Another Horizon

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When my sister, Gretchen, died in a fire, the family immediately gathered in Springfield, Missouri.  Since I had just received a new certification as a reverend, I was the designated moderator of the memorial.

The night before the service, my dad came into my hotel room and said, “Steph, there’s something I want you to read.  You know I don’t ask for much but I’m asking for this.”  He pulled out his wallet and thumbed through decades of precious little pieces of soiled papers, unfolding, reading and folding them back up.  I never saw him as an old man until that moment, slow and broken because his youngest went before him.  Finally, he came to THE one.  “They read this at my friend’s funeral, Steph, and I want you to read it tomorrow.  And don’t argue with me”  He handed me the faded limp text, I took it from him, squinted at the type, and unbeknownst to either of us, it was the same poem I had brought with me to read.

Once again, it’s time to read it, this time for my dad, Sol Urdang:

June 21,1923 – July 19, 2013

Poem. The Ship, by Charles Henry Brent
What is dying?

I am standing on the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her
until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle
with each other.
Then someone at my side says: ‘There! She’s gone.’
Gone where? Gone from my sight that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she
was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living
freight to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her;
and just at the moment when someone at my side says:
‘There! She’s gone,’
there are others watching her coming,
and voices ready to take up the glad shout
‘There she comes!’
And that is dying.

 

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May Dad’s journey be met with loving arms.

I’d like to think the woman in the red dress that Dad saw on his ceiling Thursday night was Gretchen, waiting for him, as he began to sail to the other side.

Dad& KU portrait 2011 copy

in red copy

Approaching the Queen

Humbled again, still in love, the crown appears in the sky

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Her Royal Highness granting wishes to her subjects

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I wished for a sliver of silver and there it was on 40th street, hiding in the canyon.

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Then I peeked into an enclave and discovered a glass abode in the midst of old bricks.  The colors reminded me of another place I love: Mexico, right in the middle of Manhattan.

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This is my week of reconnecting to the city after a lull of brewing at home, failing to remember the beauty of New York.  What a wonderful town.

Enclaves of the Heart

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 Last night was a struggle to sleep and when it finally happened, moments later I woke with a start from the sound of lovers on the roof next door.  Peering out through my closed wood blinds to see if it was true or imaginary, in the filtered moonlight, their standing silhouettes cantered in the dark with a distinct long white female arm that braced against the half wall separating us.  “On the roof?” I thought to myself.   “Really?”

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Today I found myself standing at a locked iron gate on Charles and Greenwhich streets dreaming at the diminutive Colonial crackerbox with a lovely garden.  Both are dwarfed by a painted brick apartment building that looms over its backside.  Therein is crammed with centuries of memories and history, including over four decades of my own.

When first I caught site of this nestled structure, the wall shown here did not exist.  My ex-husband and I discovered it while riding bikes in the late sixties.  The windows were boarded up.  The lawn had only bare soil, no plants or trees, not even dead ones.  There was a For Sale sign stuck in the ground: $15,000.  We screeched to a halt and entered into a short fantasy while a hot wind blew the dust of the yard in the air.  At the time, even that amount was a stretch for a couple of hippies.  And the house, a room tinier than it is now, could not have accommodated two tall people and an art studio.  We rode on.

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As I stood there today, I noticed the cherry tree full of fruit, hanging over the wall.  It took me back to a night in June, late eighties or early nineties, when an old lover was visiting and we walked by this little enclave.  He reached overhead and picked a handful of the sour fruit and we ate them in the dark.  Later, too restless to sleep, we carried a foam pad, pillows and sheets to the roof of my building, and spent the rest of the night under the stars.  When he heft town, he put a note under a bowl of cherries on my table.

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It’s said that home is where the heart is.  My fortunate heart exists in many enclaves that gently pull its’ strings: sites, sounds, smells, smiles, colors, memories of  richness in people, places of the past, present, and future, and cherries.

May we all spread what we have in our hearts to those who have little, and our smiles feel like home to those alone.

For Remembrance, For Gratitude

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 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.

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 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.

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

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  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.

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Christmas Day, seven years later,

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pollyanna