Today marks seven months for me in New York City, and I’m spending the evening at the Mid-Manhattan Library, downloading information for freelance articles, looking for jobs, and helping an elderly Chinese lady navigate the library’s computer reservation system. “You so nice!” she says as she pats my arm, and I remember the new desktop wallpaper on my computer: the Dalai Lama quotation that says, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” It reminds me also of something else I read lately: that it is easy to break people down, not as easy to lift them up. I’m trying to attend more to my spiritual practice these days — it isn’t as difficult as one would think. When material reality is reduced to a monthly MTA card, rent, and airfare to see my kids twice a month, the spiritual fills in the gaps lest boredom (at best) or slow insanity (worst) ensue.
But “attending to spirituality” means not only thoughtfulness but also being care-full (full of care) with others as well as myself. The woman struggling with the computer could be me in fifty years, struggling with whatever newfound technology has come our way in a half-century. Joan Osbourne might’ve made herself the butt of some jokes asking what things would be like if we treated everyone like he or she were God… but there’s some truth to that. Certainly the world would be better, if only incrementally.
Today is also the last day of what seems to have been a mild version of the flu that’s ravaging New York City. I thought I’d kicked the bug, but being out in public for a few hours has me feeling feverish. That’s okay, though; it took me until 5pm to get out of the house. Probably my mind’s way of preparing me for a relative failure to participate in the world today. Tomorrow will be better.
Fifteen days from now, Jack will have been dead for three years. That’s a very long time: long enough for a baby to learn how to walk, talk, feed himself, and go to the bathroom on his own (if his parents are lucky). It’s also long enough to get almost-through college, finished with many master’s degree programs, and — apparently — pack up an entire life and move to New York City on (literally) a whim and a prayer. I’ve forgotten almost everything about him: the sound of his voice, many of our inside jokes, his exact birthday, the size of his shoes and pants and shirts, his favorite color, most anything he ever promised me. I’m glad I wrote a lot of things down, or else there’d be no record of any of it. As it is, I don’t feel connected to that life anymore. When I was in Chicago last week, I went to the halfway house where we met, and save for Uncle Eddie, I might as well have been a stranger there. I shouldn’t have been surprised. People move on, either through death or relapse or just plain forward… and those left behind have to make do with what’s left.
In any case: I’m struggling both more and less. Money is an ever-present issue — will I get the freelance work I need? how long will what I have last? how many trips to Chicago will I have to skip? — but it’s not so much that money problems exist as it is the relentless quality of those problems. But the “struggling less” comes from slowly learning — having a spiritual awakening — that I am undoubtedly taken care of and always have been. I have hundreds, if not thousands, of ways in which I can and should improve, but I am making progress in learning how to weather individual storms even as I feel worn down by their cumulative impact.
Even if nothing else is ever true, I have survived living in New York City for seven months. I have stayed sober through that, and I stayed sober through Jack dying and all of the grieving I’ve done since. With all of the challenges I face on a daily basis — paying bills, looking for a job, scrambling for freelance work — I believe, 100%, that my life today is still one that my 16-year-old self would look upon as being an amazing existence. Being here, being alive, being a person with the blessings I have and the grace I’ve experienced… well, that’s enough, for today. Maybe also for tomorrow. But definitely for today.