Music and Mayhem

My birthday was almost a week ago.  I had been looking forward to honoring it quietly and simply which included plans to take my kids out one night and the next, enjoy a lovely romantic dinner with my honey.  An additional surprise came when my boyfriend announced he been offered a personal invitation by Maestro Masur to attend a concert with the NY Philharmonic.  Even better, we’d been invited to enjoy the program in the Maestro’s private box at Avery Fisher Hall.  So much for quiet and simple, but far be it from me to turn down such an exciting opportunity!

After a harried week, spending a really grown-up evening in the city sounded like heaven.  The hour train ride to Grand Central Terminal flew by.   Before I knew it I was waiting for my boyfriend in the middle of the central foyer, admiring the view of the main concourse amidst the bustle of the evening commuters who scarcely seemed to have time or the inclination to admire its grandeur.

With the excitement of two teens playing hooky, we began the short dash to the Times Square shuttle and on to our connecting train.

And that was when I saw her.

Sitting next to the stairs close to the number 1 Broadway local crouched a dark haired woman, somewhere around my age with a two year old.  The baby sat in her flimsy umbrella stroller, eyes drooping closed while sucking on the bottle her mother propped up with one hand.  In the other was a sign “I lost my job and have two kids to feed.  Please help me buy some food.”

As usual for a busy NY subway, most people were too preoccupied or just tired of seeing “these types” in the subway corridors to notice.

I grabbed the only remaining single I had in my wallet and knelt down to place it in her hat.  As I did our eyes locked. “God bless you” she said to which I replied “and God bless you.  Hang in there, I hope this helps . . . “ my words trailed away, not sure of what I could really offer knowing I had no time to even stop and chat, ask her name, how she was doing or where she’d be sleeping tonight with her children.

As I dashed away, I glanced backwards to catch site of only one more lady dropping money amidst the throngs that were shoving by her.  A thousand questions raced through my mind and I felt so badly that I could not offer more. Mostly I felt an intense rush of emotion because it seemed in the little amount of time I could observe her, that I was the only one who at least took the time to look into her eyes . . .

In that moment as the train doors closed, the alleged mid-sixteenth century statement came to mind:  “There but by the grace of God go I”.  Choking back tears it all came back to me; just how close I was to being that woman.

Several years ago I survived an abusive marriage, a bankruptcy and a high-risk pregnancy while raising my then two year old toddler.

Adding to that darkness I had also lost my prestigious clergy job in a  large synagogue.  Not able to make ends meet, I found myself at the mercy of the kindness of strangers and close friends.  One man I knew gave me money for my utility bill so they wouldn’t shut off my heat.  An elderly woman, a stranger, within the Orthodox community gave me food cards for the local Kosher market.

How could I have gotten to such a dire place?  Just a year and a half before that I had been hired as a soloist with a world class orchestra.  Was I really that different from the woman in the subway?  Barely.

Tonight, as I passed by the Lincoln Center Revson’s fountain on my way to our seats, I remembered acutely the sharp contrast of where my life had been just a few years ago.  Wasn’t it just a blink of an eye that took me from a budding life of high culture to losing my home and wondering if I’d be able to afford diapers and food?  And all the moments since then have been my steady climb back out of that pit of despair and sorrow.

A human life is so fragile, so complex, full of inexplicable twists and turns.  For me the ride has been more often dizzying than peaceful.  But what gets any of us through these dark points is our indomitable spirit and a desire to move through and well beyond the challenges.  Simply a mother does what she has to in order to take care of her children.

Tonight in the subway, as the down on her luck woman peered into my eyes, the eyes that peered back were not just my own, but those of any mother would could so easily find herself in an untenable situation.

That evening I listened to the sweeping Beethoven-esque passages of the Brahms first symphony and was struck, again, by how much beauty there is in the world, and how much pain.

Being reminded of this allows me to retain not only my humanity but my gratitude and most importantly, my belief in miracles.  There is always music to soothe the mayhem and my life is dedicated to finding, sharing and celebrating that.  This is why I write, sing, do presentations and past life regressions for other women who wish to better understand their life’s journey and karmic balances.   And most importantly, each and every night, I count my blessings as I kiss my children good night.

Somewhere in a dank Manhattan subway tunnel I suspect that dark haired mother is doing the same.


4 Responses to Music and Mayhem
  1. Jan
    April 18, 2011 | 6:29 am

    nice piece Shira…a wonderful study in contrasts and fragility!

  2. DivaMama
    April 18, 2011 | 7:23 am

    Thank you, Jan. I am grateful to have had this experience right before Passover – the holiday that honors our personal exodus from whatever “narrow places” we’ve journeyed through.

  3. Chava Gal-Or
    April 25, 2011 | 6:00 am

    As I prepare to go to shul on the 7th day of Passover, I am touched by what it means to be crossing the Sea of Reeds today (as our tradition tells us). I have been reflecting all morning about what is my Sea of Reeds. The answer is intense and I feel blessed even as I struggle with whatever realities that I am facing.

    Reading your pieces today, I am finding myself tearful and blessed. I too have survived great trials and tribulations; both as a child and as a adult. I have watched my son fight for his life and his health at times unsure of whether or not he would survive. He did and he is thriving.

    Life has lots of twists and turns; at any moment, we might walk through something that feels dark. My hope is that we find the light within the darkness.

    I am so glad you had a precious birthday and celebrated where you are today. May all of your todays get brighter and may you find light wherever you are today.

    Thanks for sharing your writing and your heart.
    Chag Sameach,

    • Diva-Mama
      April 25, 2011 | 7:49 pm

      Thank you, Chava. Your words reflect your bravery and incredible strength. I am honored that my words inspire and support powerful women like you in your journey. Peace and blessings to you as well.

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