Can I just say how beautiful it is to walk home from the hospital at 0800 in the glorious 65-degree sunshine as the city wakes up? The puttering of the taxis and cars snaking downtown and the nearly palpable cheer of people basking in the brightness on their way to work stand in sharp contrast to yesterday’s drizzly urban gloom. I, on the other hand, have a full day ahead after me after my night’s work which consisted of a few calls up until midnight and then one lone call at 0545 this morning.
In the course of my blogging, I have referred more than once, I think, to Billy Collins’ poem “This Much I Do Remember,” a charming, short mediation on memories and their preservation. In the poem, he carries in his pocket “the small coin of that moment, minted in the kingdom that we pace through every day.” A “perfect grape” of a memory would be appropriate, had he not already applied the metaphor to a haiku.
For the last few weeks, a little paper boat has been drifting through the current of my mind. It passes and is nearly forgotten, until, a few days later, the corner of my mind’s eye catches a glint of white paper floating around the bend. This is one I don’t want to forget; a paper boat I want to carry in my pocket, so to speak. Please allow me to share it…
The canvas was set as I rode the subway home late one evening. The nearly deserted car swayed gently on the tracks as the clatter of the wheels drifted to my ears. Corners were folded over and edges gently creased as I noticed a middle-aged couple sitting across from me: a white man and a black woman. I returned to my reading, as is my habit on the subway.
And then, gradually, over the hum of the clicking steel, I began to hear singing…faint at first, and then louder bit by bit. The woman was turned facing the man, singing something that can best be described as a jazz standard. Her eyes were closed, her face transfixed with an expression of pleasure as she tenderly held his hand in hers.
And he, lost also in the little world she created with her music, tapped a beat with his foot, the corners of his lips upturned in a peaceful smile. That was it: a slow, intimate melody with a simple rhythm. Her voice was sweet; quiet but intense. As a stranger, and especially as a New Yorker, I felt mildly embarrassed but happy to witness this personal moment late that night as we neared the 190th Street station. We all exited the car together, and they walked, hand in hand, into the darkness.
And now, kneeling beside the water, I will let this little paper boat sail away, knowing that one day, if I find myself again reading these words, I will smile as it passes me by once more.