Do you like travel stories? Some people hate to see the pictures their friends take on vacation. I’m personally the opposite . . . as long as I get to hear good stories. I especially love small world/chance encounter tales.
Yesterday Serendipity bopped us on the head –over and over.
Meet Jamie. He’s a doctor (and a musician with the band Anton Franc) from Perth, Australia. He’s spending his four-week vacation (!) in New York City.
Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying a large sandwich in Central Park, Jamie decided to go online to see whether there might be any concerts that looked good. He found this one. It looked really good! The New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
As Stuart and I were traveling to the city by Amtrak, we did the same thing.
We thought a free concert with some of America’s finest musicians in America’s largest cathedral, St. John the Divine sounded heavenly. We got on the subway aiming to arrive at the Cathedral two hours before the concert began.
We were dismayed to find that the line snaked all the way around the cathedral, at least three blocks! Just as we found the end, Jamie found it too. Serendipity.
What can you do in a situation like that but wait and hope to strike up a conversation, showing an interest in the other people in the line? We started asking Jamie questions and responding to his smile, listening to his stories. He was curious about our lives too.
Time flew by!
We discussed art, music, publishing, the medical systems in two countries, and travel.
Then a lovely sight. A man came through the line and handed out tickets, passed the spot we had supposed would be the end. We were in!
We continued our conversation, talking about end of life care as we mounted the steps to the Cathedral. Glancing up now and then into the trees and blue sky beyond. We were alive! Talking about death with a doctor we would never have known without this city, this Cathedral, and the internet made us aware of the preciousness of the moment and of our “wild and wonderful” lives.
I felt “gooseflesh” as the Brits say.
Then gooseflesh again inside the Cathedral, where we met this sight:
The mobiles are by Xu Bing, called Phoenix, made from recycled industrial material in China. The aspirations of human beings to transform themselves and their world were palpable, before conductor Alan Gilbert of the New York Philharmonic lifted his baton.
As we listened to the program of Nielson and Tchaikovsky, more gooseflesh.
The sun rose in its chariot across the sky in Nielson’s Helios, traveled through all kinds of weather, and then set.
Critics were hard on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony when it was first performed in 1888. Apparently, the composer agreed with the critics, thinking himself to have failed because he had not mastered form.
Fortunately, the audience disagreed then, and certainly disagreed last night, jumping to their feet, clapping in spontaneous thunder, at the end.
I wish everyone in the world could experience art like this.
The 3,500 people in that audience came from all around the world. They spoke different languages. Some of them made new friends because of the line. And for all of them, the wait was part of the experience. It was an invitation to Serendipity.
After the concert, we invited Jamie for a bite to eat and drink. We chose a little Italian place on Amsterdam Ave.
And then Serendipity struck again.
I heard my name, “Shirley!”
Soon I was hugging Angel Gardner, from Goshen, Indiana, where our paths intersected for twenty years or more while she grew up as a faculty kid and Stuart and I taught at Goshen College. I hope to see Angel again tonight at my reading from Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World tonight at The Cell Theatre on 23rd St. Angel said she wants to come.
If you try to figure the odds of meeting people from around the world and from your home town the same night at the same time, you will go crazy.
Except that you’re in New York City, where stories like this happen every day.
P.S. Our last experience with Jamie was on the subway. He was overheard speaking to us, and the young woman beside me asked, “Are you from Australia?” He smiled, and they immediately launched into animated connection. Turned out she was not only from Australia, but from Perth! I kid you not.
Tell us a travel story you love. No matter where it’s from. We’re all ears. And we love gooseflesh.