Today was my birthday!
It is 1.36am and I have returned from a wonderful evening of food and friendship. Nota bene, folks: I have friends! I am happy and grateful. I am privileged to have you in my life here in Manhattan. Thank you for your company and your generosity tonight.
After a super meal with Eileen, Virginia, Jim and Terry at Peace Cafe, a vegan and alcoholfree restaurant that I chose for the feel-good factor and healthy food, and which made easy the far-ranging and fun conversation that open-hearted people can enjoy together, I went with Jemma to a bar on La Guardia Place for a drink and some catch-up conversation. Over 2 hours later, and we both realise with a shock that it is nearly tomorrow; and that her dog and hubby might be wondering where on earth she has got to, even if the only thing that might be concerned about my whereabouts is the lemon tree in the apartment, that we bought last weekend with Auntie Joan’s christmas money.
What a night: New York is full of adventures and pleasures!
I received an anonymously sent book through the post earlier In the day (an Amazon delivery with no information! – anyone admit to sending me this?): the 1952-published autobiography of Dorothy Day, a truly remarkable New Yorker, and a fighter for social justice following a surprising and dramatic God-conversion in her 20s. I learn from the introduction to the book that she made a habit of looking for ‘the things of this world’ to be thankful for: small, to other people perhaps overlookable insignificancies, but to the person with a longing and loving eye, evidence of being loved in a world that was created by love. She named her book ‘The Long Loneliness’, but talked of the soulmates who kept her company on her life’s journey. I have not yet even read a word of her own; but at this first glance I love her already. (As, incidentally, I did Etty Hillesum, whose autobiographical account of her story as an intern in a prison camp in the second world war touched me deeply. I had to respond to what I read of her life and death by writing her a letter, so moved was I by her words. Un-mailable, but truth declared.)
So this blog is really to celebrate the belongingness of friends.
Friends present or absent, people whose lives enrich mine by personal encounter, or by extension through their remarkable life stories. Friends of all sorts: those with whom I immediately have a mutual clarity of understanding, with aspects of life in common, both practical and emotional; and those who I at first judge to be so different, but with openness of communication on both sides come to be important exactly for their differentness …
But wait a moment: if I am able to look with honesty and perspicuity, is there not always a shared understanding, if one is prepared to seek it? I love the attitude that first looks for the beauty, the commonality, the unity, in the “other”. If only we would all agree to start at this point of meeting even the threateningly different people from elsewhere … Culture, religion, politics: none of it is reason to keep distance, if we could look with the eye of love.
This is a rich existence.
I am enjoying the freedom to be who I choose to be and act in new ways here in this remarkable place. 3 months ago I arrived here with few clear intentions, and with little sense of how my life was going to develop. But I made some decisions in advance, two of which were these: to say ‘yes’, wherever possible, to the doors that swing wide before me; and to be open to meet people, inquisitive, accepting and non-judgmental about the lives of others. Both are startlingly fruitful practices – I can recommend them!
Sherie, a born and bred New Yorker in a coffee shop on the affluent Upper East Side one lunchtime a couple of weeks ago. May I join you at this table? We talked, we met in all simplicity; with no reason for conversation other than the delight of a new encounter, we liked what we found. She is an heir to the body-beautiful culture of aesthetic surgery, of the hunger for perpetual youth. A married woman, a family somehow somewhere but living apart from her husband of over 55 years. Wanted to tell her story, revealed some of her heart even though her sunglasses never left her eyes. I listened. Beautiful.
Nana, sitting on a wall opposite the UN building on 1st Avenue near the street food van. African clothing – splendid, gracious, stylish – and an air of dignity. I know there is an international women’s conference at present, and I decide I just want to stop and meet this lady. Excuse me, I am interested in what you are participating in here. Would you mind telling me about it? Confusion, hesitancy. Ah, a language issue? … Vous parlez francais? Qu’est-ce qu’il ce passe ici?… And I find I am fluent in French again - fluent enough to listen and ask, fluent at least in smile-nod-enjoy; and this lady is from Mali and representing her women’s support group of which she is president, and involved in daily seminars and discussions here for this week. We do indeed smile-nod-enjoy; we laugh at the similarity of our names; we shake hands, and I leave her there on the wall. Joy, joy.
Micky, came from Puerto Rico as a baby, and considers himself a local. His council apartment went up in flames 2 weeks ago and he was relocated to a hotel, but had somehow lost his papers and was unable to get food. When he asked me for money this week I took him instead to dinner. Isn’t it funny how you can sometimes sense a person’s gentle and honest spirit just from a glance into their face? Crazy lady! Picking up a strange man on the street? It was just sweet; we ate steak together, chatted, found a common faith in the goodness of God, and parted. Blessing – obviously – to him; blessing – undoubtedly, and happily, if less predictably - to me. Oh yes, truly.
Luca, wonderful husband of nearly 25 years, patient and gentle and true. We have a relaxed morning at home today, and leave around noon in the bright, chill March sun for a birthday brunch in West Village. Bar Sardine is the friendly, hipster place we choose, and I eat omelette, he something trendy with faro and salad and an egg sunny side up; with a side of pomme presse. Wouldn’t you expect this to be some sort of apple compote? A trendy and clever taste-match for the other elements on our plates? I did: you know, being that good at French and all, thus to fulfill my daily apple requirement. Ha, how we can be wrong! It turned out to be a sliced potato gratin. Darn it. But hey, it was tasty nevertheless, and that was just fine. Just fine.
Eileen, Virginia, Jim, Terry, generous people who have opened their hearts to me and let me be part of their lives, warm and lively conversationalists, good listeners, good questioners, good sharers-of-good-things. The argument about who was going to pay the food bill was hilarious; I lost.
Ditto Jemma, very-new-but-very-special friend; great cocktail-sharer, even better heart-sharer.
And you. Here you are.
Belonging is a wonderful thing. A wonderful thing.