Saturday, April 4, 2015

Good Friday in New York City

New York City has played a role in our Arden life. We have always sojourned to the city, but now it is two hours away instead of three which makes a day trip just that much more doable. I am currently returning from my sixth trip to the city since moving to Arden in June of 2013. Our daughter, Maren, is currently in the middle of an eight week acting intensive. She had off classes on Good Friday, and I decided that it was as good a time as any to tick walking across the Brooklyn Bridge off my bucket list. I should note that in my lifetime of trips to visit NYC, I have yet to go to the top of the Empire State Building or visit the Statue of Liberty. I am not sure why these tourist attractions have never interested me. I've visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the London Eye.  I guess I have always just had a very specific cultural agenda every time I've come to New York. Usually it is a museum exhibit. Since we have been in Arden, I have visited college friends on the Upper West Side with Mark, taken Maren on an audition for HBO, and visited the Brooklyn Museum of Art to see the Judy Chicago exhibit while Jonah took a sci-fi writing class at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. 

On this day, our daughter journeyed down from the room she is renting on the Upper East Side to walk the bridge with us, starting from lower Manhattan. We are not religious when it comes to Easter. Mark was raised Catholic, while I was raised Lutheran. Holy Week was a big deal in my household growing up. Between sunrise prayer services and all the services in the evening, I felt as though our family was living at the church over Holy Week. Good Friday was always my favorite church service of the entire year, because of its contemplative nature. It never failed to move me, but as an adult, my religious path has followed the pagan calendar of solstices and equinoxes rather than the Christian calendar based on Christ’s life. I really dislike celebrating Easter more than any other holiday because spring is in full swing. I usually have so many projects going--indoor and out, that I never want to wash my garden-dirty hands to dress in pastels and sit down to a really heavy dinner of ham and scalloped potatoes. If our family celebrations had been an Easter bike ride followed by a some grilled rosemary lamb and green beans, I may have been more amenable. Ham has never been a reason to stop the traffic of my life. We opt out of Easter celebrations more than we opt in. 

So, it is not with any sense of the holiday that we head to Manhattan.This is the second time we have been in Manhattan on Good Friday, and it is the second time that Good Friday was meaningful in spite of our spiritual shrug. The first time was in 2010. We were coming to the Museum of Modern Art with the kids to see the Tim Burton movie art exhibition. But Tim Burton was the least of what was going on at the MoMA. The museum was also hosting the Marina Abramovic Retrospective. Marina herself was there doing her famed piece in which she, in a flowing red dress, sits still and looks into the eyes of strangers across a table. The museum also reenacted some of her other performance pieces. In order to walk through that part of the exhibit, we had to walk between a totally nude woman on one side and a totally nude man on the other. The entrance way was tight, and the proximity to these naked people was intentionally uncomfortable. Our kids were twelve and fifteen at the time. Once we were in the show, more squeamishness awaited. The piece that stuck with me, though, was called Luminosity. In this piece, a naked woman sits on a bicycle seat which was mounted about ten feet up on a wall. Her arms were spread as wide as they would go, and she was still. The room is dark and she is lit. One cannot help but think of the crucifixion when staring at this sight. I don’t know if Abramovic herself referenced this, but she did say that it was "a work about loneliness, about pain and about spiritual elevation.” Being Good Friday, I could not help but make the associations, and the image of the woman mounted on the wall has always stayed with me.

It is drizzling and threatening even heavier weather as we begin our pilgrimage across the bridge. About half of those braving the elements are doing so under the-oh-so-annoying protection of umbrellas. It isn't even raining that hard. We do what we can to avoid them, ducking out of line to take photos, and lamenting that our usual photographer, Joe del Tufo, backed out of the bridge trip after the stomach bug sidelined him for much of the week. We do what we can to document this gray moment on a gray bridge. The crossing itself is so much less dramatic than I imagined. Walking across the Benjamin Franklin Bridge with my hiking group in August seemed more of an event. When we hit the Brooklyn side, we wander a little aimlessly. We intended to eat on this side, but it is only 10:30 AM. We decide to walk back across the bridge and take lunch in New York's Chinatown instead. 

Good Friday 2015
20th Way of the Cross/Brooklyn Bridge
Mark slips inside a diner to use their bathroom, while Maren and I stand on a sidewalk corner outside. We see people with news cameras stroll past. I see a man wearing a brown monk's robe over blue jeans. Still, this does not prepare us for what is coming. I see the man carrying the cross, and it doesn't compute. Whatever. This is New York. You see everything here. Then I see the swells of people following him. I reach for my camera, but it is zipped inside my jacket and by the time I figure out what is going on, I can only get a photo of the man carrying the cross from the back. Where is Mark? I see the whole crew turning onto the bridge where we are headed. Mark finally comes out of the diner with a look of confusion and his accompanying trademark, "What the hell?" I am anxious to be a part of this throng. The bridge crossing to the Brooklyn side was unthrilling for a bucket list item, but being part of this group has raised the interest factor. Mark and Maren are talking animately about alternately trying to get out in front of all the people or just getting out of the way of a few specific umbrella-weilders. We are surrounded by nuns and monks, Catholic school students, and Chinese people. (Is this due to our proximity to Chinatown?) I notice the silence of the group and try to find my own meditative space, but Maren and Mark haven't caught onto the fact that this is a silent walk. Maren asks questions and I shush her in a way that is not very meditative. We have not talked about doing this and to them, it is a nuisance. I don’t know how to convey to them that I want to take part. As a group, we take up the width of the bridge and stretch out for hundreds of feet. People walking the other direction over the bridge must wait. At first we are smack dab in the middle, but later, we move to the front by virtue of Mark's ability to navigate the stream. Not until we are almost to the Manhattan side does the group stop. 

They intend to have a service and as much as I would like to stay, I know that Mark and Maren will not stand in the rain for this. Maren does grab a program, so we can figure out just what it was we encountered. It was the 20th Way of the Cross: Over the Brooklyn Bridge. As we are walking away, Maren says that she got an umbrella tangled in her hair eight times. I tell her to think of Jesus and the crown of thorns. It is a joke, but it is not. I can check the Brooklyn Bridge off my bucket list, knowing it is not an experience I will forget any time soon.

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