It was my daughter’s senior year of high school and her ballet company was planning their trip to New York. The New York trip is a BIG deal! We live on an island in Alaska, about as far away as you can get. The fundraising took two years and was all-consuming, so yeah, it was a big deal. I was going as a mom/chaperone.
February 14th came and we boarded the plane early in the morning. You can imagine we were pretty excited, and a bit exhausted after hours of flight. We ended up in our hotels somewhere around 11:00pm. I was ready to crash, but the message came to meet in the lobby at 11:30. UGH. I started to get a picture of what travel with teenagers was going to be like.
We met for a mystery tour. Those that had been before had it planned and we were to follow. Follow we did, down a maze of skyscrapers, themselves things of marvel. We grouped up at a corner and all the new girls had to close their eyes. We rounded a corner and there we were, Times Square! The brilliance of those glittering, neon marquees was jaw dropping!
But this post is not a blow-by-blow of our activities in New York. It is not about the attending the New York Ballet in Lincoln Center when they performed “Sleeping Beauty,” nor is it about an old studio, warm with polished wood and dripping with history. It is not about the energy of the Alvin Ailey Dance studios, you could hear the drumming from outside the building, or about seeing about seeing one of the first Martha Graham productions since her death, intimate, like a Ketchikan performance, with people sitting next to you, holding flowers for the dancers. It is not about seeing Cabaret, about tours through Central Park, homage to John Lennon or a fun afternoon spent at FAO Schwarz. It’s not about MOMA, making sure to see the priceless Degas Dancers. It is not crazy shopping trips to Macy’s, learning that the coat racks WILL fall like dominoes, and sometimes you just need to stop in a real Irish pub with your Irish friend and have an Irish coffee. It was not about how hard I slept at night, how sore my feet were or full my heart was. This post is about being present.
Our time in New York was fast and furious. From that first night when we marveled at Times Square, hot dog stands and costumed character still out and hustling at midnight, I tried to make myself be present. I tried to pay attention to those tiny little details that spoke volumes. The girls sitting on each other’s laps on the subways, five girls squeezing into two chairs. The sound their skates made at Rockefeller Plaza, the hush at Strawberry fields. Being present meant pilgrimages with Ann to funky button stores down real Manhattan streets, where real Manhattan people lived and seeing the doorsteps and corner groceries, filled with ethnic foods and fruit in boxes on the street. It meant.Glimpses of college kids playing Quiddich on a grassy field in Central Park. Savoring the taste of the food at Bar America, smiling at the German accent of our waiter. Losing myself in the music of the Off-Broadway play, “Once,”music that becomes part of you. Being present was seeing the tears in Molly’s eyes when she saw the homeless that spoke more to me about the person she was than anything she said.
My fear of being lost kept me tightly focused on the backs of the girls in front of me as we navigated the maze that is New York. Once the street became familiar I could sigh, slow down and take a closer look at my surroundings. Become present. The pubs, the store-fronts, the apartment buildings, the bustle, business, the people. The people, how they just looked New York. From their clothing to their stride, always in a hurry.
This is what I was doing -people watching- when I noticed him coming toward me. He had that Citizen- Of- New- York look, long wool coat, brief-case, purposeful step. But also, and this is going to sound corny,I know, he also had this definite star presence about him, he was just a little taller, held his head a little higher, his eyes a little brighter, his white hair just a little whiter. He caught my eye and as he drew closer I braced myself for what could be a horribly embarrassing moment, and I called out, “Tim Gunn??”
He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me, and SMILED! There was no question, when he said “Why, yes!” That distinctive voice. I threw my arms open and exclaimed, “I love you!” And. Get this…… He went in for the hug. I dropped my purse and we hugged a REAL hug. His coat was the most exquisite thing I have ever touched, the softest, thickest wool and he smelled – heavenly!
A little bit of panic overtook me. A picture! I needed a picture! I was afraid my two minutes with him were over, yet he was so gracious when I asked if he would mind taking a picture. I nearly threw my phone at one of the other moms, “Take a picture, take a picture!” The other mom/chaperones were just staring, they had no idea. One of them later told me they thought it was an uncle because of the way he hugged me, or maybe an old college professor.
As we posed for a picture, the group of girls turned to look, they had crossed a street and were waiting for us to catch up, maybe even a little annoyed that we were going so slow. “Who is that?” One asked. When it dawned on them, they ran. RAN to see him, they all knew who he was, they ran, almost getting hit crossing the street and swamped him. He took a look at our crew and asked, bemused, what the backpack “things” were that the girls had on their backs. (Gym bags).
He took pictures with all the girls. And by this point he was drawing a crowd – they were queued up to take pictures with him. I managed a “Thank You,” and departed, one last look over my shoulder and there he was, surrounded, posing, not the least bit phased, but I felt a little bad having stopped him and created the buzz.
That is my lesson about being present. I promise you, if my attention had been focused on the backs of those girls, hustling and hurrying to keep up, I would NOT have seen Tim Gunn. It is when I slowed down and looked around, at the faces of the people who walk these streets with me that I had my brush with Celebrity. I promise you, it may not be a celebrity, but you will see beauty and wonder and humanity and maybe heartbreak if you stop and become present.