Sunday Morning ~ New York City
Mau okoma n’kamba, mau oipa n’ndulu. ~ Kind words are like food, bad words are poison.
~ Chewa proverb
December 4, 2022
I met my friend Ruth when I started my first midwifery job in New Haven in 1987. I was fresh out of graduate school, thirty years old with five little kids. Each December I came to New York City for a Sunday afternoon to attend the Christmas party at her apartment. The Christmas brunch was a tradition for years, filled with vibrant, eccentric, creative people from all walks of life. It was so different from the world I came from. Late afternoon we’d scramble for coats and scarfs, chaotically arranging transportation uptown for the party finale: the concert at Riverside Cathedral. It was years before I learned there was a ticket required; I’d thought the concert was free. That’s how generous my friend is. When I moved to Maine it became a weekend trip, and when my kids were in college we’d meet there for the event. Over time the party changed, as all things do, and finally ended; many of the people have passed away. It remains one of my fondest Christmas time memories. It’s been a while since I’ve been here in December, the pandemic being the main reason. I hadn’t planned on it this year either, but two invitations arrived with dates aligned just so, and I thought, sure, I’ll go.
The first invitation was for a benefit concert on Saturday for the music festival whose board I sit on. I get this invitation every year, but timing has never worked out and I’d planned to pass again. A day later I received an invitation for a celebration at my Nursing School in Boston on Thursday of last week. The timing was too perfect, so decided to make a long weekend of it and attend both. Then I got a ticket to Hamilton for Tuesday so the weekend turned into a week. I love this open stage of life.
I left home last Wednesday morning stopping for lunch with an old friend and arriving in Massachusetts in time to see my grandson’s Taekwon-do class. Thursday, I’d planned to hit a few museums in Boston before my event at five. But I’d gotten a message that a friend who’d had major heart surgery in Boston wasn’t doing well. He hadn’t answered any of my texts. I called his cell. No answer. Hmm. Was he alive? I impulsively got off the train at Mass General Hospital. They’ll never let me in, I thought. I’ll just go ask at the desk if it were possible to see him. I felt compelled to try.
I went to nursing school in the 70’s and back then Mass General was a behemoth. But that was nothing compared to what it is now. I had no idea how to even approach the place. I descended the stairs at the Charles River subway stop, crossed the street, and saw a clear sign saying, “Main Entrance”. Hmm, never noticed that before in all my wanderings of this neighborhood. A short walk, a mask, and approach the information desk. I asked if I could visit a friend and gave his name. Within two minutes I was on an elevator with a little map showing me where to go. I guess he’s still alive, I thought. The entrance to the Cardiac Intensive Care was a bit more formidable. I buzzed and gave my friend’s name. They told me to take a seat; someone would come get me. Ok. I sat and waited, excited? Is that the right word? More relieved I would get to see him at least one more time. Ten minutes, maybe twelve, and a sweet young nurse presented herself. I followed her in, and all my plans for the day disappeared. It was remarkable, really. This friend is far from home. His family is far away. There aren’t many (any?) visitors, and they let me stay. A long time. I can’t describe what transpired between us as conversation exactly as it was predominantly one sided. He was always a talker and that hasn’t changed. I mostly listened. I laughed when he said something funny. He laughed, saying it hurt as he grabbed his side. I don’t know if he heard my words. He needed to talk, and I needed to hear him, knowing full well it may be the last time. How odd to be sitting there. I was not in his inner circle of friends, though one of them gave me reports of his status. I told him how loved he was. How he would be missed. We cried. I tried to find a spot on his hand to touch that wasn’t a port for a tube or line. I rubbed his shin, bony now through the sheet and blanket, just wanting him to have some kind of human touch amid the apparatus keeping him alive. Kind words. Kind touch. In that moment, it was everything. I was a hospice nurse before going to grad school and I thought of how similar birth and death are, two similar passages where life is distilled into it’s essence and how human connection and touch are transformative.
I left there as it was getting dark and walked up Charles Street to the subway.
Boston College has a beautiful campus. I walked through the main entrance marveling at the lit spires and wondered if, as a student, I appreciated the beauty. The reception was a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the nursing school. I was surprised it was that young actually. This school was a baby when I was here! I was hoping I’d see some of my classmates, but I was the only one from the class of ’78. I met women who graduated in 1953 when the school was located downtown on Newbury Street. The provost at the time would not allow women to intermingle with men and fought with Cardinal Cushing who pushed for the nursing school to be part of the campus. Cushing finally got his wish in 1960 when Cushing Hall was built and where I attended classes. I loved my education there and love how it directed my course in life. There was a lot of reminiscing during cocktail hour. A graduate of the class of ’68 told me there were 5,000 men and 1,000 women on campus when she attended BC. She leaned over and said quietly, “We were never without a date.”
Friday, I took the train to the Big Apple and after getting settled and fed, Ruth and I walked to see the Bergdorf window displays. Saturday we walked uptown to see the lace exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center, and later I dressed up and walked up Madison Ave. for the benefit, where I spent the evening with some old, old money and good music. A woman at my table asked where I was staying. I told her I stay in mid-town with a friend but I also have a son in Brooklyn. She looked at me and said dryly, “Everyone has a son in Brooklyn.”
I love New York.
Happy holidays my friends. Kind words and lots of love.
Love to all,