It was something we seldom do, driving into the city instead of taking the train, and certainly last evening was an odd night on which to do it, with the snow they'd been talking up all day long falling heavily and everyone urged to take mass transit. But Q was to be at Columbia, way uptown, and I was to be at St. Mark's in the Bowery, way downtown and about as far left as you can get, even in New York. And it was time for "All Things Considered." We would drive carefully and listen to the radio, warm and dry, and we could count on everyone else to have cleared out early in anticipation of the snow.
I'll meet you right here in front of Camille's, Q said. I told him I'd be there right at nine o'clock. And don't hurry. Don't run and fall. I'll just wait for you.
He disappeared into the night and I drove off down Amsterdam. I would head east on 110th Street and then down Fifth for a little bit. It was dark, but 110th borders Central Park on the North and Fifth Avenue on the East. It would be possible to see what "The Gates" are like in the dark.
Their brilliance is not visible at night: their saffron color is just an industrial orange in the dark, as if maybe the Parks Department were doing some repair work in the Park and these were the equivalent of traffic cones. They are sentries, uniformed, and through an opening among the trees or over a mound of rock you glimpse more of them, an army of them, silent, waiting, their curtain skirts billowing occasionally with a passing gust of wind. It is as if they had a secret as you pass by, one large rectangle of orange alerting the next to your presence. Seen one, you've seen 'em all, I suppose, but somehow seeing one makes you want to see more of them, makes you want to follow them. Even in the dark.
There was very little traffic anywhere -- everyone in his right mind had gone home. I found abundant parking right on the Avenue half a block from St. Mark's, where Peter Stuyvesant went to church, if he went to church -- he never misses a service now, of course, as he is buried under the floor in good 17th-century fashion and so can't avoid attending, and if he minds that St. Mark's is an Episcopal Church now and not a Dutch one, the foundations of the beautiful building give no sign of his turning over in his grave.
It was bright and warm and busy at St. Mark's, as usual. The church folk were having their Lenten class and a light supper downstairs as the actors were preparing for their show upstairs, in the eighteenth-century the sanctuary which is also one of New York's loveliest performance spaces. Who knew how many would brave the snow to come and be in the audience, to come and be in the Lenten class. You just never know.
Whoever is there is who's supposed to be there, I always say. The class was about praying for those in the political realm who make you angry -- your enemies. I suggested the word "opponents" instead, talking about the ways in which prayer can lower your emotional temperature and enable you to get some spiritual distance from a problem that has brought you to the end of your rope. Then you might be calm enough to allow God to enter into your spirit's experience of it -- God has already entered it in reality. In politics, as in the rest of life, we must leave room for God to act, all the while working to further the good as we have been given to see what the good is. We must be willing to be surprised. We must remember that God uses people we'd just as soon he didn't use -- that's not our call -- and that God specializes in bringing life out of death, can bring good out of evil situations. God's ability to do that doesn't make bad things good. But it does make history move forward.
The snow was worse at 8:30, and traffic was still very light. I drove slowly back up to Columbia. Q was already at his post in front of Camille's. "To the Point" was just finishing up on the radio as he got in and we headed for the George Washington, leaving "The Gates" behind us as we drove away. They stood silently in the snow, in the dark, one leading to another, here for only a short time, not clear in their meaning, not universal in their appeal. But people who walk among them all laugh and smile. I'll bet you anything that people who don't like them have only seen them from a distance. I'll bet you they haven't walked among them, someone told me the other day.
Maybe the journey isn't lovely until you allow yourself walk it in company with everyone and everything, people and things you choose and people and things you don't. You don't see the beauty until you come closer, down lower, open yourself to the beauty of things others have done, choices others have made, not just your own choices. If it's beauty you want, you must leave room to be surprised.