January 24, 2014
The sun is setting on the Hudson River on this frigid New York day. As darkness begins its daily descent, the river turns from grey to turquoise, for just a moment, and on its New Jersey banks a black plume from a smoke stack blossoms into the evening sky, its toxicity transformed into a haiku.
Transformation? Or Transcendence? I don’t know, but I hear and read these two words quite often on this visit to the city; two words applied in equal measure to theatre, skin creams, real estate and meditation; words of genuine desire, warped by superficiality.
I light 5 candles on our coffee table, each of them contained by places I have called home: a tarnished silver holder bought two decades ago in St.Ives; a humble glass votive from Cape Cod; another candle dwells in the bottom of a silver beaker from Tuscany; mirrored glass from Provence cradles a tea-light; while the biggest candle of all, natch, sits on a glass saucer from New York.
Photo by Maggie
All of these places have transformed me, and in all of these places I have experienced transcendent moments. Even these past two days, during which I suffered a melt down, have offered glimpses of these qualities; transcendence having arrived yesterday in the form of a brilliant production of Twelfth Night, on Broadway. Yet I wouldn’t say that this visit to New York has transformed either of us, but then I don’t believe transformation is a one-time occurrence in the life of we humans; rather, I think that if we’re lucky, we allow transformation to be our life’s work, accepting that transcendence is not necessarily a state of bliss but the willingness to rise above one’s own toxicity. Rather like that plume of smoke across the river, which even now, continues to rise and dissipate.
Talking of dissipation, on looking up the verb: to dissipate, I see that it has 2 definitions:
1. Disperse, scatter, or disappear.
2. Squander or waste (money, energy or resources).
I certainly have felt my energy dispersed and scattered these last couple of weeks, to the point where the person I was in Europe last year, almost entirely disappeared over the last couple of days. I see now, that the witnessing of so much squandering of money, energy and resources, actually has the power to transform me from a state of being I hold dear, to that of being anxious, frazzled, frightened and finally, sorrowful.
I went to visit a dear friend and mentor yesterday, and I saw how easily my lament about America can be taken as judgment by its natives. I’m not an American native, but I am an American Citizen; a grateful citizen, for it is in America that I did the real growing up an adult must do in order to become a real grown-up. And America has been bountiful to me; gifting me with a daughter, a husband, friends, creative development, a master’s degree, sobriety, and the honor of being of service. So while it is true that in the early years I judged America harshly, partly to hold on to the loyalty to my native country and partly because of certain cultural differences I deemed amoral (this while I was busy drinking and drugging!) nonetheless, I was also aware of, and admiring of America’s positive energy, its can-do energy, and its, then, striving for equality and human rights as well as its innovative thinking in the arts, sciences and education. And then, like many of us, I saw it reach beyond its goodness into the dark side of personal and corporate greed and political corruption and it is this that makes me sorrowful. It is one thing to squander potential, it’s quite another to transform energy from the positive to the negative.
Of course I’m speaking generally, of course there are good souls here doing their very best to slay the dragon and transcend. But it’s rough work, and encouragement is not in abundance.
I did something today I haven’t done in over a year; I read the front section of the New York Times. I read, with horror, of a corporation that owns a chain of hospitals (A chain of hospitals? Are you f—king kidding me?)…one of many such corporations. I read that the doctors in these hospitals are color-coded according to their “admittance” levels. Doctors who admit more than half of emergency room patients (thereby increasing corporate profit while bankrupting the marginally ill) are coded green; those admitting less than half, yellow, those with the lowest score are coded red. The doctors in the latter group are considered failures and fired. Go on, think about it for a while.
The river has disappeared, its watery way transformed into a matte black vacuum lit on the far side by the lights of high rises and industry. The sky, too, has become dark, transforming that inky plume into dove grey. Transformation? Transcendence? I don’t know.
Self Portrait by Maggie