Traveling to the Big Apple is daunting. Our itinerary calls for visiting NY University in Greenwich Village on Monday, so my daughter and I checked out the route on Sunday, taking the subway to the West 4th Street Station. The weather turned sunny, and when not in the shade, I was almost comfortable. My daughter checked her phone – 50 ̊ F on the mark. (I have to get some apps for my phone – so handy!) As we approached Washington Square Park with its signage on regulations (DO NOT FEED THE PIGEONS) we see lots of people enjoying the sunshine. I heard a distant saxophone, only one of many diversions awaiting us in the park.
First we saw “Shakespeare in the Park,” enacting scenes from As You Like It, as announced in colored chalk on the sidewalk. The players gathered a good crowd, and involved their audience readily, so I didn’t get too close – no time to hang around.
People walk their dogs, and families stroll with their babies. Some push the elderly in wheelchairs. Everyone is here, taking advantage of the fine weather.
Students read books while eating their lunch, and old guys pull out reflective metal sun-reflectors to direct the sun to their pallid faces. But you won’t find anyone smoking – it’s not allowed in the park.
We see the activist character of the park everywhere. Political statements written in chalk cover walkways. Some of these are Amendments to the Constitution. Hundreds of tiny neon orange flags announce Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week, and I send out a silent prayer to a dear friend who is afflicted.
Guys with white legs have the guts to show up in shorts and play hacky sack, but the long shadows they cast confirm that it is still winter. Dads chase after bundled-up toddlers, lovers kiss and hold hands, and a mom battles her young sons with Star War lasers, the only people who have risked crossing the chain fences that protect the grass from those who would dare to trample it.
We see a tarot reader in a silver Merlin hat, waving us over for a reading. No thank you. We hear what sounds like beginning guitar lessons, and certainly amateur singing. But we also hear an accomplished quartet, and we slow down to listen.
A banjo player with a bass fiddle nearby, plays his heart out. He’s very good, though he hasn’t drawn much of an audience yet. But he does offer CDs for sale and advertises his website where I find he is part of a larger band, Outlaw Ritual, and the bass is played by a woman. We must have just missed her but we don’t hang around to see her reappear – too focused on our mission.
Kids seem very intrigued by Coyote and Crow. He plays three instruments at once, a banjo, a home-made drum (made out of a suitcase that he sits on) played with the heel of one foot, and a tambourine played with a heel-to-toe motion of the other. She plays a stand-up base banjo. I pause to enjoy them and their tiny admirers.
As we get close to the other end of the park, we finally stop dead in our tracks. There, in an expanded section of the walkway surrounded by park benches, is a grand piano on wheels. The benches are full of people listening intently. My daughter sits down first, and I join her. The pianist plays a selection of Shubert, Schumann and other composers, all of it from memory, with eloquent hand movements and an expression of rapture. During a pause between pieces, I asked him how he got the piano to the park. “I push it,” he explains simply, then smiles and pumps a bicep for me. I sit back down and wait for the next piece, finally content to be present and enjoy the sunshine on this glorious afternoon.
The lessons? First, the Big Apple isn’t so scary when you take one bite at a time. Second, I need to remember to bring my transformation tools along when I travel, no matter how crammed the schedule. In fact, the more crammed the schedule, the more I need my tools: be present, breathe, choose your attitude, be grateful, play, meditate, and more. There’s plenty of room for all in the suitcase…
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