Recently I went to New York with Tom, Lauren, and Eloise. We went in celebration of Eloise’s 7th birthday. Seemed only fitting that a seven year old named Eloise should have an “Eloise” tea party at the Plaza (remember the children’s book??). We arrived in NYC late morning and, after checking in at our hotel, we made our way over for our reservation for afternoon tea.
Walking in, I was struck by the beauty of the surroundings, the soft fresh smell of flowers, and the jubilant energy. It appeared to me that no one was there on a quick lunch hour from work. This was a time of pure indulgence, faces relaxed, and happy conversation. People leisurely enjoying their tea (or cocktails) and tasty treats. It might have been just a few quick steps from the world outside, but this place felt like it’s own little universe of celebration.
When the attentive server brought our order, Eloise’s face was priceless with joy as she marveled at the pink bouquet of cotton candy sitting atop her tray. She soon exclaimed, “I loooove New York!” She was hooked. This was a child’s delight and yet we were all pulled into the magic.
The whole weekend flowed with fun, sights, smells, and tastes. It was a three day fantasy breaking through a long and lingering winter. We’ve recently had plumbing problems that are turning into a larger ordeal than we imagined, and we’re not even sure what we’re yet facing. More significantly, a life long friend of Tom’s received a devastating diagnosis that has us spinning in sadness even as we struggle to hope and discern ways we can help and support him and his family through this unexpected and unwelcome life threatening health crisis. Others close to us are struggling with various life challenges as well. And, income taxes are due! This little miracle of an oasis weekend was a gift we enjoyed to the fullest extent.
It wasn’t all glamor and glitz though. There were some sobering and grounding moments as well. Tom and I visited the 911 memorial museum and cried all over again at the heartbreak and unthinkable losses that occurred as a result of radical distortion and hatred. It was a reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of holding our loved ones close while we can. And, of the need to continue to seek peace in every way possible within our realms of influence.
In the three days we were there we walked over twenty miles and rode as many, or more miles, in subways. I was reminded of the importance of a well fitting shoe, and the consequences of wearing those that don’t. Reminded that vanity is so very vain.
People on the subway are interesting, don’t you think? All shapes and sizes. All colors and ages. All walks of life. So many different languages, the least of which I heard was English. All different people, different races, different ethnicities, different religions, different backgrounds, different styles and mannerisms, different world views, different values perhaps.
Different plans and places to go. Some going to or from work. Looking tired both ways. I saw one lady coming home from the store with shopping bags and I marveled at the ordinary miracle of being able to buy the necessities of life without getting in the car “to run errands”. I would definitely have to be more organized than I am now to survive in the city for any length of time.
There were children with their parents, some sleeping, some fussy, others smiling. It didn’t seem to be a new experience for any of them as it was for us. The sounds and smells and sights I found strange and slightly unsettling they didn’t even seem to notice.
One young man spent his ride continually rolling three dice. Was he practicing for something, or just calming his nerves? I tried to be nonchalant but couldn’t help but watch him. No one seemed the least bit interested in what I found very curious.
There we were. All separate little bags of flesh and bones and thoughts and actions and plans and dreams. All together heading somewhere, to do something. We’d reach our destination and go our separate ways but for a few moments we were all bound together by steal and tracks, heading in the same direction. A moment of unity without the slightest pressure of uniformity.
The subway was a far cry in atmosphere from the Plaza Hotel, and the somberness of the 9/11 museum was unique from both, and yet there was a common thread that ran through it all. A bunch of strangers in one place for a period of time, different, yet held in a momentary commonality. In addition, we were each and all dependent on someone or something beyond our control or purpose to ensure that each individual experience was successful.
As I reflect on this now I am struck with how unaware I can daily be of the connectedness of humanity. I so often ignore just how deeply we are all a part of a larger Whole. And how dependent we are on the Whole to fully experience the “each”. All of us, at once, going our separate ways, living our own individual lives. And yet, all of us depending on the same air to breathe. The same function of gravity to remain stable on this great big ball of a planet. The same force of energy to remain our unique individual selves.
As a person of faith I believe that this Whole is God, and God is Love. Not just that God loves, but God is Love. I believe that Jesus is the embodiment of the unifying force of this Whole. The power of this Whole comes through dying to the self, forgiveness, and a willingness to love unconditionally. Dying, forgiving, loving even those who don’t believe and don’t love back. That’s what makes it such a gift! And, what makes it so binding and eternal.
Sometimes the Christian message gets reduced to a set of beliefs that must be verbalized in a certain way in order to be acceptable. Sometimes the Christian message gets twisted and contorted into some sort of terrible child sacrifice bargain that results in a get out of hell free card for those who say the correct formulaic prayer. Sometimes the Christian message gets reduced to a set of restrictions that are used to include some and exclude others. I’m actually hesitant to even use the word Jesus because of the ways in which it, and he, have been weaponized and politicized. Somehow we have found ways to polarize a message that was meant to re-member us to the Whole and to one another as part of that Whole!
The longer I live and the more I open myself to learning in places like subways, hotels, and museums, the more I see the love of this Whole in all places and people, and the more I believe this Wholeness is always present. Always pursuing us, encouraging us to wake up to Its power to heal, to unite, to restore.
For me, this is what Easter is about. A Love that saw the image of God in all, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and good ole church people. A love that saw the value in the moments; moments of drinking wine and eating food, moments of conversation that lead to healing, moments of prayer and reflection, moments of insight and teaching. Moments of simply holding the same space together, in unity not uniformity. Community, not conformity. A Love that refused to be violent even in the face of violence. A Love that would allow its own death rather than die.
A Love that rose and continues to rise always, not only in the churches, but, in the midst of all the subways and trains, places and people. Maybe someday we’ll recognize the image of this Whole in one another. I hope. Then it really will be on earth as it is in heaven.
Something to chew on…