I was melancholy, already missing the city. Whenever I leave New York, it always feels like I’ll never return. The gap between this trip and the previous one was almost six years, at least. Going back this time meant going back to reality. It was my first-ever “vacation-vacation” to New York. Previous visits were planned around work – mine or Mark’s. So, it was all-too easy to remember that this vacation was originally supposed to be a foursome.
Before long, there she is. The boys run down the steps. They’re enjoying this chance to romp and roam. Four days in a small hotel room with Mom has gone well enough, but still. They’re not thrilled when I make them stop and pose for a picture, but they pose. The lighting is perfect. Under the bridge, behind them, people are tuning up to perform: an African-American woman who’s maybe in her 20s and strumming a guitar, an older man who stands behind her, and a man who is also African-American, also in his 20s.
I ask the boys to take my picture. They are half-way off already, headed for a closer look at the fountain. One boy returns just long enough to snap a picture – of my feet – and then runs back to the fountain. I nag and scold, but they’re too far off and I don’t want to holler. The woman with the guitar gives me a look, like “we’re performing here.”
She’s playing the guitar, but I don’t recognize the tune. Finally, I give up on the children, and take my own picture.
I am annoyed because my children ran off and left me. I am annoyed because I am left to taking my own picture, again. The music is really lovely. The two men vocalizing, the woman joins in. Their voices are so lovely, vibrant. I don’t recognize the tune, though.
I am annoyed and sad and angry because I am the solo parent on duty, the keeper of time, the protector of the wallet, the cruise director, the disciplinarian, and…the song is “Amazing Grace.”
The song is “Amazing Grace.” A three-part harmony, so perfect, so clear and so pure that it’s the first time the world has heard this song. That’s how it feels. I know the tune, I know all the verses, I’d memorized this song thirty years ago, and have sung it a thousand times, but here it is, from these people, and it is a gift and it is meant for me. This is the message, and it’s for me.
The persistent sadness that has become my companion, that has replaced my companion, the “mellow blueness” that settled into my skin presses through to the surface. I am caught up in the song and this awareness, the painful ecstatic awareness of something beyond human, beyond this world. I am so stunned, I don’t really realize that I’ve taken a picture of myself in tears.
I put the camera down, and turn to the singers. The woman’s looking at me again – this time with concern. The older man is not looking at me, he is singing to the ceiling of the beautiful old bridge, head thrown back, enraptured. I drop money in their case and move off, making my way to the fountain where I sit and I cry. My sons come up. They see my face. “I’m so sad.” I tell them. “I miss your dad.” They nod and move away, a little, giving me my space but keeping me in sight. I pull out my phone and I call a friend. He asks how I am, and I tell him that I am sitting in the park crying. He tells me this seems normal, given the circumstances. We laugh, and he tells me he’s on his way into the city, for lunch with us, and to see us off to the airport. We make plans.
It was Wednesday. It was Bethesda. It was Central Park. There was an angel, or three, or more. I wish I had taken their picture. The blue stays with me, for now, maybe for always. It’s not easy to call it up, but life afterward gets little easier when I do.