Dearest and Closest,
This past Thursday, I kissed Dan, Master M. and Hopper goodbye, ran into the Portland airport to check in (I had twenty minutes until take off), thanked the motherly JetBlue employee who said, “You need to hurry,” (to which I responded, “I will!” and she said “Good girl!”) and hopped on a plane and flew down to New York City to tape the NBC Nightly News with Chuck Scarborough. When my plane landed in the Jet Blue atrium, I wheeled my suitcase out to a cab, and felt, suddenly, so homesick for my family I could hardly stand it. But then, driving into the city through Harlem and then down to 110th street and my dear friend Craig’s familiar apartment, I realized this was a kind homecoming I needed on some level. My book had been out just over a week and it was time I started to own this journey. After all, two years ago—almost to the day—Dan, Hopper, Master M. and I arrived at Craig’s from California. Our car was covered with dust and dead bugs, we were tattered and tired. But when we came upstairs and put our bags down, took in Craig’s lovely presence and let our selves be home, finally, we felt so much safer than we had been in such a long time.
Thursday, as I’m sure most of you remember, was St. Patrick’s Day. And in honor of the journey my small family made over the last two years and the journeys my relatives made when they came from Ireland to make a new start in America, I took a walk outside—without a coat because it was beautifully warm--up the street to St. John the Divine. The last time I had been inside the cathedral was shortly after 9/11, at the Blessing of the Beasts. I remember that day so perfectly—how sunny and warm it was and I believe it was the first day of Sukkot, which I celebrated with my boyfriend of the time—in fact, I had made an eggplant salad for that evening. I remember the tenderness of the animals as they plodded up the aisles and then there was the march of the rescue dogs who had been in 9/11; their paws bandaged, they bore the countenance of messengers who have escaped to tell us…something important. And then, suddenly, in the middle of the beautiful service, we were told that America had begun bombing Afghanistan. A ripple of emotion went through the crowd—some people were grateful, some furious, many of us crying. And when we came out, the cathedral was covered with National Guard—even on the roof.
This time, I went in quietly. I walked by the Poet’s Corner and stopped to run my eyes over the names: Tennessee Williams (“Time is the longest distance between two places”), Hemingway ( “All you have to do is write one true sentence”), Hawthorne, Dickinson, Plath, Auden, Frost, Melville, Millay, Thoreau, Eliot, Stevens, Lowell (whose name I always cotton to because this is the nickname Craig has for me—I call him Parker). Then I slowly walked the entire circle around the cathedral going into all the little lovely chapels I’m not sure I had ever visited before. I imagined getting married in one of those chapels and I imagined wearing a long dress and holding a candle and rushing through the church as if I were in some Masterpiece Theatre production. I looked up at the stained glass and stood in front of the paintings of Mary with her baby and wondered if the mostly male painters of the Renaissance ever really got Mary. Anyway, I took everything in—no, I drank it in. Children were singing in the main part of the cathedral and as I listened I bought a candle and wrote on it, “A prayer for our earth, which surely needs it right now.”
And then, back outside I made my way back to Craig’s where I put on my dress, dried my hair, did my makeup and got myself ready for the TV spot which, of course, I hoped might help sell a book or two. I was surprised at how easily the interview went and how lovely Chuck Scarborough was—he was so human and warm , and that, somehow, was just the touch I needed. That night when Craig and I got home to his apartment his wife Alix had ordered us dinner from a Japanese place nearby. She’s a newscaster and had put on her PJ’s and was taking off her makeup. I did the same. And then we sat around their coffee table and ate and talked and then went to bed.
In the morning my cab driver welcomed me into his car with “What a beautiful day!” As he drove we talked about my book and his journey from Ghana to America. He said the loveliest thing in response to my story. He said, “You know, until you go and see the west you can’t make use of the best.”
“I like that,” I said.
“I love stories like yours,” he said. “They give me hope.”
When I got out, I handed him my book and said, “Take it.”
“I will tell everyone I pick up today about your book, “ he said.
Inside the JetBlue terminal one lonely sparrow was flying above the traveling people, trapped. For a moment I felt my bubble of good feeling receive a puncture—what is the fate of a small, brown bird caught in a world, which isn’t in any way paying attention to its needs? I turned to a man behind a sandwich counter and said, “There’s a bird trapped in here!”
“There’s always birds in here. It’s an airport, ma’am.”
“Well can’t you open a window? Or a door?”
“No ma’am. This is an airport.”
Not knowing what else to do, I shoved what I felt aside, looked down and went back to my iPhone and emails.
In an hour I was home, Master M. and Dan waiting for me in a pool of sunlight. When I got into the car Dan said, “Let’s go to the beach.” And so we did.