We recently traveled to the place I consider our home town because we lived there for so many years: New York City. Whitley and I met there and raised our son there. In some ways, the trip had a deeper meaning for me, because we had plane tickets to New York in our pockets when I was suddenly struck down by an aneurysm a little over a year ago.
When I planned the trip, I decided to make it a journey to see old friends. We got in touch with a good friend who works at the Metropolitan Opera. I have heard wonderful stories from her over the years about things such as having to babysit the French poodles owned by out-of-town divas. We had supper together and then saw a delightful ballet.
We had dinner with two old friends whom we have known for many years. We fondly remember their Wiccan wedding, which was one of the most joyous occasions I’ve ever attended. Now their son is almost grown.
We ate breakfast with another old friend, whose companion has now become too old and frail to negotiate the stairs of their apartment, so they are locating to a new town. It is an honor to be with friends at such major transitions in their lives and a poignant reminder of time passing.
We stayed at the house of yet another old friend. This place is an old parsonage, located in an area that used to be a terrible slum, but which has become very chic and gentrified. The Catholics tore down the church itself and built a senior residence in its place, then sold the house where the priests once lived to our friends. Seeing the neighborhood where they’ve lived for so long was another reminder of time passing.
Lying upstairs in bed, I thought about all the priests who had lived in the house and wondered if they had been happy or sad. Many priests live frustrating lives and the ones who had lived here had seen their church closed, at the end. I asked to be put in touch with one of the happy ones.
When I mentioned this to Whitley, he told me an interesting story: at a party at this house several years ago, he had seen a priest whom he assumed used to live there, and was now deceased, who was wearing only his underpants. As I’ve mentioned before, Whitley often sees dead people. At the time, he thought this was funny, but I found deeper meaning in it. To me it meant that this priest, whoever he was, has now realized that in order to be truly spiritual people, we have to get past all the dogma we’ve been indoctrinated with. He went to the party in his underpants because he wanted to discard his clerical collar and go as a “civilian.” It was a symbol of starting anew.
We got in touch with our goddaughter, who is temporarily living in New York, and took her to a birthday dinner. But first, we took her to a very different dinner.
Before we left for the trip, I found a wonderful quote: “New York is like a bad relationship that you can’t get out of, because you still think the sex is good”–Judith Regan. This turned out to be more appropriate than I realized, because Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, the photographer with whom we were staying, recently published a book titled XXX:30 Porn-Star Portraits, in which he photographed porn stars, both dressed and undressed. Whitley wrote one of the essays in the book, along with such literary luminaries as Salman Rushdie and Gore Vidal.
After a book signing at a local bookstore, we went to dinner. Due taking so many photographs of famous people over the years for book and magazine covers, Timothy knows a wide range of people and we were certainly an eccentric mix: the rock star Lou Reed (who is one of Tim’s closest friends and who is also an excellent photographer), a couple of important CEOs, a major distributor of porn films, an economist who got her PhD by creating a business model of the porn business, and porn star Heather Hunter, who arrived with her sister. Heather is also a painter and is opening an art gallery in Brooklyn.
I liked Heather very much and sent Amy home in a cab with her and her sister, since they were all going to the same part of town. Later I had a few qualms, and decided that maybe, as Amy’s godmother, I shouldn’t have invited her to a dinner during which the conversation was essentially a lively discussion about pornography. But then I mentally shrugged my shoulders and figured that an immersion in life never hurt anyone. The next day, I asked Amy what they had talked about on the way home (had anybody tried to recruit my precious goddaughter for a porn film during the evening?) but Amy said, “No, but Heather invited me to her gallery opening.”
Later, in a swaying subway car rushing uptown, I read an exquisite poem by the 13th century poet Rumi, which was posted above the seats, where the ads usually are:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
The world is too full to talk about
Ideas, languages, even the phrase ‘each other’
Doesn’t make any sense.
I thought it summed up the trip beautifully, so I wanted to share it with you.
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