Monday, September 24, 2012

Tribes and Lovers

I flew to New York on September 13, landed in Newark and was retrieved by Alicia who had to drop her groceries at the check-out counter and race to the airport because when I’d texted her my flight information the day before, I had in fact, texted Mary Glen’s Alicia instead. Upon landing I received this message, “Are you still coming? When do you arrive?” Yet rather than head into the guilt spiral that some folks might necessitate, I made one phone call and waited happily in the sunshine. The kindred who was headed my way would require no penance.

Some slightly thawed groceries and a missed exit later (Ah, Turnpike how I’ve missed you) we arrived at her home which is located in country so beautiful, no outsider would believe it was Jersey. The conversation began when I got in the car, ran into the wee hours and continued at the local diner over breakfast. After that was Torah class and except for the fact that I kept turning pages in the wrong direction, I felt at home in a way I hadn’t in a long time. She drove me to the train in Summit, kissed me goodbye and went home to sell her house, our thread as unbroken as the day I moved away 14 years ago.

Penn Station is the place I first met public transportation so it was fitting to arrive there. Rather than cab uptown to Hope’s, I elected to be that person on the C train, all BIG SUITCASE and awkward turnstile transfers. Back when I first rode the subway I’d never have attempted such a feat. But now I know what I didn’t know then, that New Yorkers are the world’s most generous hosts and so I asked one man to slide the big bag under the turnstile after he went through in the other direction. Another woman agreed to carry the small one out when she went through the gate. I climbed the steps and emerged at 88th and Central Park West, moving as one in a dream to the place I would call home for the next 10 days.

The visit did not disappoint. Since leaving in 2001 my trips have been both brief and infrequent. This time I was handed the luxury of days stacked fatly, one upon another; time burning a hole in my pocket. I brought Boulevard Double Wide IPA and Dark Horse Moonshine, happily cooking the next two days for a dinner party we hosted on Sunday night.  As usual, our posse did not disappoint—we’ve seen nearly every sorrow that it’s possible to see together and so our joy has weight. Sitting at the table listening to lives fully engaged in a second act, I realized that while I have stunning people scattered across the country, nowhere is there a collective like this one—I was with my Tribe.

I processed the revelation for the next 6 days as I moved through the city, reconnecting with old friends and amazedly meeting new ones. I say amazedly because I did not believe that the city would hold my future like it holds my past. Or perhaps, more truthfully, I did not believe that I had a future like I have a past.

And in the midst of that wonder, I saw two plays.

The first, “Lovers” by Brian Friel was in previews for its off-Broadway run. It is a product of TACT, The Actor’s Company Theatre, for which my friend, Scott Evans is the founder and artistic director. For seven years I've read rave reviews of this company online. The pleasure of seeing how well-deserved they were, was matched by the aching tenderness that moves through the play. It is connection and separation, miscommunication and perfect verse, longing and satisfaction, youth and middle age.

 The second ticket, “Tribes” by Nina Raine was gift-wrapped by Lee Roy Rogers whom I understudied at the Rep last year and who just stepped into one of the leads. This beautiful work is directed by the brilliant David Cromer, cranking up the volume and high def picture of a family desperate to be heard. Where do we fit in? Does the weight of DNA trump the choice of uniform we eventually wear? And how can it be that we do not speak the language of those with whom we shared a crib, yet understand without benefit of explanation a soul we just met?

On Friday I was at right angles. The week had been perfect. Each encounter had felt ordained and it was too late to call anyone else. What could finish this week, deep-set in the Days of Awe?  I wanted to be outside, downtown, to connect with people and walk the streets. And so Gina emailed and said that she would be at a TEDx salon at 5:30 in Soho. The topic was The Power of Connection. She and Jim and I could walk to get a drink when it was over. Of course.

And though I was late for the talk, I made it in time for the discussion, a circle of New Yorkers with accents ranging from the Grand Concourse to Brisbane, telling intimate stories, amidst timeless questions and holy confessions. I’d been pulled inexplicably to a chair at the front when I am strictly a back row gal. But when the man next to me started talking about story and community and tribe I knew I was in the right place. We spoke afterward, about all of these things, made a connection that each knew was meant to be and parted knowing this was just the beginning.

After drinks and tapas, Jim and Gina and I walked the streets of Soho, happening upon a restaurant we all loved and which none of us could have found if we tried—the memory of a shared meal there filling us all over again. I took the 1 train back uptown and walked the rest of the way, knowing for the first time that the city and I aren’t finished with each other yet.

The next morning the bus drove through the Lincoln Tunnel to Newark and dropped me off for a flight to Baltimore, transferring to a plane that took me back to a greeting—Mary Glen lifting me off the ground in a celebratory embrace—that was home itself, the arms of love and not the ground beneath them. And in that moment I recognized that no matter where we live, we are all nomads. My search for Tribe and Lover had finally come full circle.

Just before my freshman year, my parents and sisters moved to California and I spent my first college break in an unfamiliar place, lamenting the loss of community and intimacy, for is this not what Tribes and Lovers are? On Christmas Eve we celebrated with new friends and as I shared my longing heart, a woman then younger than I am now, said simply, “You know that song, ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’? Maybe that’s what you need to do.”

I’m sorry for the years it took that message to sink in, but oh so grateful to know the truth of it now. We are all a part of the diaspora—a people searching for shibboleths and eagle feathers, team colors and the  patois of home, familiar whispers and waiting arms—and when we find it, in the eyes of a beloved, on a city street or local gym, may we remember that in finding others we have found ourselves.

 “Out beyond ideas of right-thinking and wrong-thinking is a field.
            I’ll meet you there.”

1 comment:

  1. your word choice and your ability to paint a picture of places i've never been is astounding. i don't know if your writing is therapy for you- but i seem to sense that- maybe that's why it's so good. honest writing is hard to find. best- ct in san antonio.