Saturday, December 9, 2017

Finding New York

When you board the bus, it is dark out. You are in New Hampshire.
When you exit the bus, it is broad daylight. You are in New York.

After dropping off your suitcase, you head toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it occurs to you that you have stepped into the character of Claudia Kincaid in one of your favorite childhood books, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. You just lack a younger brother with a card habit and pockets full of change.

You take the B line north and you find that your past makes you strangely comfortable on the subway, and you silently thank your grandparents for the millionth time for that summer in London when you were fearless at thirteen and navigated your way through the underground on a daily basis. It has triumphed over your adult self full of uncertainty and fear.

You are hustled up the stairs by the crush of crowds, and you find yourself curious about them. You hear snippets of conversations: "A hundred-thousand..." And you think, a hundred-thousand what? Dollars? Reams of paper? Pounds of beef? Cryptocurrency?

"Hey, baby. I'm two blocks away." And you think, he's meeting his wife. He's going home for lunch after a long shift. But then the conversation devolves into talk of work orders, electricity and breakers and something totally non-romantic, and you wonder if you misheard the Hey, baby part.

There are so many, many people here, and each of them has a story. Your writer self soaks it all up.

Your path takes you across Central Park, and you marvel at the teeny, tiny oak leaves. Back home, they grow to giant size -- the size of your head -- but you don't judge these little leaves. You know that they have an uphill battle just to exist in the middle of this massive machine of human activity. Back home, the air is fresher and the water is purer and no one bothers the oak trees except for the squirrels. So of course, they grow. They're unhindered.

You find the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It, unlike the oak leaves, is enormous. Much bigger than your ten-year old imagination pictured it when accompanying Claudia Kincaid there. You note the Greek and Roman statuary as you head toward the Michelangelo exhibit. You only have about four hours, and already you wish you had four days.

Looking at Michelangelo's sketches and full-size cartoons brings you back to your time in Florence when you were nineteen, alone in a small room deep inside one of the churches where he hid during a particularly nasty political time. There were sketches on the walls -- doodles -- and you marveled back then at being privy to it.

Here you are, once again, marveling in the presence of his work. Not his finished curated glory, smooth stone and rippling muscles, but the working part. The part with mistakes. The part with cross-outs. The part with adjustments. The part that makes you realize he was a passenger on that train of process just like every other writer, artist, thinker.

And you're overwhelmed with gratitude, because you realize oak leaves are still oak leaves, regardless of their size, regardless of whether they are in Central Park or in the woods of New Hampshire, regardless of whether they grow to paint and sculpt masterpieces or simply offer something more humble.

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