The art of the day trip.
1388 feet to sea level.
Steeper, in every way, on the way back.
The art of the day trip.
1388 feet to sea level.
Steeper, in every way, on the way back.
In a shore town, teeming with strangers, I walk toward the beach at sunrise, surprised to find that whether–silver-haired, riding rental bikes; or fit and 40 squeezing in a run; or young and tatooed, spitting on the curb outside an apartment building–each, in the hush before the day begins, offers me: Good Morning.
On The Pulse Of Morning
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
It says come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
The River sang and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
They hear the first and last of every Tree
Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside the River.
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
What about all those times when any kind of bed would have been a welcome relief:
…that night on the park bench in Pamplona
…the bucket seat on the ferry crossing from Ireland
…the overcrowded train car from Milano to Switzerland
But I had slept at least some on each of those nights without the pressure points of this deck-of-cards body; and there had been nights, like this one, with a bed, even at 20, when I couldn’t sleep…
… the Shrimp Diablo
…that night in Nice
…the mornings after cheating
And now the second margarita instead of supper at Happy Hour.
There are children
With aching stomachs.
There are the ill and the aged and the terrorized.
Who am I to claim deprivation?
What of nursing mothers, teething toddlers, and the dying–and those tending them.
I should have had some dinner.
I should have skipped the indulgence of a second cocktail.
Should I have stayed home?
Never left the comfort of my bed?
Instead of writing now, at 2:30 am, with a view of the lighthouse, on a island across Saco Bay?
Sometimes I can’t bear the pain that lies ahead
So exquisite is the joy I’ve known.
I began writing at 18 to feel less alone.
I began offering my work at 36 so that others might feel less alone.
I am lying awake on a tiny strip of land beside the sea.
Who are these people in the passing cars and where are they going at 3:30 am?
I’ll close with a poem for all those who are still awake.
The Sleepless Ones
What if all the people
who could not sleep
at two or three or four
in the morning
left their houses
and went to the parks
what if hundreds, thousands,
went in their solitude
like a stream
and each told their story
what if there were
fearful if they slept
they would die
and young women
unable to conceive
fearful of failing
worried about paying bills
having business troubles
and women unlucky in love
and those that were in physical
and those who were guilty
what if they all left their houses
like a stream
and the moon
illuminated their way and
they came, each one
to tell their stories
would these be the more troubled
or would these be
the more passionate of this world
or those who need to create to live
or would these be
and I ask you
if they all came to the parks
and told their stories
would the sun on rising
be more radiant and
again I ask you
would they embrace
~ Lawrence Tirnauer
(note: I first heard this poem read by author Dani Shapiro in her workshop, The Stories We Carry.)
I first met Connie in Chile at an international conference for the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living. Geographically speaking, Connie and I were neighbors, but the lifestyles and topography of Manhattan and Marlboro were worlds apart–her island that never sleeps meets my mountain town and dirt roads without a traffic light in sight.
Santiago is where the conference took place. It was 2011. I was the Assistant to the Director of Federation EIL. Connie served as our United Nations representative. This immediately lent her my affection. (I’d had a thing for the UN since I was a kid.)
Connie didn’t make it to the conference the following year in Japan or to the one after that in Vermont, and I didn’t make it to Ireland, and neither of us was in New Zealand, but our friendship, seeded in Santiago, deepened into a seasonal rhythm that presenced itself each March around the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW.)
“Expect chaos,” Connie wrote, when I first inquired about how to navigate the event.
Thousands of NGO representatives–mostly women–from around the world convened each year at the United Nations; which I found so thrilling, that I kept returning. Each time Connie encouraged me and we shaped plans to get together.
That first year, we met up between meetings, and later in the week for lunch, and on the last evening, Connie invited all the representatives from our organization to her home in the Upper West. She cooked. We brought salads and desserts and wine.
This ritual of connection continued year after year. One March, Connie and I caught up for lunch at the American Wing at the MET. Another time at Pain Le Quotodien on 2nd Avenue; while last year, a bunch of us gathered back at her home for dinner after the day’s events. Connie cooked then too. We provided the accessories again. Everyone stayed late into the night.
In the kitchen, Connie told me that she hadn’t made it to any of the meetings; that she’d been at the doctor’s. She shook her head as if to say: Things don’t look so good. I hugged her more earnestly that night.
When I returned to New York a year later for the 60th Commission on the Status of Women, I saw Connie everywhere. In the park. At the MET. At Pain Le Quotodien. At the United Nations. At the Church Center across the street.
I’ve been home from the city for about a week, settling back into the rhythms of my dirt road, and now is about the time when she and I would exchange a volley of emails about the results of the Commission–where there was hope and where there was frustration–and Connie would invariably include a photo or two of spring in New York… a flowering tree perhaps, or a set of bulbs pushing through the ground in Central Park–to serve as an encouragement–to both of us–at the end of a long, cold winter.
This year, spring has come early to both Manhattan and Marlboro.
Look Connie… even in my backyard…
A former member of the US Committee for UNICEF, Connie Crosson served as the UN Representative for The Federation of the Experiment in International Living from 2008 until her death in 2015. Connie was a graduate of the School for International Training (SIT) at World Learning, a mother of an Experimenter to Germany, a host for many other Experimenters from around the world, and the director of a management training and consulting firm for nonprofit organizations.
Twenty-three years ago, I took a big pay cut and moved to Vermont. Another year later, I surrendered that income to invest myself in motherhood–because unlike work and success and travel, motherhood hadn’t come easy to me.
As a stay at home mom, I couldn’t afford to go out for coffee. I’m not exaggerating. My husband was a new teacher, and we had to pay for insurance out of pocket, and the cost of living in Vermont was surprisingly higher than New Jersey. I had a college degree and 8 years in the classroom; prefaced by a handful of years managing a restaurant; but I felt compelled to give my all to motherhood just as I had to the endeavors that came before it.
More than a decade passed before I let some other interests back in. My sons no longer needed me in the hour to the hour, but I was terrified of awakening passion for something other than them. I played it safe, in part-time roles, and little by little my sense of a separate self began to re-emerge.
More than anything, I longed to travel–to know myself in some foreign place again–but another decade passed before I left the country; unless you count crossing the border of Vermont into Canada; which admittedly was a huge thrill–all three times.
I was approaching 50 when I was offered another safe, part-time position, in a tiny rural office. I almost fell out of the interview chair, however, when I was asked if I had a valid passport. 5 months later, I was in Chile. The following year, Japan.
Surprisingly, it was my stay-at-home grandmothers who planted the seed of travel in me. As a girl, I sat at my great-grandmother Mildred’s knee, and watched as she brushed her hand across the cover of her huge atlas, turning page after page, as she pointed–to all the places she had traveled with her husband after his retirement as a Merchant Marine.
Her daughter, my grandmother Lila, dreamed of leaving home and working internationally. She confided this while helping me with my French, after I told her about the thrill of a school field trip to the United Nations.
“I wanted to be a translator,” she said.
Work. Motherhood. Travel.
Passion. Devotion. Choices.
I’m 52 now, and I’ve given up that traveling job for something else.
During my years at home, I discovered what a wise woman once said:
Our true passion brings us balance.
Even though I did it so well, and gave it my all–managing a restaurant and a classroom and a home and a non-profit, none of these were my passion.
I was the last to realize my own.
Others called me a writer first.
For the past few years, I’ve dedicated myself to the page. I can afford a cup of coffee now, even lattes, lots of them, but not much else. My husband is still a teacher and we still have one son at home. The other is abroad, living the life I once knew.
I’ve begun to miss the world.
I arrived in the city engulfed by the enormity of the population here, feeling both crowded and alone, intruded upon and abandoned; but over the course of 7 days, I began to notice patterns beneath the surface of chaos…
In the way one woman’s thigh comfortably flanked mine in the subway car.
How we could each let our guard when other women were beside us.
The framed Maya Angelo poem on the wall of the subway car. The Courtesy Guidelines chiding “man sprawl.” The Sexual and Inappropriate Touch warnings.
The kind voice of the driver over the loud speaker, welcoming visitors, students, residents and indicating which stop we were approaching and which one was to come.
The sense of collective relief when a handful of passengers made it through the doors just before the train departed again.
How we all ignored the man with the atrocious cough, and the other one who attempted to speak to each of us as he stumbled through the car.
The pause of the elderly woman to thank me when I put out an arm to help her to her feet.
The circle of officers chatting on the platform.
The laughter and awe of a crowd circling a performance of dance at the station.
How quickly the Shuttle, the Downtown, the Uptown, the 6, the 1, became familiars.
The constant deluge of billboards on walls, and stairs, and subway cars advertising the latest play or upcoming television series that I desperately wanted to see simply to resolve the pressure.
How I rushed like the rest of them, even though I was in no hurry.
How I wished I was a smoker, not for nicotine, but for the reminder to breathe in and breathe out, breathe in and breathe out.
Stopping to help a foreigner purchase a subway ticket.
The searching smiles of other passerbys. The ecstatic traveler.
All those unplugged, and all those talking to themselves, with and without, wires.
Pointing the direction to Central Park.
The new baby at the cafe. The new baby on the subway car. The new baby in her father’s arms.
Lovers. School groups. Tour guides. Families.
Two different women who told me not to park there because if I didn’t get a ticket for the fire hydrant, I’d get a ticket for being on the wrong side.
The man on the stoop who told me that the sign about “No Standing” confused him too.
In this clashing culture of crowds and singularity, there was so much separation, yet there was also communion, and it was abiding and filled with the absence and presence of love.
It’s awkward to admit, but despite being a yoga instructor, I’ve never been particularly absorbed by the mechanics of the body, until this past week in New York.
The city is infinite in its pleasures, and I don’t need to count the ways, but the ability to drink without driving is high on my list of appreciation, along with the MET and outdoor cafés and gorgeous men in suits.
Still, my deepest gratitude goes to my feet. These 51 year old friends walked mile upon mile, day after day, on hard concrete, at a pace set by a city that never sleeps, without complaint, or at least not a complaint that could be heard over the outlandish display of outrage offered by my right hip on days 2 and 3, or the moans of my left knee on days 3 and 4, or the whining of my inner thigh on days 4 and 5.
In fact, I didn’t hear from my feet until the last two days, and even then, it was barely a peep.
Ironically, in the weeks preceding this trip, I expressed a desire to deepen my relationship with my first chakra, and that I did, carefully noting the relationship of the muscles in my hips and thighs, knees and feet, calves and arches; creatively exploring stretches to support and counter each strain and pain and resistance.
While others stared impassively or curiously, I played with the mechanics of my body at every red light, in each subway car and in a handful of conference rooms at the United Nations.
My body, in all its wisdom, had designed a personalized anatomy course just for me.