Posted by: MC | March 13, 2009


A bench facing the Hudson
Manhattan Island

It’s Friday the 13th. My interview schedule has fallen apart due in large part to equipment weirdness. Symptomatic, maybe of it being Friday the 13th?

Whatever the case, I’ve given in and am now sitting in the 40 degree sunlight – all wrapped up and warm.

I’m looking at the Hudson River, the way the afternoon light shows off its silver and enduring majesty out beyond the fleeting traffic on the West Side Hwy. From this vantage point and to the north, the direction from which the water flows, the river is also unapologetically muscular – reliable and capable like a real working river. To the south, the Hudson’s personality shifts again. Down there the late winter sun scatters across the water’s surface – rippling between cloud passes like laughter at well-spaced punch lines.

I’ve been laughing like that. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember anyone I’ve listened to who hasn’t offered levity to the conversation. Lightness seems to make more room for bravery – for reliability, capability and majesty.

In response to one of my blog entries, a reader using the name ‘patrick’ wrote “You’re listening to people’s prayers.” He may be right. Honest and genuine reflection on the word change brings people to their hopes, and dreams – and to their courage. Today, I’m aware again of the profound responsibility in asking about and listening to these American thoughts.

The Manhattanites I’ve spoken with in the last 24 hours have all pointed to the inevitability of change. All three voices, across 40 plus years of age spread, have carried a noticeable peacefulness in the talk of crisis. Not passivity, but a sort of quiet relief that the manic push for fortune and celebrity, for money and things has been finally laid bare – revealed for what it is: A Siren’s call, the addicting diet of empty calories we suspected it was all along.

In keeping with the oft noted metaphor in the Chinese character that connotes both crisis and opportunity, the urgency of the country’s economic circumstances showed up in these New Yorkers’ talk of opportunity. Opportunity to shift the quality of life for those who have lived with little to nothing. Opportunity to enhance the quality of education for the children and youth who have had less access. Opportunity to improve the quality of our air by reducing the use and thus the polluting impact of petroleum-based transportation – specifically, by walking and supporting safe bicycle routes in the city.

Perhaps apropos to their setting near the Hudson River, there was another theme in these interviews: Water.

“New York City has always been about the water,” my generous host says. He’s lived on Manhattan for about 55 years. He takes me on a bike ride all through the city to show me the amazing progress that has been made on the island for accommodating bikes as real transportation options. He takes me to the river to watch the sunset.

“Trade, commerce, immigration. All of them depended on the water,” he said. “Then came the extension of the city in 1895 to include the five boroughs which happened primarily because of water – the need for its accessibility to homes and businesses and the development of sewer systems. The island had that infrastructure and the surrounding communities needed it. That cooperation and expansion really brought the city into its vitality as the economic and cultural center it remains.”

The 25-year-old foundation worker who walked along the river with me last night echoed the theme. “The biggest question for Manhattan youth in 10 or 20 years,” she said, “will be water. Where will we get it? How will we use and distribute it?” She followed these thoughts with stated expectation that the intelligence and skill of the youth she currently works to support will be entirely up to the task ( “It will be about the water – and it will be about creativity and confidence and persistence – the things that keep showing up in the ways we New Yorkers and Americans face change.”

The water. The American character.

Like the Hudson River, we’re enduring because we draw from a great range of skill, vision, and talent – muscular reliability balanced with laughter, all sustained in the constancy of flow.

Another poetic conclusion…but, it works – mostly because it’s accurate. Over and over, I’m hearing and seeing it. We really are this way.

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