Saturday, March 16, 2019

a day in the life (and death)

I had a conversation once with a friend in Costa Rica about seasons.  He asked me what it was like to live in the northeast in the U.S. and have such distinct changes.  I told him that, having grown up in Connecticut, we reveled in Winter: snowball fights, snow angels, and patient older brothers trying to teach us to skate.  The blooming of Spring was so life-affirming:  the lilac tree outside my bedroom window still perfumes the memories of my youth.  Summertime was all about the neighborhood beach and backyard suntanning.  And in Autumn we actually had hay rides among the orange-colored leaves, and freshly baked apple pies.  At the end of that tropical conversation, we decided that the jungle had a more realistic climate:  everything living and dying all at the same time.  Just like life.

Yesterday we buried a good friend from church, Ms. Harriet.  She passed away a day after our friend Lois and just a couple weeks after Inez.  It's been an incredibly trying time.  So, yesterday we had an early viewing (not exactly how I plan to remember her), and a lovely service at noon -- with lots of family stories of her warmth and feistiness and an absolutely stirring rendition of the song "His Eye Is On the Sparrow."  We laid her to rest in Manhattan (my first!) at the stunning Trinity Mausoleum and Cemetery.  There was just enough time to sit with a few of her family members before grabbing a quiet bit to eat and then setting up the Friday community movie: Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.  I might have mentioned before that at St. Mary's in Harlem we set up an impromptu theater and show a film, complete with movie snacks and dinner, and we invite everyone, but particularly make our homeless neighbors feel welcome.  About 40 people come each week -- just to be together, to feel safe, and to engage.  It is quite a lovely thing to be involved in, the bringing of people together.  Last night I had to leave the movie early because I had forgotten I had two tickets to see Alice Smith, one of my favorite RnB/rock singers at the Apollo theater for the Women of the World festival.  At the last minute I dragged my friend Lysander, who had never seen her (or been to the Apollo), and together we had our minds blown.  The incredible artistry, musicality, overall diva-ness, brought us to tears.  She sang a version of "I Put a Spell on You" that was literally unlike anything you've ever heard in your lifetime.  It gave us a flood of ideas for our own art projects (both visual and musical).

In all, it was a whirlwind of a day.  But it was almost midnight and we were very hungry, so we hilariously typed "fried food" into Google maps and found each one closed.  "Restaurants open near me" brought us to the bustling Afrika Kine in Harlem where we ended up with a crazy delicious spicy whole fish and some outstanding toppings.  Over the meal, we talked about how many disparate things we fit into the day:

-- Death and sorrow
-- service and community
-- art and beauty
-- and a mouthwatering "treat yo' self" meal.  

Maybe we were feeling (understandably) overly philosophical, but it seemed like these are the elements we should expect from each and every day going forward -- à la the jungle theory.  There is only extra pain in store if we expect life without death -- If we think "winter is coming" instead of always with us.

Don't get me wrong, it's my nature to curl up in a ball at each loss.  But since I can't actually live in that ball (trust me, I've tried), and, realistically, death is always with us, I've got to learn how to breathe through it, art through it, create through it, love through it, sing through it.  

"I sing because I'm happy.  I sing because I'm free.  His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me."

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