Sunday, April 26, 2015

Let It Ride

Brace yourself for a shock, but I actually chose to miss my bus the other night and I’m so glad I did.

This may not sound like a big deal to you out-of-towners, but usually New Yorkers will ruthlessly trample children, little old ladies, foreign dignitaries or any other hapless son-of-a-bitch who comes between us and our manic desire to get to some place other than the one we’re currently occupying.

Most evenings I come out of my building on lower Broadway and either speed walk or flat-out run up to the X27 bus stop a block away. The urge to sprint is almost impossible to resist.

If the bus is leaving, I’ll stand outside the door with my pathetic puppy face on and silently beg the driver to open up so I can get home right now—as opposed to waiting 10 whole, agonizing minutes for the next bus.

But last week I decided to give my Pavlovian instincts the night off so I could stop and smell the exhaust fumes. And it paid off big time.

I’d had a shockingly bad day at work—worse than usual if you can believe that—and I limped out onto the street wondering if I should just swan dive into the nearest sewer.

Yes, the day sucked that much.

As I walked up Broadway, I saw an X27 pulling in to pick up passengers. I was still a good distant away, but had this been any other night I would have broken into a demented dash and flailed my arms manically in a desperate attempt to get the driver to wait.

But I was so emotionally worn out that I couldn’t have run for that bus if had been filled to the rafters with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.

It wasn’t easy, I must confess. As the bus lingered to pick up the last few people, I felt like a heavyweight champion taking a dive. What self-respecting New Yorker refuses the challenge of a commuter run?

No, I told myself, you’re a human being, not a Greyhound. Just relax and get home in one piece.

Step to the Rear

And to be brutally honest, what’s all this headless chicken running ever done for me?

I’m supposed to race home so I could be miserable and alone in my apartment a few minutes ahead of schedule? No, thank you.

So the bus left, I got on line, and tried unsuccessfully to forget that the entire day. I was slipping into a standing stupor when I heard someone call my name.

“Rob!”

I turned to see this young Asian woman on line behind me. She obviously knew me, but I was drawing a blank on her identify. I know I’m not getting any younger, but I didn’t think my brain cells had gotten this stale.
Then she mentioned something about the boxing class at the New York Sports Club, which I go to on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I instantly remembered her—this was Connie, who used to go to the 7 AM class at Reade Street.

Connie was a great athlete and, even though she’s physically small, she’s a ferocious puncher. Whether pounding on the heavy bag or doing mitt work with Abby, our instructor, you always knew when Connie was in the house.

She fought out a crouch and packed a lot of power into her punches and whenever I watched her working out I was always so glad that we were friends.

I had not seen Connie in such a long time and I wondered what had happened to her. Well, it turns she’d had a baby, God bless her, and, not surprisingly, didn’t have time for much else.

It felt so good to see her again. We chatted briefly before Connie’s bus, the X28, showed up, and she got ready to leave.

This brief encounter had done a lot to make me forget the horrendous day. Connie, of course, had no idea how much our chance meeting had done for me.

“I’m so glad I missed my bus,” I blurted and she smiled and wished me well.

My bus came moments later and as I got on I realized that I had been given a tremendous gift in the last few minutes, but I hadn’t missed a thing.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Soldiers, Old and Young

The young Marine stood in the alley of my family’s house on Senator Street and told me all about his haircut.

His commanding officer was very strict, he said, and demanded that this young man get a most severe crew cut.

The Marine was friendly, happy to tell someone his story. I listened and nodded politely as he spoke.

None of this was real, of course. I no longer live on Senator Street and I don’t know any young Marines. This was a dream I had a few nights ago.

The scene shifted, the young Marine disappeared, and I was inside my family’s house, tending to my elderly father, which I did up until his death in 2007.

However, unlike reality, there was none of the stress, worry, and anger in the dream.

Instead I was calm and in control and my father was cooperative—all the evidence you need to show that this wasn’t happening in the real world.

I was getting my father his breakfast and he said he wanted to go outside.

“Put on a jacket or you’ll catch cold,” I said, sounding an awful lot like my mother.

Now I think it’s pretty obvious that the Marine was a stand-in for my father as a young man.

Some part of my mind was trying to remind me that my dad was once a young man with hopes and dreams who was suddenly thrown into the middle of World War II. The life he wanted to live had been brutally derailed.

And that mellow breakfast scene with my elderly father was a bit of revisionist history that I believe was intended to put the bad old days to rest.

That was such a difficult time in my life. My father was suffering from dementia and I was feeling trapped, hating myself for not doing more with my life. As bad as things were, I did my best to make them even worse.

I had this dream on the day I had gone for my energy session, an incredible experience that drew all this tension right out of me.

I was feeling so relaxed, so free, that my subconscious apparently wanted to keep the good will going after I went to sleep.

I know that it’s important to put the painful memories behind me and I think a lot of the resentment I feel is just a reflex action. I’m so used to being pissed off about one thing or another that my mind doesn’t react well to tranquility.

That’s why meditation has become so important to me. Each morning I set the timer on my smartphone for 20 minutes, give myself permission to relax, and put aside any and all angry thoughts.

My mind does wonder and I do slip back into my old hostile habits. But I believe the mellow moments are getting longer and my heart is slowly opening up to the idea of making peace with the past.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Caged Heart

The voice came from behind while two loving hands held me up.

“You have a lot of sweet energy,” it said. “I could feel it while I worked on you.”

The person speaking was Kathryn Davis, a healer, teacher, mystic, and all-around miracle worker as far as I’m concerned.

I went to see her on Sunday for a private energy session and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in years.

“You have a good heart,” she told me. “It loves you.”

I have a notoriously low opinion of myself, so hearing that some part of my being actually loves me was so hard to believe that I started crying.

“Is this unusual?” I asked while fishing a tissue out of my pocket.

“No, not at all,” Kathryn said.

I feel so relaxed, so peaceful, and so unlike my usual uptight self. My body is loose, a nagging pain in my right shoulder has faded dramatically, and I feel like I’ve had a massage that reached right down into my soul.

My misdeeds, missteps, and mistakes all seem so distant now. They represent who I was; not who I am.

It’s nice to put down my emotional baggage, step away from years of negative programming and get in touch with my real self.

I find I’m craving water instead of the usual vats of diet ice tea that I guzzle each night. Salty foods like pretzels don’t sit well with me at all, and while I usually put on music when I write, tonight I’m really enjoying the silence. After this session, it seems that my body doesn’t want to be needlessly stimulated.

Kathryn draws from such disciplines as Qigong, Reiki, the Sandlin Technique and others to create a fabulous spiritual experience.

Time For You To Leave

She shares an office with my shrink, which is a mere 10-minute walk from my house.

As soon as I entered Kathryn’s office, I took my wallet, cell phone, and keys, out of my pockets, removed my shoes, and stretched out on her massage table.

Then I closed my eyes and allowed Kathryn to work over my body while soothing music filled the air.

She proceeded very slowly, holding on to various parts of me for several moments before moving on. My breathing became so deep and so steady, as if I were stepping into my body for the first time.

I think I nodded off at some point during the session, but Kathryn assured me that “your spirit was still awake.”

Kathryn said that while my physical body is in good shape, I have a lot of trapped energy that she’s trying to move throughout my system.

“Your heart is in a cage,” she told me. “You have to visualize melting away the bars so it can love you.”

We talked about my difficulties with relationships and Kathryn said she felt that I might have been a monk in a past life because she felt this great sense of devotion.

Only now instead of directing that devotion toward religion, Kathryn suggested I focus on something creative, like writing.

Any other time I probably would have burst out laughing at the idea of being a monk in this or any other life. But now I was ready to receive any insights and advice that Kathryn had to offer.

She also told me that maybe relationships aren’t for me. Please understand she wasn’t telling me to give up looking for Miss Right. It’s more like I shouldn’t put pressure on myself to be with someone if that’s not the direction where my sprit is headed.

As my shrink likes to say, I have to get into a relationship with myself first.

I feel like I’ve been on a long journey, but I realize the journey is just beginning. My inner monk will walk through the byways of my psyche, exploring, discovering, and healing.

And I will use my sweet energy to melt those bars around my heart.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Precious Moments

In 1974 The Three Degrees hit the top spot on the adult contemporary chart with the song “When Will I See You Again.”

The song, which poses a series of questions about the early stages of a relationship, was a big hit in England, too, and the Philadelphia soul group performed it at Prince Charles’ 30th birthday party in Buckingham Palace.

I always liked the opening of the song where the trio comes in behind the strings to sing the line “Precious moments…”

Lead singer Shelia Ferguson said she hated the tune when she first heard it and angrily declared she would never sing it, believing that “it was ridiculously insulting to be given such a simple song.” She would later admit she had called that one wrong.

And from now on, whenever I hear this song I’ll think of a girl named Janet.

I met Janet—or Jeannette as she liked to be called—at a friend’s party in the Bronx some 40 years ago. She was a lovely young girl who was so funny and so outgoing and we just hit it off.

“When Will I See You Again” was climbing the charts at the time and every so often Janet would sing out the single line “is this my beginning or is this the end?”

It would be nice if I could tell you that this evening was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, but that’s not how things worked out.

Will I Have to Wait Forever?

Janet and I spoke over the phone a few times after that evening and there was even some discussion of me being her prom date, but that fell through, we drifted out of each other’s lives, and I never saw her again.

I hadn’t thought about her in decades and then I learned that Janet died last weekend after a long illness. The hostess of that party in the Bronx posted the terrible news on her Facebook page and I still can’t believe it.

The funny teenaged girl that I knew so briefly went on to be the mother of four children, the owner of her own real estate business, and treasurer for the Board of Realtors in Westchester.

I barely knew the girl she was, never knew the woman she became and now she’s gone.

When I think back on the party it is with a strange kind of double vision, where the memory is both hazy and quite sharp at the same time. It was a very precious moment indeed.

It’s frightening that someone who was so full of life can be snuffed out like that. “When Will I See You Again” poses a series of questions, but I have just one: why? Why did this happen?

Of course there’s no answer to that question. Life is not fair and rarely makes sense.

If there are any lessons to be learned here I guess it would be the basic ones that so many of us never seem to get: be thankful for what you have and enjoy every moment of your life because tomorrow is promised to absolutely no one.

I keep telling myself to follow these simple rules, but then I turn around and find myself getting all twisted over some bit of nonsense that will be forgotten in no time.

Share those precious moments and don’t wait forever because right now is all you have and there are some people you may never see again.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Goodness and Mercy

Every morning when I ride the bus to work, I settle in my chair, close my eyes and silently recite the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…

This prayer is so comforting and I say it to clear away any workday jitters that might be gnawing at me. If I can walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death without fearing any evil, then I think can handle anything at the office.

And instead of worrying about my health or my future or anything the other several dozen other things I fret about, I turn to the Lord who resoreth my soul and leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.

Today is Easter Sunday, the perfect time to contemplate spiritual restoration and righteous paths as we celebrate resurrection and rebirth.

Easter wasn’t a big deal for me when I was a kid. I was much more enthusiastic about Christmas and all the great presents that came along with it. Back then Easter meant little more than some new clothes, chocolate bunnies, and a baked ham dinner with my family.

Now I’m completely fed up with the shameless commercialism that has leeched on to Christmas, so I appreciate Easter’s spiritual experience.

I’m feeling a touch of the holiday sadness as I think of the loved ones who are no longer here, but then that’s hard to avoid if you’ve put in enough time on this planet. I think celebrating renewal and remembering those we have lost actually compliment each other. We’re moving forward without abandoning our roots.

I Tell You the Truth

I went to Trinity Church on Wednesday to hear the good word from Father Mark. At the opening of the service we praised God, saying in unison “His mercy endures forever.” Those are very reasurring words in a world that seems terribly short on anything resembling mercy.

During his sermon Father Mark talked about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

He told us that we all betray Jesus and while that may sound harsh, he certainly didn’t mean it that way. Rather Father Mark was acknowledging our frailties and flaws as human beings.

We’re all susceptible to some pretty ugly emotions and when we betray Jesus, when we turn away from unconditional love in favor of some emotional version of 30 pieces of silver, we really betray ourselves.

And, as Father Mark always points out, after Judas leaves the Last Supper, he goes out into darkness. We want to stay in the light so we can find those paths of righteousness.

The last line of the 23rd Psalm says “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

I love those words, but they also make me think about my own actions. It’s not just a matter of goodness and mercy following me—they must also proceed me. You just don’t see the light; you have to be the light.

And just like God, our mercy must endure forever. This is a good day to start.