A pilgrimage is one of those things that is encouraged throughout most religions. Each Friday I’ve been trying to offer you a virtual tour of places to take time to visit and meditate and pray on.
The Magic Tunnel by Caroline D. Emerson was one of my favorite books as a child, and it still resides on my bookshelf. I will take it out on occasion and thumb through it, reading bits and pieces and remembering what I loved about it.
It was multi-genre, taking on adventure, history and historical fiction, and time travel, and it probably influenced the direction of my interests more than I would have thought at the time. It had everything a voracious reader in elementary school could ask for.
I spent my elementary years in NYC – Queens with grandparents in both Queens and the Bronx. The brother and sister in The Magic Tunnel also lived in New York City, and in taking the subway, something I did with my uncle and on class trips, they found adventure in the past before NYC became New York. It was originally New Amsterdam, and in their travels, they met the original Dutch colonialists, the Native Americans already living in the area, and Peter Stuyvesant.
They explored the Dutch settlement and saw other aspects of Dutch colonial life and recognized much as what they had been learning in school as well as straightening out some misconceptions from that time period.
In the years after reading this, I immersed myself into history and science-fiction, still two of my loves. I also continue to have an unfinished novel from college in the same multi-genre way, combining time travel, adventure, and history. Without realizing it, I’m certain that The Magic Tunnel was a strong influence to begin and continue that story. Even today, I still come back to it and try to tweak and add elements, thinking maybe the story is relevant and can still go somewhere.
After college, I joined a re-enactment group to study and fully immerse myself in The Middle Ages.
I still love train travel, and am thinking of how to take a train trip for a writing excursion, although I’m not sure that I want to travel to another dimension or plane.
Published in 1964, it may certainly be dated and somewhat stereotypical, but it is still worth a look to see how our past was perceived and may have been perceived by two elementary age siblings just trying to get home.
I mentioned in my last “50” that there was a Shea Stadium reflection. It still bothers me to this day. In fact, it thirty-nine years ago today that it happened. Wow. Thirty-nine years. I guess I really can hold a grudge.
We had tickets to see the NY Mets play at Shea. It must have been ’77 and it was just me and my Dad. I have no recollection of who they were supposed to play. I don’t know if this was my first visit. I can remember other games, at least one, filling out the scorecard, reading the program, eating snacks. I probably still have the program in one of my boxes piled in the basement.
This day, however was July and there was a city-wide blackout that affected everything. Maybe you’ve heard about it. We must have driven; I don’t think the trains were running. How could they be?
By the time we arrived at the stadium, the decision to call the game had already been made. The stadium was mostly empty and my Dad and I walked around the cement concourse. Whatever vendors were there were already packing up. We looked down on the empty field and across; the perfect blue sky seeming much brighter from our shadowed place. The grass on the field also seemed somehow greener, brighter than normal or maybe I was seeing it through a ten year old’s eyes.
The reason they gave for cancelling (or maybe postponing) the game was that the scoreboard didn’t work, so they couldn’t hold the game. To this day, it still makes no sense to me. I mean it’s baseball. Do you really need electricity to play ball? It wasn’t even a night game. The scoreboard doesn’t work. Even my ten year old, polite, non-swearing self called bullshit on that one.
We never got back; not that I recall.
Whether it was our moving east to Long Island or my moving to ice hockey as my go-to sport (Rangers all the way!), I don’t know.
I still love the Mets and root for them always. My Dad grew up in the Bronx so his Mets affiliation was probably more for us kids than for his own feelings. You couldn’t like both, but we tried. He was such a good Dad. More than that, he was a good person. I hope I’m half as good as he was.
For now, though, Let’s Go Mets!
Mass was oddly unsatisfying this morning. My expectations may have been a little high, although the somber intonation of the congregation’s response to the priest’s words illustrated that it was not an ordinary day for daily Mass.
I read a friend’s account of 9/11 and I hadn’t known that she was there that morning, and her reminiscence of the perfectly blue, perfectly clear sky over Manhattan triggered my memory that I truly had forgotten about in talking on Tumblr this morning.
We are from Long Island; in fact, I grew up in NYC before that, and after marriage, I moved about 250 miles away, well out of the city area. We traveled often to visit our parents and siblings, and on September 10, 2001, we were returning from Long Island. The crossing over the Throgs Neck Bridge gives you a perfect view of the World Trade Center, and we drew our four year old’s attention to it.
We got home safely, but had to be up early waiting for the Verizon guy to fix our phone line. I turned on the television as I did every morning and watched the Today show. They were talking about a plane that ‘accidentally’ hit the World Trade Center.
I watched the rest of it unfold in real time, spending the day trying to get through to our family and friends still in the area, keeping my son entertained away from the TV, and talking to passersby on the street.
At the time, we lived in a first floor apartment, and while our landlord lived off site, he was very well known in the community, and he happened to be there for some kind of maintenance work on that morning of September 11th at our apartment. Our front door was open, and we were on the way to the local supermarket by the older people with their wheeled carts. I think every person stopped by, poked their head in the door and asked for an update. We had neighbors, strangers and acquaintances alike stepping in and out, watching the television for a few moments, speak to landlord, shake their heads in disbelief and walk aback out to finish their morning errands.
The rest of that week was spent huddled in front of the TV. Driving past our local airport was traumatic. A plane overhead against our state capital’s skyline nearly made me drive off the road. There were local memorials, prayer vigils, thankfully for us, no funerals, but our families knew people and my husband’s NY office lost nine people that day.
One year later, our son should have been in kindergarten, but we kept him home. We opted to bring him to the New York State Museum where there was a 9/11 exhibit. I have never been affected by a museum exhibit except Holocaust displays. This one was somber, silent save for some weeping. They had a piece of original fencing where folks memorialized loved ones with missing persons flyers and flowers, flags and ribbons. Relics and artifacts, fire helmets, badges, parts of the buildings’ infrastructure, street signs, but the most profound item: the Engine 6 Pumper, destroyed in the collapse of the Towers.
Even recently, my husband and watched Fringe, and there are some parts that take place with an intact World Trade Center. I find it very jarring. It doesn’t fit my world, and it brings me unbelievable sadness and pain.
For me this is one of those Holy Days, much like we just observed with Rosh Hashanah and will celebrate with Easter. That’s not to be disrespectful of more religious people, but this is one of those days that I just reflect. I think about my life, and the direction it’s going, the mistakes I’ve made and how to adjust myself to be a better person; I think about my kids and friends and family. I’m grateful for our friends who survived; I pray for those still struggling, with physical ailments related or PTSD, and I mourn, not only for the dead, who simply went to work and never came home, but also for the people; the world that changed on that day for all of us. I think when our parents told us things and quelled our fears, and said we were safe and would be well; I think they truly meant it. I wonder for how many do those words feel hollow and like a lie? I feel it. There are no other answers, but to reassure our children or our friends that need reassurance, but how hard it is to say when I’m not sure if I believe it, but I still hope and I guess that’s why I continue to say it, not only to my kids, but to myself.
One day I will go to the memorial. I don’t know when or if it’s something that I am strong enough to do, but it is something that I must do; one day.
Every year, I always recommend this book. I believe it is out of print, but try and find it anywhere. It is the epitome of humanity and of strangers coming together and doing.
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede
As well as one of the main organizations that I support: Random Acts
There’s a broader understanding of mental health issues online than off. One of those issues is the idea of triggering. When I describe being triggered, most people don’t understand. My therapist understood context without an explanation. My best friend knew before I’d even said the words. A couple of people who shall remain nameless gave me a blank look and offered to cheer me up. This is not their fault, which is why they’re nameless.
Much like depression and anxiety, triggering is an individual response. In my case, it was the skilled nursing facility my mother in law is in.
The difference between being anxious and having an anxiety disorder is the distinction between nervous about flying and after taking a Xanax still not being able to board without a dead frog in your pocket. (Individual talisman may vary.) To be honest, it was close.
There is also a difference between simply being uncomfortable in a place or situation and being triggered emotionally (and sometimes physically) by it. Not to mention that triggers can change over time or come out of the blue for something that never bothered a person before so they’re unpredictable.
And so much more fun.
I didn’t expect a problem at the skilled care place. My Dad was in one in 2001 and it was a nice place. Everyone had been friendly and helpful to him and his family. They treated him well, his rehab was good and for the most part it was okay. There was every indication that this place was just as good. My mother in law’s place was also physically similar – the same curving driveway; the small lobby for visiting in groups, no parking. The interior layout was even the same. Comforting, I thought.
And then the automatic doors opened and I was not expecting it.
It wasn’t a bad smell, but it was a face full of – not déjà vu – but a repressed memory and I practically gagged on it. The comforting floor plan now became an Indiana Jones obstacle course of wheelchairs, walkers, food tray carts, blood pressure machines, even a bed.
A haze settled over my eyes and I swallowed hard, trying to keep it all in. After all, I’m the grown up. The kids were in a strange place, we were visiting my husband’s mother. I’m the caretaker; I need to keep everyone okay, and still none of these thoughts were conscious ones. I reached for my phone, but put it aside. I’m not the only one in the world. It would be better tomorrow.
The pressure only felt heavier, a tightening of throat and chest, mind trying to remember every clichéd mantra, using different words to repeat it’s going to be okay. By day three, I was picking fights and I knew it. It was the only coping mechanism I had regardless of how unhealthy it was. I went through a list of people to ask for help. Whoever I would reach out to was unavailable so I didn’t even try.
I couldn’t lay this on my husband. He was already balancing his siblings, his kids, and me plus our money issues and his childhood home clean up.
I would have called my best friend, but he was helping someone move, he’d just started school and was working full time on top of having an actual semblance of life. I wanted to call, and it would have helped, but without the guarantee of the call being answered and a couple of short conversations promised, not calling and being angry was still better in my mind than calling and getting a ringing phone.
The next person I’d call was helping the same person move and arranging a call to my therapist would inevitably come at an inopportune time.
Eventually, there was a midnight phone call and words not coming and weeping and misunderstanding and stammering and more crying and phone hugs. I didn’t feel better, but I could get through the rest of the week, continuing the twice daily visits to the skilled nursing facility and planning to see my sister and brother and nieces, arranging those schedules enough of a stress builder, but tolerable.
Suddenly, there was a plan, and then another plan, and then I was buying a one way ticket to Penn Station at 9:30 Monday night. I should have been anxious; it’s in my DNA, but I wasn’t. I’d be back in less than twelve hours and I hadn’t realized how much I needed this until the train pulled out from the station.
This saved my sanity. Literally.
There was a lot of walking, a lot of stairs, J took pity on me and paid for a cab to the subway we needed – Penn Station was a ‘can’t get there from here’ place. I had no idea where they were staying; I just followed.
When you meet up with people, there are hello hugs. They’re quick. When the quick hug normally would have been over, A held on and I literally felt him absorb all of the stress, all the anxiety, the memories, the everything bad that was weighing me down. I heard the whoosh and then it was gone like a wall had been put up to keep it out.
I had anticipated more stress than the visit was worth – the energy of the city does that to me, being in a strange place, not even able to pick out the apartment on a map (I probably couldn’t find it today), not even sure if there wouldn’t be a phone call saying get on this train and meet us here instead, but sometimes, actually more often than not, my friend knows me better than I know myself and surprises and spontaneity are provided incrementally so as not to shock my system and that toe in the water testing is what gives me the strength to say yes, to know my feelings and what I need and to always move forward, even through the difficult. The lack of that is what paralyzes me, why when my depression hit me in the face after the birth of my second son, it was largely ignored, but when this trigger happened last week, I was able to recognize it and grab it, maybe not to cure it but to control it for a couple of hours and then a couple more.
The difference between arriving in New York and leaving the next morning could not have been more unalike. The 11 pm bustle feels like New York to an outsider, but the morning brings the wonder and amazement at how everyone and everything flows – they just know how to go and where to go and when to go, and nothing shall get in the way of their rhythm. Out of rhythm, I stumble crossing the street, not in step with the rest, slower than a city’s pace. While my friends kept my pace the night before, the city that never sleeps keeps walking by and around me in the morning, never making eye contact.
Breakfast of fried plantains (from A) and a tamale (from a street vendor) only made this excursion that much better.
The car ride is stereotypical, brakes and horns applied liberally and equally. Cutting off and being cut off at regular intervals. The only thing that couldn’t have been predicted was a building crew dropping (intentionally) a dumpster in the road – a single lane road – blocking traffic. Two blocks from Penn Station. During Rush Hour. It was the only picture I got of my New York adventure. I had thought talking until 2am, up again at 6am was all good time to get me back when I was supposed to be, but then an unanticipated shower, a missing claim ticket for the car, NYC traffic, aforementioned dumpster (but that came with traditional construction crew swearing and I thought I was an extra in a movie for a second) and on time was not to be.
An illegal drop off in the taxi lane, pseudo hugs and squeezes all around, see yous in October and a love you called out as I stepped into the cool rush of a Manhattan weekday morning. I had barely exited when the car seemed to vanish into the traffic, almost a dream, but taking my trigger reactions with it.