notice what appears to be an entryway and path. He says, "the NVC ['Non-Violent Communication'] people have a table in there, teaching people."

Just then, I see a man walking nearby, African American, middle aged, and stocky build. He stops and looks out towards the park like he's surveying the scene. I walk over and introduce myself and SensingWonder's purpose in coming here tonight. He shakes my hand and smiles with a mix of surprise and relief for a moment of genuine acceptance and connection. He says, "this is my first time here." He continues, "I feel for these young people. I used to work down here as a dispatcher, then got laid off. Now I work in telecommunications." I ask him about his new job. He says in a less than enthusiastic tone, "it's alright." I wish him well as he continues on his way.

Just then, I turn and see Jeff talking with a man. I walk over and learn the man is Murdock, a Caucasian-American "occupier." He and Jeff are talking football as I join them. I ask how they met. Murdock says with gusto, "I'm with the sanitation dept." I surmise he means he's with the cleanup crew of OWS. He continues with a twinkle in his eye and a big smile, "You know, we can't change the world if we can't keep it clean."

Naomi snaps a photo of the three of us. Here we are, people with different perspectives, different roles, positions within the "system," and each one drawn to serve, following an inner compass, a "moral imperative." I feel inspired and grateful to be here now, open to the possibility of continuing dialogue.

As Naomi and I continue to move beside and through the park, I'm drawn to the quality of this night scene with news cameras mostly gone and signs by and large resting on the ground. People are gathered in small numbers. And yet, there is tension and a palpable sense of a "matter of time" until something must shift. I snap many photos. A few days later, I add them to an ongoing Facebook album called, "Occupying." Each photo is accompanied by a caption telling a story.

Curious about the quote on a sign attributed to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I search for it online and find the complete quote:

"Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both."

One week later, I wake up to a headline, Police Oust Occupy Wall Street Protesters in Zuccotti Park. The reporter writes,

“New York City is the city where you can come and express yourself,” the mayor said. “What was happening in Zuccotti Park was not that.” He said the protesters had taken over the park, “making it unavailable to anyone else.” Mr. Bloomberg said the city had planned to reopen the park on Tuesday morning after the protesters’ tents and tarps had been removed and the stone steps had been cleaned.

I close the browser, pause with a deep breath, then get up from where I'm sitting and head to work. Getting off at 72nd St. and Central Park West, I cross the street and enter the park at Strawberry Fields to begin my brisk walk crosstown. I stop at the Imagine Circle as a group of Italians snaps photos. Soon I'm walking on a paved path beside a large field with lots of fallen leaves all over the path and field. I hear a loud whhrrr sound and smell what makes me begin to cough. I look up and see a man holding a leaf blower. Dozens of leaves in a cloud of dusty dirt are being blown onto the field. I shiver in the chill of the morning, and something else. I stop.

I stand still listening to the rustle of remaining leaves on nearby tree branches. I look out across the field and drink in an awesome array of colors, varying shades of yellow, coppery-orange, and brown. My feet follow impulse and step off the path. The crunch of autumn leaves underfoot is as soothing as it is energizing.

I arrive to work a few minutes late. Nobody including me cares. As I enter the office, a colleague says cheerfully, "Good morning. How are you?" I tell her I'm not sure. She senses the mix of emotion in me. We spend the next several minutes talking about what's going on. We share our feelings. I get a cup of tea, she a cup of coffee. A few more colleagues arrive in our small office. Soon we're all talking about what's going on. The conversation is enlivening. I feel the easing of tension in my body and suddenly find myself laughing. Someone just said something hilarious. And without anyone voicing it, somehow we shift into the next thing.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Weathering the Storm

I venture outside for the first time in many hours. I follow the stream of Hudson Heights neighbors heading mid-morning towards the park, many with young kids, some with dogs, all breathing a collective sigh of relief while exploring the aftermath of "Tropical Storm Irene," now downgraded from a hurricane.

At first, it's a trickle of brave adventurers. Shortly after waking up, I open the window and look out onto the sidewalk one flight below. A woman and two toddlers in yellow raincoats are standing along with their dog. I hear her say to another woman who approaches, "we had to get out. It's so stuffy and hot inside." Then she turns to her kids and says, "well, I don't know. Let's wait until your dad gets up." They move on. I'm left wondering what was the question?

Now, arriving at the corner, I turn to go down stairs, which enter Ft. Tryon Park. I stop. A fallen tree covers the stairs and blocks entry. Suddenly, a man in a bright yellow jacket emerges through the fallen branches and undaunted, continues up the steps and walks past me out onto the street. Amazed, I stand still considering options. Just then, I see a man and a young girl, who I imagine is his daughter turn towards the stairs. They stop in front of me looking down at the debris below. I hear him say, "I guess we won't go that way." They turn around. The three of us make eye contact to acknowledge mutual assessment of the situation. Then they turn towards the street and keep going. I follow.

The previous evening, I call George, our co-op's board president, and propose to offer an indoor Potluck Tea Party in the building's lobby the next day. "We might be feeling cooped-up by tomorrow," I say, "and I have all the supplies to do this." I invite him to visit to get a taste of the party. George asks, "how much notice do you need?" I say, "oh, I don't know, a couple of hours?" He says, "ok, I'll call you in the morning. Let's see what happens with the storm." "Sounds good," I reply.

The previous night at TenRen Tea in Manhattan's chinatown, I am making smiley heartflower cards with a little girl age 4. Her dad Derrick, who manages the shop, stops by and says that at home, "she calls you auntie." I smile, feeling a surge of warmth in my chest, and looking up, see her mom smiling from across the room.

After giving away our cards to Derrick's coworkers and some customers, she and her parents head home. Now only three people remain. Anna, who is closing the shop, another customer, and myself. I sit and sip. Before long, with minutes to go until closing time, I pick up my bag, say goodbye to Anna, and head for the door. Then, I suddenly get a spark of inspiration. I ask her, "is there time to buy some tea?" She smiles and nods her head, "yes, of course." We head over to the other side of the store. "Jasmine, please."

She brings down a huge tin of loose leaf tea and pulls off the cover. "How much?" she asks. Unsure, I say, "I want to make tea for my neighbors." She suggests, "half a pound?" I reply, "perfect." This kind of intuitive connection between us is one of the many marvels of being "tea friends." Within minutes, I say goodbye as we wish one another safety through the hurricane, and head for home.

Earlier that day, I call the shop from work. I ask to speak with Cindy. Hong Kong transplant and mother of five, Cindy and her family live near Coney Island. This is a part of town designated for evacuation. She and her husband walk nightly on the beach. We promise each other that "one day soon" we will walk together over the Brooklyn bridge. An avid gardener, she often brings flowers to the teashop, even placing a delicate arrangement in the bathroom using a tiny paper cup and a moistened paper towel as a vase. Today, I ask Cindy if her family needs somewhere to stay. She thanks me, then says they'll be staying with her daughter.

I'm relieved to hear this. It's been quite a week.

Three days earlier, I step into my primary care doctor's waiting room to get checked out for mild chest congestion and a sore throat, which I've been nursing for a few days. I check in with the receptionist. She seems a bit distracted. I notice a woman next to me rapidly pushing buttons on her cellphone. She looks distressed. I say hello. She says, "I just heard we had an earthquake. The center is in Richmond, Virginia. My aunt lives there. I'm trying to reach her." I say, "I hope she's ok." She says, "thanks" and puts the phone to her ear. I turn to the receptionist, asking if she felt the quake. She nods yes like she's in shock. I pull out my Blackberry and go online. One site reports, "Quake registers as 5.8 at 1:51pm."

I post on my Facebook wall:

"an earthquake?... was on subway, didn't feel it. heard epicenter in Richmond, VA"

My friend Vivian, an eco-lawyer and consultant, replies within minutes:

"Yep...epicenter less than 50 miles from us here in VA." She adds, "we're ok. got a bit of a mess to cleanup and the dog is freaked out."

She states the time it happens being shortly before 2pm.

Less than an hour earlier, I check the red light display indicating the time as the #6 train pulls into the 23rd street station. 1:53pm. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don't want to be late for my 2:15 appointment. I step onto the platform, then walk upstairs to the street. From there, I head to the doctor's office.

Now in his reception room, I feel a resonance in my body, a subtle inner quake, that connects to another day approaching. 9/11. The tenth anniversary.

After my check-up, just before leaving the doctor's office, I check my phone for email and see a message from my friend Nic in Portland, OR. He writes, "we sent Classon on her way. I buried her."

Fifteen years earlier, Nic and a wandering puppy find each other on a street in Brooklyn named Classon. She barks. He responds. Now, he shares a poem. I read the first few lines:

Tears of love, for Classon,
soft, brown eyes
gazing gently
across the bedroom floor
rapt with mine
held together
by the warm embrace of love.

I feel tears in my eyes and on my cheek. Three months back, visiting Nic and Annie, his wife and also my close friend, I kneel down to hold Classon. I am leaving for the airport. This is goodbye. I gaze into her eyes. I feel her heartbeat. I'm aware that this is likely the last time we'll breathe together. The warmth we share comforts as tears moisten my face and hers.

Now, arriving at the Subway, I get on the train. I pause for a few mindful breaths, reconnecting with our last day together. I pull out my cell. By the time I get to my stop, I have written a poem, the first lines being:

Eyes filled with tears
and gratitude
for your life

All during that ride, I sense a subtle shift in kindness among fellow riders. Maybe we're all shaken up a bit, each in a different way, each reconnecting with what matters most.

The next day, I go on Facebook and see a post about the quake by Brock, a new Facebook "friend" who lives in San Jose. We meet through a mutual friend. I post a comment, sharing that a Boston pal reports feeling the quake, saying that the fault line is less broken-up on the east coast so it can be felt over greater distances. Brock responds, "Yes. . . was listening to several experts from UC Davis and UC Berkeley discuss this last night...Check this out:" and shares a link to a Scientific American article on the earthquake.

The article quotes Peggy Hellweg, a research seismologist at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory in California. She says that in the Eastern United States,

"what you've got there is gorgeous bedrock and ... the waves propagate beautifully."

Brock later responds to my comment on her remarks, "I know, completely consumed by their area of concentration with little regard to peoples actual fears. Kinda' funny to me too."

That Friday, with Hurricane Irene projected to arrive the following night, I finish up at work, and just before shutting down the computer, I go on Facebook. The same friend encourages,

"This weekend may remind us as to how short life is and how little we actually do control. Live well and love deep!"

I'm overwhelmed with a mix of awe, nervous anticipation, and gratitude. Tears blur my view of the screen. I shut down the computer, turn off the lights in the office, and head for the elevator.

The following night, at home with all mass transit shutdown, I look out the window awaiting with everyone the arrival of a hurricane. The streets are empty of people. I step outside for a last breath in the open air as rain falls lightly. Just as I'm heading back inside, the rain falls substantially heavier, making the dark sky seem ominous. Suddenly, I spot something small, white, and furry swaying low down on the sidewalk and heading towards the curb. Before thinking, I am simply aware. I now make out the small critter's black body and sizeable white-streaked tail. "Skunk," my thinking self registers.

Then thinking stops. Unafraid, my sole inclination is to join in a delicate dance of creatures in the night. I hear the rain falling as we both get increasingly drenched. Quickly enough, the skunk slides under a parked car as I keep going and soon re-enter the building. Our instincts similiar. Shelter from the storm.

Silence saturates the humid night as rain keeps falling and the wind begins to pick up. I sit at what seems a safe distance from the window and listen. A serenely vibrant flow washes over me.

Two days prior, in the early morning just before dawn, I'm meditating in a room within earshot of the cracked-open window. I hear one woman calling to another outside. She speaks with a Carribean accent. "What's that?" With agitation and urgency, another woman says, "stay away from that skunk." (Pause) "it's a dangerous animal and you don't want to get close." "Oh, ok," responds the first woman. The second one then cautions, "Go around it. Here." They move on. I sit in silence. Within minutes, my nose registers an unmistakable scent. With no label for it, I'm captivated by its familiarity. Then a thought, "skunk. . ."

That Sunday morning, after storm Irene blows through, I hear the phone ring. It's George, "looks like the storm has passed so I don't see a strong need for this party. But if you want to, go ahead. And thanks. It's nice of you to offer."

I say, "Thanks. It's my pleasure." then hang up the phone and head outside. Locating a suitable entrance to the park, I venture in and walk downhill and towards neighboring Inwood Park. Afterwards, heading back uphill, I stop for a moment and pull out my cell to call a friend, Paul, who lives in Inwood. I tell him about the party possibility and ask if he wants to help. He is eager to join in the fun and happy to hike uphill through the park. "Great!" I say and hang up. Arriving back home, I head for the kitchen and turn on the gas as a blue flame goes to work on a big pot of water. It has been sitting here since last night as a recommended reserve of potable drinking water.

Later that afternoon, Paul and I are standing in the lobby. The elevator door opens and a mess o' kids spill out. Minutes earlier, as we're setting up, a neighbor comes down and asks, "hey, is it ok if I bring ten kids down? And cheese and crackers?" We smile. I say, "Sure!"

As the kids dig in to the munchies, she shows us a special treat: dinosaur-shaped brownies. Soon, another neighbor arrives with more treats.

Offering everyone small cups of iced jasmine tea, and with colorful markers and paper nearby, we ask:

"How do you say 'whew!' in . . .?"

The responses are colorfully chaotic, contributed mostly by the kids. One toddler is having a good time tossing markers into the shopping cart used to transport the tea. Paul plays along, retrieving the markers and encouraging him, gesturing as if to say, "Score!"

More neighbors arrive, through the front door, through the side door by the mailroom, and also the stairs and elevator. The party is in full swing. Sitting beside a toddler who's drawing, I look up to check out who's here. "Wanna give her a hug?" one mom asks two young girls beside her. One must be her daughter, I register. They laugh and embrace with a natural ease. Their moms smile. I notice their eyes, which convey a shared understanding of the preciousness of the moment. I feel a warmth in my chest spreading out. The sensation is simultaneously calming and vibrant.

Hours later, walking alone in the park as sunset arrives, I walk across a large grassy field to a lookout point over the Hudson. The wind has picked up speed and intensity. I see leaves and branches swaying wildly in nearby Maple and Oak trees as a flood of sound fills my ears and spills out. The sky is awash in a deep reddish-orange glow. I snap a photo with my cell and post it on Facebook, adding these words,

"She sings a skysong. . ."

Then I turn and walk back across the grassy field onto the open road beside it. I move at a brisk pace, heading home.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Constructing Courage

Heading east at a brisk pace along E. 71st Street en-route to work, I see a line of fireman behind a bright red truck. Looks like they're deploying a huge firehose. I look around to gauge the situation. My head is saying, "keep moving." No time to stop and ask.

Even so, their presence stops my feet, calling attention. These guys are ready to respond. Present to the changing circumstances, present to each other, and to everyone in the vicinity; their subdued clothing is accented by bright strips of yellow-green fabric sewn on in various locations. They must be visible to function. At the same time, their understated presence communicates an admirable quality: courage.

Minutes earlier, zipping through Central Park, I hear a woman say assertively, "Come here!" I stop as a fluffy, black-white terrier runs towards her and haltingly comes to a stop. The woman bends down and attaches the dog's leash. She says in a lower-pitched tone, "That's the end of your freedom."

Days later, I enter a darkened movie theater in Battery Park City to see Green Lantern in Real3D. I sit down, gaze up, and follow the instructions on the screen, "Put on your 3D glasses." The hero's journey quickly commences. Hal, the hero or as he's identified early on, the "chosen one," must grapple with two juxtaposed energies: fear and "will." A green-hued alien tells him that green light, being the "color of will," transforms energy into "constructs" that serve. The stronger one's will, the more effective the construct, presumably in serving the greater good. Contrarily, the color of fear is yellow. Its constructs point in another direction entirely.

Hal arrives on the scene as a rather irresponsible daredevil who learns to face his fears and appreciate the power entrusted to him. This is classic superhero storyline. Yet something in the construct of "will" grabs me. Hal lives in his dad's shadow. Actually, the shadow is half fantasy, revealed in a memory-moment when Hal's dad, a test-pilot, says to his tween son, "it's my job not to be afraid." As the film progresses, his dad's espoused fearlessness is questioned, posing it perhaps as a strategy to cope with a fear of powerlessness.

Days earlier, my weekend journey begins by boarding a 2am bus to Boston. The bus is packed, this being close to July 4th. We arrive shortly after sunrise. Bleary-eyed, I walk through chinatown to the Public Garden. I enter the gate, and am captivated by the full-spectrum presence of green from every direction. I instinctively follow the path as it curves towards the pond. As birds chirp and ducks waddle by on the pond, I plop my tired body down on a bench in the shade, lean onto my backpack with a camping pillow in hand, and drink in the calming loveliness. Sunshine sparkles off the water and a light breeze welcomes.

After a much-needed nap, I awaken to bright sunshine on my face. Time to move on. I slowly make my way to the T (trolley) and from there to my mom's house in the suburbs. I'm here with a purpose. My mom and stepfather are moving to a smaller house. I'm planning to sort through the last of my boxes stored in their basement. Their nest is emptying. Years earlier, after my mom remarries, she and my stepfather adopt two babies: my younger sister, now age 23, who lives out of state, and my younger brother, now age 19, who is heading to college in August. My older sisters and I are more like aunts than sisters to them.

I am determined to reduce twelve boxes to a max of two by the end of the day. These boxes are a diverse collection of sizes and content. Coming here to do this is yet another step in deepening my relationship with my family and particularly my mother. Visiting with her is not always easy. We continue to move through communication barriers and heal injuries from the past. Our relationship is complex. Today we are joined in purpose. She encourages me by phone and email, declaring her confidence that I'll be able to get through these boxes in the one day set aside to do so. Our plan is to have some holiday fun the following day.

Getting off the T, I stop en-route for a matcha milkshake. The frosty green hue is a fitting match for the lightly sweet grassy taste. It tastes of summer. By the time I arrive at the house, I'm awake and ready for action.

I begin with what's difficult first and thus pro-actively engage my propensity to procrastinate.

I revisit boxes of photos and slides, many of which have rotted due to water damage from flooding. This offers no option but to let go. This quickens the pace and offers an opportunity to let go of the next batch in "good shape." Gazing at the images, I see stories, and experience these as chapters in a larger story. Each of these moments, each relationship, now appears as a complete step in an ongoing life path. I notice a quality of release, a easing of tension and slowing of breath. I am not grieving. I am appreciating flow.

I save one photo from a batch of 36. One photo. One "roll" of film. One is sufficient. One tells the whole story. This feels great.

Then I see a box labelled "daddy 1". Immediately my chest tightens. Eighteen years earlier, my father lies dying in a Pulmonary Care Unit. No longer able to speak or sing, he smiles when I enters the room. A complex man who during his life alienates at least as many people as he inspires, this action reveals movement in intention and realization. It's his way of connecting. It draws me to sit beside him and do nothing. Just sit, just be close. Many questions unanswered, many feelings surfacing in me but I can't go there. Too painful, too confusing. Even so, sitting there beside him, with nothing to do but breathe, something in me shifts enough to feel an embracing presence connecting us. I close my eyes and rest.

Sitting now beside a box of his belongings, I locate my father's high school yearbook and his photo in it. Age 16 and a senior, I notice that hardly anyone signs his yearbook. Beside his photo, I recognize his handwriting. The words are few and poignantly piercing, "To myself with love." His facial expression is anything but smiling. That same year, he draws a self-portrait, entitled "myself," which I now hold in my hands. A fragile pencil-sketch, it is stunning in its reflection of sadness and longing in his eyes. He seems terribly alone.

Many years after sketching it, he is diagnosed as bipolar and soon after, with multiple sclerosis.
I feel the tightening in my chest more keenly. I put the book and sketch back in the box. I pause for a single breath and then continue sorting.

The tightness increases and within minutes I have to stop. I'm seeing a flurry of images from different times all jumbled in mind. This boy in the yearbook is a different person from the dad who, when I'm 7, swaggers quickly across our kitchen, doing his hilarious impersonation of Groucho Marx. Or the one who a few years later, disappears for weeks on end. Or the one who, soon after re-appearing, explains Einstein's theory of special relativity to me with voracious simplicity at my grandmother's kitchen table and with no other tools than a sharpened #2 pencil and a large lined, yellow pad of paper.

Moments surface and recede as I sit here sorting. Like my dad who disappears and resurfaces in my life until his body begins to collapse and his mind tightens its grasp on constructs. Looking through this collection of artifacts, I'm sliding through time with more questions than answers.

At the age of 12, sitting at that kitchen table, my dad tells me, "Einstein invented C, the speed of light, to explain his new theory. Just as Newton invented calculus to be the language of his new physics." I'm enthralled and listening attentively.

Now, sitting beside a box of belongings, I wonder about that conversation, about those constructs of necessity. Do they construct reality or describe it? Which brings to mind a more fundamental question: what is real?

Peter Bergmann, a colleague of Einstein's and author of the classic textbook, "Introduction to the Theory of Relativity" (being the book my father references in teaching me, though omitting many of the complicated details), as Dennis Overbye writes in Bergmann's obituary:

"collaborated with Einstein on attempts to construct a so-called unified field theory to explain all the forces of nature. Among the attempts was a 1938 paper, building on a notion ... that suggested that space-time was not four-dimensional [time being the fourth dimension], but had a fifth dimension that was not ordinarily perceived because it was very small. Although Einstein and his collaborators subsequently turned to other ideas, the notion is now at the center of modern attempts to create a theory of everything."

He adds,

"Bergmann and Einstein were the first to explain how the fifth dimension could be real and on a par with the others but just smaller, said Dr. Witten of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. "It is a very modern idea."

In the same box, I pull out my father's Ph.D. thesis, which connects with this theory.

At the age of 12, sitting beside my dad, I am utterly drawn into that reality. Later that same year, I construct what I call a "spaceatarium" out of a huge cardboard box for my eighth grade science project. Painted black with a door cut out, dozens of tiny holes are lit up from outside so they shine like stars on the inside. Kids cut class to get in the queue as a long line forms of those wanting to sit inside and listen to the audio track I compose telling the dramatic story of the birth and death of stars. My goal is for the person inside to experience deep space directly, to experience the stars' lifecycle intimately, to feel themselves as these stars, to be there.

As these moments resurface, the tension in my chest and shoulders is calling attention. I stop what I'm doing and breathe into these spaces. Then, I return to another time, also when I'm age 12, though later that same year. Walking home in the Bronx from school by myself, I stop to help a stranger. I am footsteps from my family's apartment home and one block from my grandmother's. The hood of the stranger's car is up. He asks me to get in and gently step on the gas so he can test the engine. I get in.

Suddenly, I feel a knifepoint at my throat. He tells me to get in. I slide over to the passenger side. Minutes later, after driving through this neighborhood and sexually molesting me, he stops the car. As he lets me out he says, "I know where you live. If you tell anyone, I'll kill you." Until we move to Manhattan the following year, I live in a constant state of terror, always looking over my shoulder while walking to and from school. I walk quickly.

Now, sitting in my mother's home now beside a box of belongings, the flood of images slowly ceases as I continue to breathe into the stuck spaces. Slowly, the light in the room softens. The tightness loosens its grip and I feel the wet flow of tears. I instinctively wrap my arms around my torso. I hold myself, that part of me, that girl who dreams of outer space and terrified and terribly alone, longs to be close to her distant father.

I sit in the silent flow of being with him in moments, then of being alone with no idea of where he is or when he'll return. I embrace that girl in me who doesn't understand, who sits confused, afraid, and alone in the dark.

Slowly, I sense a shift and am able to continue with the work at hand.

Hours later, as sunset approaches, I have accomplished my goal. All these belongings are now held in two medium-sized boxes. One contains my belongings, a mix of photos, papers, and other memorabelia. The other contains my dad's belongings.

My mom and I decide to celebrate by going to Woody Allen's new film, "Midnight in Paris." First, I go for a walk. Realizing the next showtime is around when my mom usually goes to bed, I call her to check in about plans. I ask her, "is it too late?" She replies, "no, it's not too late. I really want to share this with you."

A couple of weeks earlier, she calls after seeing the movie, and recommends I see it, saying "I think you'll really enjoy it."

Now, back at the house, we head for the car and arrive around 9pm in Brookline. We park by the newly renovated, historic landmark, the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Sitting beside my mom in that darkened space, I gaze over at her as the film plays on the big screen. She's smiling with such delight, drinking in the nuances and wonderment of the story and its characters.

The movie's lead character, Gil, an aspiring novelist, obsessed with a "golden age" of 1920's Paris, enters it one night. Eventually he discovers in a pivotal moment of recognition that everyone is to some degree dissatisfied with their present because the very fact that it's real makes it dissatisfying. Gil says that even so, we want to escape what's real because it can be painful.

Ultimately, he chooses reality over fantasy.

As I watch, savoring a locally crafted mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, I feel another cooling presence. My mom and I are in flow. Years of difficult interactions melt away.

I leave the theater fully present. I remember something Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn writes in No Death, No Fear, referring to his retreats with veterans of war. He says one can be "reborn in the past" by relating differently to the construct called "past." This centers on feeling remorse for past harmful actions and (even if imagined) from those who have harmed you. Then, what he calls, "the ultimate dimension" is experienced where past and present are co-existent. This experience is distinct from a notion of linear progression or "historical time." He describes this as freedom and writes:

Freedom is the basic condition for you to touch life, to touch the blue sky, the trees, the birds, the tea, and the other person.

As we exit the theater, my mom and I take our time walking to the car and then driving home. I slowly press on the brakes and stop as a traffic light shifts from yellow to red. In contented silence, we breathe beside each other. The light turns green. I gently step on the gas. We continue on.

That night, I sleep out on the deck. I experience the night the way Walt Whitman refers to it in his poem, entitled, A Clear Midnight:

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars.

I wake up to birds chirping and sunshine warming my face. I get up, pillow in hand, and open the back door. I step into the kitchen. A familiar voice, asking if I slept well, welcomes me home.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pursuing Possibility

Walking on a sparkling Sunday afternoon through Manhattan's East Village, I stumble on what looks to be a community treasure, the First Street Garden. Through the fence, I see a poem painted on a wall:

"In the name of the Bee, and of the Butterfly, and of the Breeze. . ."

I read a nearby sign, which says the poem, by Emily Dickinson, is painted by children in the neighborhood as a poetry outreach project.

Two weeks later, I'm chatting with a middle-aged woman who calls herself Megalicious. We're sitting at a relatively new tea joint in Soho called In Pursuit of Tea. It is nearly literally a "hole in the wall," beautifully rustic by design, with just enough space for essentials: a counter to prepare tea and display a few homemade treats. Seating consists of two wooden planks atop short, rough-timbered logs. Outside a bare wooden sign hangs high. It says, "TEA." First appearing as a "popup shop" a year ago, I can still count on one hand the number of times I've been here.

The name "Pursuit" seems fitting. One has to be paying attention to notice the sign. It's easy to walk right by this treasure of a teahouse without ever seeing it. On this Saturday afternoon, an eclectic mix of patrons wanders in and out of the open door as I sip "Wood Dragon," a tea steeped from roasted Oolong twigs with a sprinkling of leaves. The fragrance is sweet without being cloyingly floral. I'm enjoying the cool breeze and amber hue of the brew when this woman arrives and orders the very same tea.

Seeing me pour from a large paper cup into a tiny porcelain one, she asks about it. And so begins our conversation. She picks up a tiny cup from a nearby tray, pours tea into it, then sips and smiles, lingering with the beauty and aroma. Introducing herself with a chuckle, she says, "call me Megalicious," adding that her first name is Meg. She hands me a flyer for a gathering in the neighborhood. She says it's to talk about changing regulations, which prevent many people from living here legally. It's organized by "Soho/Noho Action Committee."

She speaks of local history, mentioning painters including Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, who flock to this area in the 50's seeking studios, which can fit their large canvases. Now, she says, "you can only legally live here if you are a 'certified artist'." She says even this categorization applies to certain types of artists and excludes many forms of expressive arts. She goes on to advocate that anyone who wants to live here ought to be able to do so.

Just then, I gaze out the window across the street, noting the reflection from the large-paned industrial windows that speak of a bygone era, aware of its interior now re-purposed. I overhear the woman serving at the counter tell a customer that if they need a restroom, to go across and down the street to Bloomingdale's. This store is also relatively new to the neighborhood, having arrived a few years ago. The complexity of this context leaves me grateful for the simplicity of the tiny cup in my hands. I place it down and pour. I offer Megalicious the new Potluck Tea Party card. The design includes a stunning background of blue sky with various shapes of white clouds. She smiles. We continue sipping in silence.

A few days earlier, I'm sitting at Baja Fresh, a chain eatery, in Times Square. I'm enjoying a hefty serving of black beans and rice on a compostable plate. The price is right at $2.99, especially considering the fixins bar is free. Sitting on a tall barstool at a small-ish round table, I'm facing a bigscreen TV. A baseball game is on. I note the uniforms and recognize a name, then a face. Ortiz. David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. The other team? The NY Yankees, playing with "home advantage." As Ortiz steps up, bat in hand, I notice two guys, maybe late 20's, at a table to my right. They're also munching and watching the game.

One man on base. Then, after a swing goes nowhere, he tries again. He takes his time. We all pause for a breath. Then, I watch as ball meets bat meets sky. It soars and is quickly gone. Ortiz rounds the bases as the Sox score two runs. I sense a resonance though it takes a moment to register. Then it comes like an electric surge through my body. Seven years ago, I'm watching the twelfth inning of Game 4 of the World Series. David Ortiz hits a two-run homerun and the Sox come back from a 3-0 loss to the Yankees. Watching in a friend's livingroom, we jump to our feet from the couch. "Yeah, go Sox!" The Red Sox go on to win the Series. Both moments coincide for an instant, which brings out the juice of now being a whole new ballgame. Different context. Different connection. Yet something remains the same. What is it?

I turn to the two guys watching the game and ask, "are you routing for one of these teams?" One answers in a hushed tone, "the Red Sox." I ask if he's from Massachusetts. He says, "I'm from Rhode Island" and asks, "how about you?" I say, "not from there but lived there a long time." We all nod our heads to acknowledge this connection, unrecognized until now. Something in this exchange satisfies. Naturally, we return to eating and the game.

Three days earlier, I board BoltBus to Boston. Arriving just in time at 7am, I'm the last passenger to get on. I hadn't planned for the A-train to go local, delaying my carefully planned arrival time. Stepping up, my eyes register that there are no empty seats. And not all are filled with people. The seat beside every person riding solo is occupied. Scanning the bus, I see bags, laptops, knapsacks, and other such items scattered among these seats. I ask a woman sitting in the one directly behind the driver, who looks to be in her 60's, if I might join her. She quickly moves her pocketbook from the seat. I take off my shoes, place my knapsack on top of my shoes and my sock-covered feet on top of the knapsack.

The driver gets on. A fellow who seems like he's also a driver for this company sits in the other front seat. They chat, then as the bus pulls away from the curb, the driver announces, "This is the bus to Boston. If you're not going to Boston, come to the front row. Otherwise, we'll be in Boston in four and a half hours if no traffic or construction. So relax and enjoy the ride."

My ears scan the bus. A sea of voices is speaking louder than is comfortable for me and louder than I recall on past rides. This includes the driver and his buddy who resume their conversation after he makes the announcement. A young couple behind me are speaking loudly enough to be heard more than several rows back. The woman beside me, reading The New Yorker, astounds me in her capacity to focus amidst the myriad streams of conversation around her. I do my best for a few minutes. Then I put on sound "protection" headphones, which I use on daily subway rides. The difficulty is that wearing them for long periods of time hurts my ears. Imagining over four hours of this is agonizing. I notice myself growing increasingly agitated.

I close my eyes and attune to the flow and rhythm of my breathing. I check in with where I'm feeling tension, my shoulders and neck. I breathe into the sensations while maintaining awareness of my body as a whole. Feeling centered, I take off the headphones, turn to face the young man and woman behind me, and introduce myself. As I speak to share my concern while affirming their freedom and our mutual partnership in riding together, my body feels the resonance of this same dynamic many months ago on another bus at another time. Same and yet different.

This time I notice the tension is nearly gone, and I'm able to speak more comfortably. Sharing that the volume at which they're speaking is, for me, distracting and uncomfortable; I ask if they might be willing to adjust their volume. The woman looks annoyed while the young man responds with genuine empathy and understanding, "I'll give it a shot." His tone indicates willingness even as it registers mild irritation. This mix of emotion is subtle and encouraging to register. I sense this as a visceral tingling sensation, one of shared presence. It's enlivening. Not necessarily seeing eye to eye yet able to hear and respond authentically and with care. I smile and, say, "hey, thanks alot. I'm glad we're finding a way together." He nods his head with a hint of a smile to acknowledge this shift in connection.

I turn back and sit back down, facing the front of the bus. I check in again with my breath and sit silently for a few minutes. Then, leaning in towards the driver, who's still chatting with his buddy, I interject, "Hi." He stops speaking. I continue, "I'm kinda uneasy right now because it seems a bit loud on the bus, at least for me, especially because would like to rest. Would you consider asking passengers to be mindful of volume during the ride when comes to conversations and using electronic devices?" He responds, "I usually don't do that." Then he says to his buddy, "is she talking about us talking?" Then he asks me, "are you noticing something being a problem?" I reply, "yes."

He says, "I don't like to tell people what to do." I say, "I understand that. I wouldn't want to do that either. I see it more as working together." I affirm his authority, and the importance of freely choosing. I also mention the importance of safe and respectful, adding, "I've noticed on previous rides that when a driver states this precaution, asking people to be mindful, it's pre-emptive, preventing problems down the road." At this point, the driver's buddy says to him, matter-of-factly, "hey, just announce it. She's right."

The driver picks up the overhead mike without delay and says, "hey everybody. I usually don't make this announcement." He pauses then continues, "when using your cellphones or listening to music, be . . ." He pauses again, then adds, "be mindful of your fellow passengers and keep it down. You can still use your phone and whatever. Everybody have a pleasant ride." I thank him, and sit back, closing my eyes and soon falling asleep. As I'm dozing off, I'm aware of the woman beside me continuing to read. I wonder what she's reading. And what she's feeling.

When we arrive in Boston, I thank the driver and he says with a friendly grin, "hey, no problem!" I laugh and move on.

A week earlier, I'm watching a new movie called, "The First Grader" at the Village East Cinema. I heard of the movie from Sam Feuer, its producer, when he stops by on Mother's Day for Potluck Tea Party in Central Park. "Enthused" is an understatement for how he feels about his first production. He encourages me to see it and "spread the word." Days later, I post an announcement of this on Sensing Wonder's new Facebook page.

Weeks later, tired of editing in IMovie, I go online and read that the film's director, Justin Chadwick, says in an interview with CBS News that online word of mouth "is completely vital. The only way that interesting films that haven't got a big studio behind them survive is because of people spreading the word."

I make a mental note as I return to the task, putting final touches on "Growing, In Brooklyn," a musical slideshow of a recent Potluck Tea Party, which is also the first one held in Brooklyn. I'm planning to upload it to youtube and then share it through various social media along with the now "old school" method of an email "distribution list." I don't know precisely how any of this works. The Web seems inconceivably complex. And yet, staring at a single frame, it's clear what is the next thing to do. This frame. How many seconds? This transition. How long does it last

Learning as I go. Diving in. Trying it out.

Now, watching, "The First Grader," I'm drinking in the arid setting in rural Kenya, and the increasingly multi-layered unfolding of its lead character, 84-year old Maruge. He has survived brutal torture in colonial days decades earlier at the hands of the British. He is learning to read for the first time beside fifty kids in a ramshackle schoolhouse in the countryside. Conflict ensues as educating a man his age is not the intention of the government when it announces, "Free education for all."

Later, advocating for the teacher of this class with government officials, he states,

“We have to learn from our past because we must not forget and because we must be better.”

He adds,

"We reap what we sow with our children."

Back in Boston, heading on foot to the bus station in the late afternoon, I'm walking through a Greenspace, which has grown as part of the aftermath of the urban renovation project known as The Big Dig. I walk by a slew of kids and adults moving very strangely. As I get closer, I see what's happening. A whole lotta hoola hoops are twirling around hips and torsos of all shapes and sizes. I see a sign that says, "FIGMENT Boston - Free Participatory Arts Festival."

I keep walking along the footpath, noticing all kinds of unexpected displays of human creativity. Lots of kids are lying on the ground with adults joining them. They're all staring up at the sky, and looks like they're watching clouds float by. Since I'm on the move, no time to ask. I keep walking, soon passing by a big metal geodesic dome. Someone's draped inside a long blue cloth hanging from the dome's frame and twisting about as if preparing for a circus act. Nearby, three women are powering what look to be music amps with a bicycle-like contraption. Across the way, a fellow in a tent is drawing on what looks to be an IPad, projecting the screen image of a colorful animated-on-the-fly fish on the tent wall. Back outside, five sailors walk by in crisp white uniforms and stop, posing on request for a photo.

Later, I read on FIGMENT's website, that it is happening in three cities (Boston, New York City, and Jackson, MI) and that

"FIGMENT intends for everyone who comes to the event to be a participant, so that FIGMENT itself can be seen as one large collaborative art project. No one is a spectator. We are all connected and we are all creators. . . FIGMENT is completely free. It's a grassroots effort, organized and run entirely by volunteers as a gift to our cities."

I keep going and soon arrive at South Station for the bus ride back to NYC. This time travelling on Peter Pan Bus Line, I arrive with plenty of time and boarding, sit beside a passenger towards the middle of the bus. Conversations are happening all over the bus. Amazingly, everyone is speaking at a volume, which feels comfortable all around. I sense a calm humming throughout my body. The driver gets on, welcomes everyone and announces precautions for the trip including being aware of fellow passengers. As we pull out and move along, the rhythm of the road and the changing scenery is all it takes to settle in.

I close my eyes, content to go along for the ride.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sheltering Beauty

A softly bright hazy sky comes into view as I climb up a narrow flight of stairs and exit the Subway station at 72nd Street and Central Park West. I wait as the light turns green then cross the street.

Before setting out for a brisk romp through the park en-route to work, I scan my phone for "personal" email to see if any need immediate responses. All these movements are carefully choreographed, a schedule neatly planned to get me to work refreshed, focussed, and on time. I can't afford to be distracted.

Standing beside a fresh bed of pastel pink tulips, I pause to breathe in their gorgeous scent and attune to the chirping of nearby sparrows flitting among budding branches of a young tree.

I pick up my Blackberry and open a message from a friend living in Oregon. It says, "Saw Alex Rudinsky yesterday. He's within a week or two of dying."

The words hit me like a bolt of lightning. I stand frozen for a few seconds, unable to absorb what's happening. My mind goes blank. My feet take over and phone in hand, I walk towards the tree-shelter canopy that marks the entrance into Strawberry Fields. I put the phone away and walk the short distance to the Imagine Circle. Eyes register "Imagine" set in gray mosaic tiling.

I slowly step back then turn, facing east and keep going. Within minutes, I feel the air moisten as first drops begin to fall.

A year earlier, Alex and I reconnect at a Memorial Day buffet. It's offered by Zen Community of Oregon at its residential training Center called Great Vow Zen Monastery. The place is anything but cloistered. People are a'plenty. Alex is telling me with great enthusiasm about his daughter Anna now in her early 20's and living in New York. He and I go back over a decade, having shared many moments of "spiritual practice" as members of this Community. I have been visiting twice a year since moving.

Alex's eyes exude kindness. His smile is gentle and direct. He's the kind of guy who when he's smiling, you just find yourself going along for the ride. You feel better just standing there with him.

Now moving through Central Park, the rain connects me to a terrain 3000 miles away whose touch is familiar as it is comforting. When I finally arrive at work, sitting down and just before emailing our mutual friend; I notice my agitation. Attuning, I sense below the surface, through what feel like bubbles of rage bursting and rippling out to diffuse their energy. As this happens, I begin to feel pain, sometimes sharp and as this spreads out, the tightness in my chest feels more achy. It hits me, first the recognition of having been completely unaware until today of Alex being sick. And I'm just beginning to feel his presence in that state and realize my helplessness. A queasy hollow-like sensation courses through me. I stay there for some time attuning to its rhythm as my pulse and breath settle.

Days later, I'm standing at the post office, finally finding words to write in a card. I feel Alex's presence. A moment of being with him feels like it's happening now all over again. He is standing, painting in the Jizo Garden at Great Vow (as it's affectionately known).

This garden is actually set in a forest. It is a place to rest and reflect and be with loved ones who have passed on. Everywhere are tokens of remembrance, slowly disintegrating, hanging from whatever is within reach. Poems and artwork, small toys, and bits of fabric sewn together, accented by beads or whatever strikes the fancy of the one remembering. Throughout this place are a sprinkling of old growth trees among younger varieties, Some are evergreens, Doug Fir being the most common. These form a sheltering canopy while still welcoming in sunlight or rain in soft streaming ripples.

As I walk along the newly shaped path through these woods, I see a figure wearing a moderately broad brim hat, paintbrush in hand, facing an easel. He is standing in a wild mess of tall ferns. The canvas is filled with varying shades of green, each one reflecting a quality of light, which draws me closer.

Just then, my feet step onto a dry branch, which crackles loudly enough to draw the painter's gaze. He turns and seeing me, breaks into a broad albeit subtle grin. I'm smiling too. We meet in a moment as ordinary as it is intimate, perfectly at home in this forest garden.

Back at the post office, I place the card, crafted of handmade paper with a light green hue, in an Express Mail envelope. I bring it to the counter. The woman helping me asks, "Oregon. How many hours difference?" "Three," I reply. She says, "Oh, same as Nevada." I ask, "Do you know someone in Nevada?" She replies, "No, I'm from Hong Kong originally. I was just visiting Death Valley." I feel my legs go soft and place my hands on the counter for support. I say, "It must've been amazing." She says, "Oh, yes. The name sounds scary but it's not. It's very beautiful."

I look at her in wonderment and say nothing.

The next day just before leaving work, I call the residence where Alex has been living and say, "I'm a friend of Alex Rudinsky." The woman answering the phone says, "he died this morning." My stomach sinks into something deeper and the queasiness returns. I immediately call one of his daughters to offer condolences. I get off the phone. I leave the building and do what comes naturally. I walk. I feel the air on my face.

When I get home, even though it's late, I can't sleep. I light a candle and place Alex's photo beside it. I sit there a long time.

The next morning I go to Village Zendo for a day-long retreat. Being with friends in a mostly silent container of time and space allows me to flow with a shifting interior landscape. That forest garden becomes a stronger presence and in moments I feel myself sitting there. Afterwards, I walk to Ten Ren Tea. I pour from a large cup into a small one a rich dark brew of an earthy tea called PuEr. Over and over again I pour and sip. The woodsy aroma and taste take me back to days at Great Vow and other gardens among friends. Our hands dig into moist soil mixed together with fresh compost. This is fertile ground for new seedlings we are transplanting from the greenhouse where they've germinated.

All at once, almost before I realize it's happening, tea in hand, tears spill out. I can't hide them though feel awkward crying openly in this teahouse. Cindy and Anna, friends who work here, offer space and gentle care, bringing over a small cup of Oolong, placing a light hand on my shoulder then stepping back to their work. When ready, I tell them what's happened. Each offers comforting words and a brief, heartfelt hug. Something in me shifts as I'm held. I feel safe. I sense that this moment too is precious and these people dear to me. And it all seems so incredibly ordinary. The lack of seeming drama in the midst of a multitude of emotion allows me to relax. Able to integrate the hurt and sadness, the confusion and regret, I return to appreciating who is here now. An inner warmth moved out as quiet joy arises in me unexpectedly.

As preparations begin to close the teahouse for the night, I head out and wander through the side streets of Chinatown as the sun sets. Stumbling on a prayerful scene, I see Pakistani or perhaps Afghani workers pulling out pieces of cardboard and prostrating together. My mind flashes to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and walking by its renovated chapel. A friend and colleague, Imam Yussuf Hassan, joins with staff, patients, and their family members in prayer. They spread out small colorful rugs and prostrate, facing east towards Mecca.

Days later, I call Sybil, a 70-something friend and writer whose compassionate way is subtle as it is imaginative. I mention Alex being "only 54" yet having lived fully. She says, "sometimes I think it's like people are all kinds of carpets. Some are meant to be prayer rugs instead of wall-to-wall." This hits home and I feel the relief of a few tears running down my cheek.

Back in Chinatown, I turn towards the river, heading west. I hear voices singing. Following the sound, I enter a Catholic church and see an Easter vigil. Holding white candles, Chinese parishioners stand as the choir sings. The candlelight resonates with the end of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, on this, the fifth day of Passover. It is a time, which marks the transition from rest to activity. I stay briefly then keep moving.

Nearly a week earlier, I sit at a long table in Soho for a lively Seder with friends and their family. They get the power of togetherness. Deena is founder of Communal Table and Musho is an artist whose whimsical creations include a colorful cast of characters. The haggadah storybook we use is called, “A Night of Questions.” When it's time for the ten plagues, each of us dips a pinky in our wineglass and removes a drop, one for each plague. Opinions vary on why this is done. A popular explanation is to acknowledge that we do not rejoice at the suffering of the oppressor. Rather, we celebrate being freed from the yoke of oppression. "What's the difference?" remains a question debated at many a table.

Now, standing on the edge of Tribeca, I wait for the traffic light to change. The sky has darkened considerably. The light turns green. I keep going. When I get to the Hudson river, the flow of water soothes and the streetlamps' glow washing over its shifting surface comforts as it refreshes.

The next morning, I reset my makeshift music studio and toss whatever does not seem to be essential. Later, as evening comes, I head downtown to Bluestockings Bookstore to hear Nina Revoyr read from her new novel, Wingshooters. I hear about Nina from my friend Tomomi. Nina is her daughter.

A group of thirty or so eager listeners gather. Homemade cookies sit on a nearby table.

Nina's novel deals with complexity of character and relationships, engaging difficult themes including racism, and is being compared to To Kill a Mockingbird. Nina comes up to the mike. She reads a passage, which beautifully captures a moment where the story's nine-year-old protagonist heads out to the baseball field with her grandfather:

"Something about stepping out onto a baseball field that always gave me a thrill, as if some energy source, some element in the grass, entered my feet and moved up through my body and set off an extra charge in my heart. . . Batting is about muscle memory and repetitive motion, and you have to get to the point where you're moving perfectly and acting without thought. . . When players get into a slump, it's often because they're thinking too much, breaking down the various parts of their swing until it becomes a series of separate, fallible mechanical actions instead of a unified expression of grace."

She adds, "When I did connect, when the ball hit the center of the barrel of the bat and flew out into the field, I felt a sense of joy and freedom as powerful and true as anything I've ever experienced. . . Hitting a ball is like catching a piece of the sky and sending it back up to itself. It's like creating your own crack of thunder. And stopping a ball-especially a grounder you have to reach for, or a line drive that should have flown past your glove-is like catching a bolt of lightning."

As she reads, the sky explodes with a bright flash and soon the crackle of thunder, quickly followed by a downpour. We feel it through the bookstore's open door as a rush of moist wind. During the Q&A, which follows her reading, Nina responds (as best I'm able to hear) to a question:

"Much like a good parent, I give characters enough structure (foundation) then trust. Characters lead you and become the story. Sure, I want people to think about complexity, about racism, but if I wanted to write an opinion I would have written non-fiction. Fiction has to have real characters. What's it like for someone to be neither all good or all evil?"

Her words reverberate throughout my body as I briefly mingle, then head out the door. Time to go home.

It's late. I pick up my electric guitar, already plugged into an effects box, and put on the attached headphones. I step on the pedal to shift sound effects. My fingers start strumming, then slow down to pluck single strings. Hearing the delay of the signal, it sounds like rain falling through that broad forest canopy. I adjust the delay and attune. My body loosens its taughtness and falls in with what's flowing.

The flickering candle light casts dancing shadows across the wall, magnifying the silhoetted shape of flowers nearby. I feel my breath and pulse. Over and over fingers pluck away. I get up and move through the room as far as the cord will allow. Slowly lyrics come. I sing them softly given the hour:

"I'm standing with you. I'm standing with you in a forest garden. And the rain's comin' down. the rain's comin' down. It'll turn you around. It'll turn you around."

I feel the wet warmth of tears streaming down my cheeks in the night glow, choking through the refrain of "rain's comin' down."

My fingers strum harder now and faster. I step on the peddle and the effect, the grit of the sound building. I feel that forest floor squishing beneath me and the sheltering embrace of that forest canopy. It feels so good to play. I feel free, freer than I've felt in months. I play until my fingers shake and eventually settle. The last thing I do is record the snippet of song using my phone. No time yet to setup the recording part of this studio. I finally release into a restful exhaustion.

The next day I send the recording to my friend Naomi. She texts me within minutes, "Wow. . .it's beautiful. You should play in the public. Seriously."

My immediate and visceral response on reading this is palpable, a new interplay of joy, relief, and all of it most intimate. Not so much the being seen for who I am (an ongoing storyline). Rather the ability to express and have this connect for another. Meeting in the moment.

Days later, I check my email. Another friend in Oregon and resident at Great Vow, writes, "We'll have Alex's memorial ceremony here today. I visited Alex the week before his passing. He had big, bright eyes."

I go onto Facebook. I visit Alex's photo albums and am drawn to one of his colorful landcape oil painting of a forest scene, entitled, "Shelter." I then return to the previous page and scroll down to see his comment to friends. He's talking about the relationship between "posting" and "sharing":

"I guess I have no idea how this works. I thought anyone could look at these photos just by going to my fb page and clicking on which photo album they wanted at any time. So the difference is when I edit it, then they are "posted" and go out to everyone as when I "share" something?"

He then writes,

"And so the advantage is people don't have to think. It just visually appears in front of them, and they are happy."