Ten years ago, in September 1999 almost two years to the day before September 11, 2001, I surprised Chris with a three-day trip to New York City via Amtrak. Neither of us had ever been to New York nor had ridden on an Amtrak train. Even though Chris had MS by that time—he was diagnosed in November, 1994, he was still walking well with a cane as only a little extra help with his balance.
We took the DC metro rail to Union Station where he realized we were taking a train somewhere but had no idea where. It wasn’t until boarding time I let him in on our secret destination—New York City! With tickets to a Broadway matinee production of Phantom of the Opera, a ferry ride to Ellis Island, and a morning excursion to the Metropolitan Museum of Art we had our two days and two nights in The Big Apple all planned.
My first ‘wow’ moment of many was after getting off the train at Penn Station, getting into a taxi and driving south through downtown Manhattan, we looked up out of the window as we passed the World Trade Center. I couldn’t believe how tall these buildings were! Two years and thousands of lost lives later, we were thankful to have that little bit of footage in our home video collection. We pulled out and watched with our children that same video on September 11, weeping and grieving with millions around the world. I didn’t know if we would ever return to New York City, but knew that if we ever did, it would be a sobering experience.
Fast forward to 2010—this past October Chris received his call to go Home, and this month I received an opportunity to return to NYC with our oldest daughter Bethany. She and her husband had planned on going to see the ball drop at Times Square on New Year’s Eve with local friends, following which Ben was to go on to Vermont to do some skiing with good friends. When several of the group backed out of driving to the city, only to stand out in the freezing cold for hours and hours with a massive, rowdy crowd of thousands and thousands of people to welcome in the new year (hmmm….intelligent young folks), I said, “Hey, Bethany, since Ben is still going out of town on his ski trip, why don’t we take a bus to the city for a couple of days to ourselves?”
So off we went in penny-pinching style (and dressed in multiple layers) for a grand adventure. So many emotions raced through me—from “What on earth was I thinking, planning a trip in the dead of winter to New York City of all places? Why didn’t we go to the Bahamas instead?” to “I’m so excited to share this city with Bethany; if only Chris were with us so he could see it all again,” to “I hope my peace-and-quiet-loving daughter, whose idea of a vacation is curling up in a warm, cozy chair with a good book or several of them is able to appreciate, well, just the opposite—noise, lights, commotion, culture, architecture, showbiz, conversations in several languages going on all around us, commercialism and industry bursting at the seams—life in its very biggest sense of the word.”
Arriving in The Big Apple, to my surprise, didn’t feel like culture shock. The only thing that shocked me was the bitterly cold weather. If I had just brought a one-piece snowsuit I thought, like the ones I used to spend hours bundling my young children in to go out in the snow for ten minutes, I would have been perfectly happy. I would look kind of funny, but quite a few of the people walking around on the streets of New York looked kind of interesting too, so I think I could have fit in pretty well.
I was thankful for my long, dress winter coat, even though the bright red color stood out like a cherry in a bowl of black olives. “Oh well, Bethany, if we ever get separated, I’ll be easy to find!”
For lodging, we stayed at an especially sentimental location. In 1999 when Chris and I were in NYC, I had found a bed & breakfast on the north shore of Staten Island overlooking Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan. For under $100, we stayed in the Verrazano Suite, named after the bridge going from Staten Island to Brooklyn visible to our right. Far off in the distance but still visible to our left stood the Statue of Liberty. At night we looked out of the open window of our sitting room on the twinkling lights of downtown Manhattan while listening to the water lapping against the shore. The quiet and beauty right outside our own window left us speechless. That peaceful view was worth much more than $99 a night inn fee. And that same room became Bethany’s and my retreat from the big city for two nights, still only an incredible $99 a night!
Almost tracing Chris’ and my footsteps from ten years earlier, we watched a Broadway musical, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and took a ferry to Ellis Island. White Christmas, showing at the Marquis Theatre, was everything and more than the original movie which starred Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. Third row seats gave us a terrific view of the dancing, tapping, singing journey into the past. I couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed thinking about how wonderful these old movies were, made in a day when it was okay to dress more modestly, tell cleaner jokes, respect women and older folks, and sing and dance without having to worry about not being ‘cool’. This musical captured all the nostalgia of the pre-1960s counterculture revolution era.
Sunday morning found me explaining to Bethany that listening to a sermon on my computer just wouldn’t be a satisfactory replacement for visiting Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church in the heart of Manhattan. For those of you who’ve never heard of Tim Keller, he is a leading pastor and writer in NYC, with a deep love for both upholding biblical truth and applying biblical truth in love. We enjoyed hearing his sermon on James 3:1-18 and just how powerful our tongues can be for life or death.
After church we walked several blocks in numbingly cold and windy weather to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all because of me. A cup of Cold Stone Creamery Cheesecake Fantasy, which I love, takes an easy second place to visiting an art gallery! At the Met Museum we tried hard not to get lost or go through the same galleries over and over as we made our way through the crowded building.
On our cultural journey, I marveled at how beautifully and intricately jewelry was crafted in Ancient Greece and Rome, how luminous John Singer Sargeant’s and how vibrant Jean Baptiste Greuze’s paintings are, and how marvelously detailed and how lovely early American furniture was constructed. Equally, I was surprised at how little I could admire Claude Monet’s paintings up close (to me, they look so much better on the front of note cards!)
Well, Bethany and I failed on both points—we got lost a few times and did go through a couple of galleries more than once trying to find our way around. After four hours in the museum (we hadn’t even looked at one-eighth of the exhibits!) I told Bethany, “Either you are truly gifted with exceedingly great patience, or you really love your mom.” J
The next day, I had made ambitious plans to visit Ellis Island, Chris’ and my last stop as well ten years earlier. I hadn’t counted on the fact that 911 hadn’t occurred ten years earlier, however, so when, after taking the bus to the Staten Island Ferry, to the subway uptown to the luggage storage place, then back down the subway to Battery Park we had used up three of our six hours just getting to the line for the ferry out to Ellis Island. And when we saw the line that snaked its way half a city block away from the security building, I was incredulous and about gave up the idea all together.
That’s where I must tell you about the “small treasures” I found in unexpected places in NYC. I happened to ask a man who was working for the cruise line running people to and from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, “Is that really the line to get on the ferry?” to which he replied, “Sure it is.” I then shared we had to catch a bus at 5:30 back to DC up near Penn Station and were hoping to just see Ellis Island. We hadn’t planned on getting off at Liberty Island, to which he amazingly responded, “I can help you. Just let me know when you’re done drinking your coffee.”
I stepped away from the man, quickly downed my coffee, searched for our two ferry tickets and found only one. “I guess one blew out of my purse, Bethany, and we’ll have to get back in the ticket line to see if we can get a replacement.” I thought, “There’s no way the National Park Service folks are going to believe I lost a ticket and even less of a chance they’ll replace it.”
Amazed again, they quickly replaced it and then unbelieveably, the man from the cruise line walked us up to the front of the line to get through security. Why on earth had this man been so kind to us? I can only say God moved on his heart to help us out. I thanked this unknowing servant of the Lord with tears in my eyes and in my heart praised God for His kindness to us. Our one hour we actually got to spend on Ellis Island was worth it, just to experience God’s intimate care for us through this public servant.
This action on the part of the cruise line employee, as well as the Park Service attendant however, was not the only picture of kindness and decency we discovered while we were in NYC. The man who moved from his seat on the bus so Bethany and I could sit next to each other during the 4 ½ hour ride to NYC was another “small treasure.”
In addition, the matron and waiter at the Marriott restaurant where we had a very quick bowl of soup and salad before seeing our musical Saturday night as we only had 35 minutes for dinner (she sat us down immediately and called the waiter over to help us in less than a minute, who also served us dinner in less than ten minutes), were two more “small treasures” in this big city.
And there were more “small treasures”:
–the older gentleman who rose from his seat on the bus and offered it to me
–the man, who dragging two large bags full of trash out of the luggage storage building yet still held the door open for us
–the barista at the Starbucks on the corner near Penn Station who generously informed me that if I kept my paper coffee cup and used my Starbucks card I could get free refills on my coffee all day at any Starbucks in the city and registering my card would give me even more free perks. Even though there was a line of customers behind me, she smiled and didn’t seem to be in a hurry at all. It was as if I was her only customer.
All these people were the “small treasures” God gave me in a huge city that could have been intimidating and unfriendly. It was definitely a cold city, but only in temperature. So many warm hearts I encountered there warmed my heart, and moved me to rejoice in a God who cares about me in the most personal way via the smallest details of my days.
Surely, He cares for you in the same way, friends. May the Lord give you many opportunities to see His loving hand on your life. We certainly don’t deserve an ounce of kindness, but God has lavished on us His great love through those He has made in His image, and most of all, through the gift of His Son, the “Great Treasure” and reward of all men! O, Lord, how good You are!
With much gratitude for your continued prayers for our family,
Tracy for the Klickaclan