Isn’t it fantastic when you had plans to go in one direction, but the road leads you in another? And then, as fortune smiled upon me, I ended up at my planned destination by the end of the day anyway!
It’s Sunday and the heavens are weeping. Rain, Rain, go away. Come again another… Wait a second! I adore the rain. Having spent most of my teen years in Oregon, I’m practically half-duck. Rain doesn’t phase me. And it’s cleaning out the air like a massive ionic dustbuster!
First on the agendum today was to meet up with a couple of actors here for church services. This is a lovely couple, both of them actually succeeding in the acting world, and for whom I hold tender feelings of love and respect. I was truly looking forward to this. The meeting was to began at nine in the morning. As I’ve learned that traffic here is about as predictable as a slot machine, I was ready to go a full hour early. Sitting in my car, I plugged in the address to my handy-dandy-schmancy little Garmin and waited as it calculated.
The low hum of the car engine rode the bass as pings and taps from the spritzing percussion section echoed along the melody. I was mesmerized by the impromptu symphony long enough to realize that it had been a substantial tidbit of time and my GPS was not working. I entered the address again.
Twenty minutes of tweaks and frustration later, I entered an address close-by and figured it would at least get me into the neighborhood. Driving… Driving… Then, this ill-conceived spawn of a satellite receiver and a Decepticon blitzed-out and froze-up completely: Zombified with nary a blink nor a pulse. “Garmin, Garmin, are you OK? — Help!” I pulled over and started CPR. But alas, alack… The Sunday virus was just too much for schmancy little Garmin as he lay there on the dash insensate: Blue-tongue hanging out and all… It wasn’t pretty.
I pulled out my cell phone GPS for backup and come to find out, Devil’s-spawn-Garmin had led me astray during his death-throes. According to the working GPS on my phone, I was MILES away from my destination, and only ten minutes remained before the meeting started. Blast! I sent a text to the beautiful couple explaining the situation and apologizing. Then I just looked up the closest meetinghouse near my location. Figuring their meetings also began at 9:00, I high-tailed it over there just in the nick of time and walked in with one minute to spare.
Except that… the place was nearly empty. I bumped into a couple of other church-attendees and they explained that meetings in that building would begin at 10:00, not 9:00. So I had an hour to murder.
After the whole Garmin — son-of-Hal and V.I.K.I. — incident, I needed a little “me time” anyway. I waltzed into the empty chapel and saw my old friend, Baby Grand, beckoning to me from the choir seats. I pulled out a hymnal, and Baby and I began improvising an impromptu prelude. Forty-five minutes later, the bishop came in and asked me to keep it up. Apparently, the organist was M.I.A. at this point, and people were filing in. I offered to move to the organ, but he said he liked the piano. “I could sit here and listen to you play for hours,” he replied… quite sincerely. So, I continued.
This is old hat for me. I was called to serve as “Ward Organist,” accompanying congregations, when I was eleven years old. So I can almost do it with my eyes closed; but choose to keep them open so as to avoid any unnecessary foul-ups. As the lighting is better with my eyes open, I can see the music more clearly as well.
At 9:59, the frazzled organist — mother of two children under the age of five — made her way to the front. She smiled at me with a “Thank You” on her lips, and I nodded at her as I wrapped up my serenade. The bishop stood and began the meeting. Really, it looked as if it had been planned.
The meeting was simple and sweet. At the opening hymn, I realized why they were so desperate for people with a musical background. Um, how shall I say? There was quite a lot of rather loud singing around me — much louder than we do in meetings back home — and much of it was… Well, I’ll just say it. There were a lot of sour notes. But, I think God “[heareth] not as a man [heareth]; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). They sang with their hearts. So did I — inside — as I was too distracted by the sour notes to try much of anything vocally on key.
And would you believe me when I say, that upon starting up my car to go to my next appointment, Garminstein’s monster resuscitated miraculously? They say truth is stranger than fiction and this totally sounds like I’m making it up, doesn’t it? Nope. Cross-my-heart-hope-to-die-stick-a-needle-in-my-eye, this is absolutely true. Of course, me being the eternal optimist that I am: I believe it was all meant to be. They needed music in their meeting and I got to be God’s instrument today. Well, “Baby Grand” and I did. How cool is that?
Then, I was off to Queens for a callback audition of a very strong candidate. He has so many of the qualities we’re looking for in this role and performed beautifully in this audition. He has impressed me in so many ways, and I’m not easily impressed. Wouldn’t that be something if he ended up getting the role?
The rest of afternoon was spent trying to get to The World Trade Center Memorial, which I never did locate. Then, it was up to the West End to celebrate Hanukkah with some new Jewish friends! This experience was — in my humble estimate — the highlight of my visit.
I’ve had the opportunity to stay with a most gracious family in New Jersey during my time here; and the mother, whom I will call Ruth, invited me to celebrate Hanukkah with a few friends in town tonight. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this, nor how much trepidation I’ve simultaneously felt about it. Looking forward to it because I love and respect my Jewish brothers and sisters. I take every opportunity to learn as much as I can about this people, religion, heritage and history. Apprehensive because, as I am not Jewish, the inner-critic worried almost constantly that I’d do something stupid to offend. The girl-next-door part of me distressed about using proper etiquette. And, as always, the ever-present “Miranda,” I call her — the harshest critic of all — stewed about not looking pretty enough, thin enough, or classy enough next to the others who would also be there.
For those of you who know the layout of New York, you may know that the “West End” is the “classy part of town.” Aaaaand how! But while their lavish high-rise apartment — complete with a stuffy, shiny-buttoned concierge at the front desk — was elegant and refined, Adam and Levi were the soul and wit of the most genuine hospitality you could imagine. Actually, Adam was the “wit” and Levi was the “soul,” and their dog “Buster” was just happy to be there.
As with Ruth and Saul, the atmosphere in their lovely home was amenable and unpretentious. Adam even took me aside just before dinner and said, “I’d like to propose a toast tonight, but I know you don’t drink. I hope you don’t mind that I bought a little non-alcoholic bubbly for you. Would you please come look at it to see if it’s alright?” He pulled out a bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider, chilled to perfection right next to the bottle of two-car-payment champagne for everyone else. I almost cried. I’ve never experienced such genuine respect for my faith from practitioners of another faith. It was a small gesture that meant the world to me. Thank you, Adam, Levi, Ruth and Saul — all of you — for showing such kindness to me. I am moved beyond words.
Adam, the vastly talented interior-decorator and at-home-chef, prepared a lovely meal of traditional brisquet and potato latkas with homemade applesauce and sour-cream (I think it was). He said that every Jewish family has their own recipe and anyone you ask will say that their mother makes the best brisquet ever! “And so, how was your mother’s brisquet,” I asked? “Terrible,” he responded. “My mother was an awful cook.”
Apparently, he didn’t learn to prepare brisquet from his mother because this dish was absolutely divine, complete with a peach glaze of sorts and tiny peach slices. (His creativity and finesse doesn’t stop merely with interior decorating.) Oh, and I haven’t mentioned that we were joined by another guest, an actress who is currently preparing to go on tour with “Flashdance” next week. She had three helpings of the stuff. I’m always amazed by how much actors, in general, can put away food-wise. I figure it must be due to an incredibly high metabolism that allows them to burn everything off in their daily workout. Actors move… and process… and LIVE. Of course their metabolisms are high! It’s really the best way to experience this thing we call life, don’t you think?
Anyway, where was I? At the dining table, Levi presented each of us with a Hanukkah gift! A present? First, the non-alcoholic toast-syrup and now a present? Good heavens! Now, of course, everyone else there knows each other. They’re all good friends from years back. Buying a present for each of them wouldn’t be so tough, really, because at least you would know their tastes, styles, needs, etc. But what is the perfect gift for some stranger you’ve never met? And I mean, the “perfect” gift: A mug with “I [HEART] NY” all over it, of course! The other gifts, all around, were equally thoughtful and perfectly suited to each guest, individually.
I think thoughtful gift-giving is an uncommon talent. Not everyone can do it. But as I sat admiring my cup, and soaked in the sweet expressions from everyone else at the table — givers and receivers alike — my admiration for Levi and Adam deepened into a reverent respect for their indisputable goodness. One evening: merely one evening, and I already love them.
The same goes for Ruth and Saul, although I’ve not been around all that much to socialize with them as I should have: Something I quite regret as they’ve so generously opened their home to me. Ruth, as with all mothers, has constantly been concerned that I’m getting enough to eat. She has — daily — offered up their entire kitchen to my any-and-every whim. (In this way, she reminds me of my dear Southern-Mama.) The thing is, I’ve been runnin’-n-gunnin’ it ever since I got here with not much down-time, really. (Minus the migraine-day wherein I just stayed in a dark room and pouted from being so sick.)
But it was nice to finally sit and talk with them tonight at this intimate Hanukkah soiree. Ruth is pure unconditional love. She recently lost one of her young sons, and the tenderness is still fresh in her eyes. But, as with all divine beings, she continues to walk with empathy at her time of greatest agony. Her innate gift is to instill an almost immediate sense of trust. I feel as though I could talk with her about anything and she would never judge me for it. Saul is very similar, but without the pain. The folks from down-south would call him a “good ol’ boy,” only he’s more refined.
Thank you, all, for providing such a resoundingly positive note to end on! It’s been an interesting week, full of up’s and down’s. But I’ll never forget my first Hanukkah and those who made it so memorable!
Shabbat Shalom! …and Chanuka Sameach!