Sunday, December 21, 2014

Holiday Wishes!

During this holiday season, I wish you a day as peaceful as I experienced last Saturday at The New York Botanical Garden, filled with….. 

Undisturbed solitude

Smooth transitions

                                                         Delightful companions

And a line of poetry that touches your soul

(Former United States Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, read selections from his newest collection, Aimless Love. His poems are dotted throughout the Garden during the holiday season.) 

by Billy Collins

The sky began to tilt, 
a shift of light toward the higher clouds,
so I seized my brush
and dipped my little cup in the stream,

but once I streaked the paper gray
with a hint of green,
water began to slide down the page,
rivulets looking for a river.

And again, I was too late--
then the sky made anther turn,
this time as if to face a mirror
held in the outstretched arm of a god.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Winding Road to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

I exited the #6 train on Spring Street with directions in hand to the Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. A ten-minute walk. Twenty minutes later I was ???
I should have crossed Delancey (isn't that a movie?), then taken a right on Orchard, but Delancey was no where in sight. Almost to Canal, I knew I was headed the wrong way, so I stopped in a jewelry store for directions. A helpful saleswoman pointed me down the sidewalk I had just walked. (She was Chinese. I'll explain why that is significant later.)
"It's the big, busy street. You can't miss it," she said.

I retraced my steps, carefully reading each street sign along the way, only to find myself back at the subway stop. No big, busy street. No Delancey sign.

Again, I asked for directions.
A man loading paint cans on a dolly, looked up when I said, "Excuse me. Can you tell me where Orchard Street is?" (Forget Delancey. It apparently had disappeared.)
In a pronounced Swedish accent, he said, "Let me look on my phone." After a couple of swipes, he pointed, "That way, toward Delancey."
"Thank you, but I just came from there, and no Delancey!" My morning mindfulness mediation was wearing thin, and I was already late to meet my friend, Marian, and her sister, Marjie.
"Oh, Kenmare turns into Delancey," he explained. "Follow Kenmare and you'll see it."

Kenmare I had seen, twice.

A few blocks down Delancey, and I should have encountered Orchard, but…
Is this sounding familiar?

I stopped for a third time, entering a shoe store, where two African-American men greeted me from behind the counter.
"Am I anywhere close to the Tenement Museum on Orchard?" I asked.
"Sure, on the other side of Delancey," one of them answered.

Thanking them, I crossed Delancey, walked thirty seconds, and there - finally -  was my destination! Half an hour late, but still in time for our tour, "Sweatshop Workers."

Around the corner from the museum's visitor center, Marian, Marjie and I stood with a group of ten others in front of a door. The door to a five-story tenement building which housed nearly 7000 people from over 20 countries between 1863 and 1935.

A sign hung to our left, beginning the story we were to hear in the next hour.

When the door closed behind us, I imagined being one of the 7000 who walked into this dark, narrow hallway. Would have I been grateful to have a roof over my head? Would I have wanted to turn around and run? Pray? Rejoice? Where would I have summoned the strength, not only in my legs but in my heart, to climb the steep bannistered stairways to my tiny tenement home and my new life?

When Marian and I visited Ellis Island last month, we learned that as a result of the 12 million immigrants who traveled through its gates, approximately 100 million descendants populate this country. And their number continues to grow with each generation. As I stood in two of these family's apartments and heard their stories, I was inspired by the lives they created - despite the hardships they endured. I was proud of a country, my country, that provided them opportunities, and valued their contributions.

But America is not only my country.  It belongs as much to the Chinese woman, the Swedish man, the African-American men who pointed me along my way -- ironically, to an immigrant museum.
One building among hundreds like it, where people built their lives and the life of a nation.

Today's immigrants, like their predecessors, are transforming the neighborhood - and challenging us to provide new answers to old questions. Who is American? What does it mean to be a citizen? What is our responsibility to those in need? What should "home" look like? It is their future that gives the past  -  a past that this Museum studies and celebrates - such resonance.
-- A Tenement Story
{The History of 97 Orchard Street and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum}

Photo credit - Tenement Museum


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