For Remembrance, For Gratitude


 When I spend time with Marissa Bridge and Joe Lamport on Long Island, the sounds of the birds and the breeze rustling the leaves, the grasses, the sleepy pace, strolls to the water’s edge, the big kitchen of their beautiful house, they all remind me of an ideal of childhood that never happened.


 Many Eastern philosophies state that yearning of any kind: for the past, for an imagined and specific future, for a lover’s arms, they all cause suffering and are disguised but thwarted impulses to merge with the divine.  The pain of yearning can be solved by merely stepping from the needs of the individual personality  into gratitude for the majesty of this universe, for the fleeting time on earth.

I resist nostalgia because it’s unproductive, but nostalgia is exactly what I feel when I am out there with Joe and Marissa, like stepping into a loving home where the most important thing in the world is found in a single moment on a summer day without a care in the world.


Remembering innocence and all who were here and now gone.  For my mother, Jacqueline Urdang, whose favorite flower was the Iris.


  Marissa’s is the orchid.  She’s seen from the upstairs guest bedroom window, carrying one to her painting studio.  Click here for a previous post on her works: A Life In Flowers   Gratitude to Marissa and Joe for making their home a welcomed place for my heart.

Love to My Mother

My mother and I @ 24 years old, and a few months, respectively.


Christmas Day, seven years later,


In the late 60’s, hippie chick and jazzy Mom

IMG_0006My mother valued erect posture, good looks, fast cars, intelligent minds, and her children.  Ultimately though, it was love that she wanted and cherished most.  I love you, Mom, wish you were here, and thank you for always believing in me, even when it was a stretch.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms and their courage to bring children into this wonderful and crazy world.  Without you, there wouldn’t be a we.

Time After Time

In the late sixties, my ex and I lived in what is now South Street Seaport on the entire second floor of a defunct seaman’s hotel.  There were five empty floors above.  We illegally payed rent to the tenant on the first floor, a man with a business that never opened.

Our only neighbors, a young hippie couple, were blocks away squatting in a three story  building.  It was my first exposure to this rent free option.  They made a silver deck off the second floor where she, a tiny young girl from Connecticut, grew pots of thriving herbs for her makeshift kitchen.  One morning, Daniel, the boyfriend, brought over a fresh bluefish wrapped in The New York Times that he had seen a dock worker steal and stash.  With only a cooktop at their building, this dark and brooding artist designated me to cook his fish.

It fed ten hippies a memorable feast, it was the first time I used dill, and for a couple of hours, I was the queen of the evening, an event that turned me into a cook.

Not long after the bluefish, late one night in pouring rain, someone pounded on the garage door that served the non-business below us.  My ex went down and returned with the Connecticut girl, dripping wet.  Through sobs and shivering, she described Daniel as a schizophrenic and announced that she was moving back to her hometown. “Just one night,” she pleaded, as she put her soggy bag of worldly possessions on the floor.  I quickly got her a towel, made a plush pallet for her, worried that Daniel would pound on the door next, and we all went to bed.

“Oh, these sheets,” she said from her position below our iron bed, “they feel heavenly.  We never sleep on them.  Daniel thinks they’re unnecessary.”  My heart broke in two for her deprivation of the simple luxury of clean sheets.

Almost twenty years later in 1987, after moving from, then back to New York, I made friends with a bunch of bicycle riders.  Once a week, Rolling Thunder took to the streets, from neighborhood to neighborhood, exploring and generally promoting mischief in which we would need to ride away quickly with a person of authority, like a night guard, yelling at our backs.  That’s when I saw Daniel for the first time in all those years: on one of those rambling bicycle nights.  He looked raggedy but well preserved; in fact he hadn’t aged at all.  As we flew by him, it was his brown eyes that were most recognizable.  I didn’t stop because he was behind us in a flash, there were many people with me, and I had harbored his departing girlfriend years before.


In 2009, I was crossing Central Park, going from the Museum of Natural History, past the Swedish cottage, Shakespeare Garden, up around the castle, above Turtle Pond, on my way to the east side.  I had been doing this for months, three times a week, on my way to see a client at the Carlyle Hotel.  As I came down from the castle, there sat Daniel, apparently homeless, with a neatly packed red wire cart at his side, reading The New York Times, and smoking a cigarette with a sand bottom ash tray next to him on the bench.  Speechlessly, I speed-walked on, thinking maybe I would talk to him if I could think of what to say.

Stroll after stroll, I saw him, virtually unchanged except for a few gray hairs and a slightly receding hairline that gave him an air of aristocratic countenance.  I thought he must have a family that cares for him in spite of his lifestyle, because he consistently read The Times in a clean shirt and sports coat.  One day on the way to the Carlyle, I decided that if he was still there on the way back, I would stop and reintroduce myself.  In my head, the exact language cycled through.

An hour later, on the way out of the hotel via Madison Avenue, I heard someone screaming ‘No, no no,’ over and over again.  Pushing the door to the outside, the NO’s came from a man holding his head, marching back and forth where I stood.  He was crying.  The foreman of a construction project he was responsible for everything.  The jaws of a bulldozer had just come down on an unnoticed jaywalking pedestrian.  The elegant victim, a mere 20 feet away, was gracefully sprawled, a flying seventy-year-old very fit dancer performing rond de jambe en l’air.  But he was on the ground, gray and lifeless.

I quickly left the scene, weaving blindly through throngs of horrified people.  As the foreman’s NO’s became fainter, I hit the park where I started to run and weep for the man who lost his life in one moment’s careless act, something most people do frequently, I thought, without serious consequences.

Daniel still sat on his bench.  Only able to express grief and fear I breathlessly ran past him as hard and fast as I could go.  He was never there again.  But that doesn’t mean we won’t cross paths in the future.  Our separate threads of life seem to be strung in the same loose cloth, destined for another brief juncture.  If that happens, whether or not I talk to him is to be determined.


Looking Through another Lens

IMG_4097The Eternal City

With all the killing that continues to be practiced, civilization has managed to last a miraculously long time.  As my mother would say, “Wonders never cease.”

  With the horror at the Boston Marathon, mankind and his senseless destruction has hit another low.  And that’s piled on top of the Newtown massacre, on top of too many tragedies to bear.  Every moment of every life, we make choices.  It comes down to whether we choose to create or destroy.  Why not fund the will to live peacefully and respectfully for every person, animal, plant, the earth that gives us our daily sustenance, as if they all deserve to be lovingly cultivated and to thrive with equal importance.

IMG_4098This magnificent world deserves better.


Mud Wrestling With God

IMG_2092Fairy Glen, The isle of Sky


Today, a conversation triggered the face and phrase of a woman I knew years ago.  ‘Clear as a bell,’ as my mother would say, in my mind’s eye, there she was before me: late 60’s, classicly beautiful, a natural-blonde- in-navy-blue-stylish, and recently retired.

She had been an airline stewardess for forty years, was most proud to be one of the activists that overturned restrictions based on gender, looks, height and weight: those  who were qualified to perform that job or not.   Because of her efforts, the industry is served by more than just a few people’s idea of perfect beauty.  For many passengers of today, diversity is a given.  But it did not used to be true.

In our first conversation, she explained that her current activity was ‘mud wrestling with God’.  Until today, I had no clue what that meant.  I thought I did, but at this stage in life, where all lenses are colored by the importance of how I spend time, whom I love, where I give, the care I take within and without, only now do I think I know what she meant.  And it is humbling.

The Life and Death of Spring






Walking through Central Park never smelled sweeter than today.  The promise of new life was everywhere: in the lovers and sunbathers, in the tinkling laughter of children,  in the pink blossoms, and the bluest sky.

And yet where my mind went was to a passage from a novel, The Last Life, by Claire Massud.

It was April when I read the book, and I was in the village of Menerbes, in Provence, not far from where the story is set.  A translpanted Algerian family owns a Mediterranean resort for the well to do French.  On a perfectly potent Spring day, the teenage protagonist’s father gets in his car, drives to a deserted road and after sitting alone, feeling the air and smelling new life all around him, takes his own life.  What I remember was that the narrator thought Spring was too beautiful and promising for her father to bear.

  The morning I read that, I missed breakfast at the house where I was staying.  Instead I stayed in bed reading and listening dreamily to the sound of a visitor’s voice coming from the kitchen.  When I heard him leave, I ventured down for coffee and to tell my hostess about that  poignant passage.  For a few seconds, she looked at me as if I’d slapped her.  Then she began to speak.  The local policeman of the village who’d just left had dropped in for much needed  solace.  Unsure he could stand to do his job another day, he told her he had just cut down an older couple from a tree in their orchard.  They simultaneously hung themselves that very morning.  “Suicide is most rampant in the Spring,” he said.


No matter how hard I try to understand wanting to leave this world, especially when everything else is coming to life, the only thing that makes a flicker of sense to me is if it’s because Spring, so  full of earnest assurance, is always fleeting before our eyes.

At Larry Selman’s Memorial



Do you remember Larry?

I will never forget him and neither will thousands of others.

In the last thirty five years, if you spent any time in the west village on a day above 25 degrees, you are likely to have crossed paths with Larry.  He is the subject of the  short documentary, an Academy Award nominee in 2002, The Collector of Bedford Street, by Alice Elliott.  The film took him all over the world with the help of his dear friends, and he received a Caring Award, shared with Colin Powell in 2009.  He was a beloved neighbor to many and last night was his memorial.  He died this past January at seventy years old.

Larry spent most of his time collecting money for his favorite charities, usually one dollar at a time.  Day after day, year after year, the last few with an attendant at his wheelchair side, he called out to passer-bys and caught them coming and going.  “Can I talk to you for a minute?” he said, repeatedly in a loud and high pitched command.  Only if one was closed down, could Larry be ignored.

The first  time he asked me for money, I gave him a dollar.  Five minutes later, I walked by again and he asked for more, with no recollection of our previous exchange.  In a hurry, I ignored him.  And I saw lots of people ignore or insult him.  It pains me to admit this.  But it didn’t take long to come around and understand what this developmentally disabled man was doing for the world: taking care.

A man who spoke last night said  that he would be rich if it weren’t for Larry.  Others shared that they kept one dollar bills in their pockets so that he wouldn’t see any bigger denominations but those very people gave frequently: money and their absolute support.

When his beloved uncle died, Larry’s independence and financial security were gone.  All his giving came back in the form of a trust that was developed and supported by about one hundred people in the neighborhood.  Life was not easy for him but it was charmed, especially toward the end.  Larry possessed a capacity for great love and he attracted the love of many who came to know him.  His kind actions created a community of supporters, neighbors who might not otherwise know each other, all who united for the good of Larry’s vast humanity.  He was a teacher of goodness and it fills me with poignancy to know that in a very small way, I took my lessons from him and gave to his charities and his personal trust.

Ol’ Fuzzhead


In the fall, my eighty-nine year old father ended up in a rehab center in Kansas City with another cardiac issue.  There was only so much normalcy that one could bring into that room.  So I did my version of what our family is known to do in tough times: get in the car.

But there was no way to lift him safely into any vehicle by myself because as frail as he is, he is still very dense.  Instead, I put a jacket on him and rolled him in his wheelchair through the door of his room, down the hallway, past nurses, doctors and other ‘inmates,’ into the elevator, down another long series of hallways, right by the front desk, and out the sliding doors.

Hitting fresh air like we’d just dug through a mile long tunnel, we quickly crossed the parking lot into the vast acreage of the surrounding hills.  Going up, I pushed with every ounce of strength I had, arms stretched way out and body at a total slant.  “Steph, you’re panting down my neck,” Dad said.  “I hope you don’t die of a heart attack doing this.”  Downhill was even more labor intensive.  Keeping him in his chair and a good grip on them both involved more strength than my life normally requires.

Twice we made variations of the same rounds, but the third day I decided to cross Nall Road, a six lane major thoroughfare.  From there we went into an upscale neighborhood.  As I pushed, we talked, more than usual.  We talked because we weren’t face to face and it was easier to communicate through the grief that hung between us like a wet wool blanket.

“I miss Gretchen, Steph.  Do you ever think about her?” Dad said.

“Every day, Dad.  I miss her too.”  Gretchen, my youngest sister, died eight years ago in a fire.  Even from behind him, I could tell Dad was softly crying.

“Getting old is not for sissies,” he said for the hundredth time.  “But that’s life.”

“Yeah, I guess so.  What else can you do?”  I could feel my heart breaking in two.

By then we had reached a small man-made lake.  When we came to a little footbridge, I nearly dumped him in the gap between the sidewalk and the wood planks.  Halfway onto the bridge I thought to myself, I need to document this one.

“I’m going to take your picture, okay?” I said, stopping.

“Make sure I look good.”

“It’ll be from the back, Dad.  Your face won’t even show.”

“Okay, but take one from the front too and be sure you get my good side and don’t make me look toothless.”

I took the two photos under his direction.

“Ol’ Fuzzhead,” he said when he looked at them on my camera, images his eyes could barely see.

“Yeah, Ol’ Fuzzhead halfway there,” I said, through a sheet of blinding tears.



Yesterday at the local health food store, as I was being rung up by a young woman, I had my head down, rifling through my purse for a tote bag .  I heard the breathy prep for a sneeze.  The check out girl disappeared from the corner of my eye and there was a big moist explosion.  “Bless you,” I said absentmindedly.  When I looked up, a middle aged, male manager was standing in her place and from underneath the counter came the sounds of a squirmishing struggle.  He resumed ringing up my groceries.  Since the store had once given me a free tote, I searched my bag one more time.  “It’s at home, on my desk,” I said, looking back up.  The girl, red faced, was standing there again.

“I fell down,” she said in operatic giggles, “from that sneeze.”  As we laughed together,  an old boyfriend came to mind.  When the sun hit his sinuses, it never failed to trigger a juicy sneeze.  Walking down the streets of New York, his arms would fly out to his sides like he was stopping traffic.  That was my signal to halt and witness his often violent reaction to an innocent ray of sun.  At first, I found this amusing, like an orgasmic little death in a public arena.  But after too many of these conspicuous bodily functions demanded my embarrassed audience, I learned to continue walking, as if I were alone.