Two weekends ago, Superman and I flew to New York City. We left late Friday evening, took in two Broadway musicals—Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof—ate up as much of the Big Apple as time would allow, then flew home on Monday.
We spent most of our Saturday walking. We walked from our hotel on Times Square over to Rockefeller Plaza, then down Fifth Avenue to the Empire State Building. We overlooked the city from the 86th floor, pretended we were Harry and Sally (not really), then continued on our way. We took a cab from the Empire State Building to Washington Square so as to not miss our lunch reservations. We also took a water taxi from Battery Park back uptown, passing near the Brooklyn Street Bridge and Statue of Liberty. Other than that, we walked.
We ate lunch at Babbo, former Iron Chef, Mario Batali’s, famed Italian Ristorante (I knew of Babbo from a book I read, Heat, by Bill Buford, and not the Food Network). We feasted on beef cheek ravioli, black spaghetti (made black by squid ink!), pistachio and chocolate semifreddo for dessert, and a bottle of crisp white wine especially chosen for us after a wine expert spent time sorting out our opposing vino palates.
While we were dining, I’m fairly certain time stood still.
After two hours being—pardon the cliche—wined and dined, we continued walking. We walked through Greenwich, Soho, and Tribeca. We walked and walked, until we walked right into the sacred space of of 9/11. We could feel the weight of the place before we understood exactly where we were. It looks like the pictures—two gigantic black square fountains pouring water into a depth below ground level surrounded by trees—swamp white oaks—growing in rows throughout the memorial. It is continual cleansing and renewal of Ground Zero. A continual flow of remembering.
As I stood over the first fountain watching water pour down smooth granite sides, my mind’s eye flashed a very different scene. It was image after image of mangled wire and piled concrete, black smoke oozing, dust coating everything. And humanity fleeing, running back up the very streets we had just traversed.
How could this place be that place? This place was peace and light and contemplation: new growth, spacious walkways, a museum entry point that looked like wings of a bird ready for flight. Sunlight turned the water into liquid diamonds falling and filling the square pool below with shimmer and glow. I traced my fingers in the engraved names. I thought about their final minutes and wondered how their loved ones live without them. I looked around at other visitors; so many of them younger than me. I wondered what they remember of that day—were they even alive? Do they understand how much their lives have been shaped by the evil that shook its fist at God in this place almost fifteen years ago? Then I realized, “This must be what it’s like for the Greatest Generation to walk along the edge of Pearl Harbor, or among the graves at Normandy. Must every generation have its tragedy?”
And while I wondered, time stood still.
That night, we went to see Les Miserables. It was my first Broadway experience. What can I say about Les Mis? I am not talented enough a writer to express its deep impact on my soul. How do I explain scene after scene that left me exhausted with emotion? How do I tell about the terrible aching beauty of a music soaked in Truth, wrung out by the lives of the miserables—some finding love as they looked upon the face of God; some dashed to the rocks below. There was not one song that didn’t leave me both breathless and consumed. It took me 30 minutes after the show to regain a steady heart beat and composure.
And while I sat absorbed in music and story, time stood still.
Time stood still. In New York City, I stood on holy ground.
Some of the ground was satiating, a filling up on all manner of bounty from this earth: bread, meat, and the fruit of the vine. It was holy by its abundance, and by the way in which that abundance was received—as honored guests at the banquet table.
Some of the ground was hard, echoing the cries of what has been lost, what is remembered, but also what can be found. It was a place of widening and making room. A holy ground that expands itself for those who walk upon it so that we, too, may be expanded as we stand within its spaces.
Some of the ground was a drenching in God’s severe mercy. It was a filling up and a pouring out. It was weeping over my sinfulness in light of His holiness. It was scandalous hope in the face of His love. It was a revealing of His grace through music and story. It was breathtaking, and it was worship.
It was all worship.
Copyright 2016 by Shari Dragovich