Many years ago I met a woman in our mission who had read more books than anyone I had ever known. She lived in an apartment on the Lower East Side and before that she had lived in an abandoned building in the same area. She loved classical music, and particularly the idea of conducting music. She had always wanted to meet Leonard Bernstein. When I met her, she had just been diagnosed with cancer. The doctor had given her six months to live.
My wife wrote a letter to Leonard Bernstein, explaining our friend’s situation, and requesting a chance for her to meet him. Consequently, my wife and my friend were invited to a rehearsal of the New York Philharmonic–such a gracious response. Of course, my friend was exhilarated and a little giddy at the rehearsal. Afterwards, they were led to an area and were allowed to meet personally with Leonard Bernstein. He was kind and cordial to my friend with cancer.
It turned out that my friend with cancer survived and lived another fourteen years. Go figure. Leonard Bernstein, on the other hand, died soon thereafter. This is the circle of randomness and purpose in life that fascinates me. I will get back to Leonard.
So I have included a picture of some Armenian coffee, brewed in a gift that a friend gave me. I loved it, with the very strong taste and the foam on top. Susan and I drank some, then we packed more coffee in a thermos and made a trek to one of our favorite places in New York. Remember, we live on a very crowded street in Manhattan with densely packed buildings and very little greenery. Consequently, we went to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, one of the great city attractions of the nineteenth century. A little weird, I admit, but no crowds, and lots of huge old trees…and gravestones. We climbed to the highest point in the cemetery, pulled out our coffee, and looked at the stunning view of the Manhattan skyline. So much urban life brewing all around outside our quiet space. We prayed for our city.
We looked around the place where we had been sitting. Guess what we found–Leonard Bernstein’s grave–surrounded by some little trees (rhododendrons, I think). The little trees were lush, even in winter. It gave us a chance to be quiet for a moment, to remember our remarkable friend with cancer, a survivor, to remember Leonard Bernstein, the coffee we had drunk, the view, the trees. Heraclitus would have loved that moment of reflection–life comes from death, death comes from life, freedom from confinement, confinement from freedom, trees from a grave, a coffin made out of trees, a cemetery in the middle of a thriving city, a thriving memory in the middle of a cemetery. As the Christian poets hundreds of years ago would say, the tomb is a womb and the womb is a tomb.
With Leonard on our mind, Susan and I went to a huge bakery right next to the cemetery. They sell three loaves of fresh-baked bread for two dollars. The whole area smells of fresh baking. We sat down outside the bakery, next to the cemetery and ate the best hot bread I have ever eaten. Of course, we drank a little more coffee.
Upside Down Freedom