I was raised with the indoctrination that people from New York City were more aware, socially conscious, and sophisticated than people from anywhere else. In that mood, I invited my college roommate, who was from upstate, to spend time with me in New York City during a Christmas break.
We did the usual tourist things- Staten Island Ferry, Empire State Building, and the dreary, cold Circle Line boat tour around the island of Manhattan through the oily, dark waters.
We visited the East Village in our matching, mid-calf length, torn at the seams, sealskin coats that we had found in a used clothing store in the Cornell University college town. We walked the cold streets of downtown Manhattan and visited various “head shops,” craft stores, and art galleries. We looked like we fit right in with the Greenwich Village scene, my room-mate with her black derby and me with a pale green, wide-brimmed felt hat I had painted with pink flowers. In the cold, windy, almost desolate wilds of Washington Square Park, a drug dealer approached us very aggressively. We took off running, with him at our heels for some distance, into the nearest subway station. We were pretty shook up. I no longer felt like a “powerful” New Yorker.
Connie and I were good friends because we knew there was something beyond material acquisition, frustration, and the power struggles in which people engage as they navigate life. We were searching for absolute truths, something tangible that would feed the soul. We visited churches and temples of various denominations, asked questions, and shared our frustrations with what we regarded as “shallow” answers, avoidances, and excuses. Even though Connie was sincerely on a quest, when I had one of the most serious revelations of my life during that week, she was not able to acknowledge the intimacy of it or even feel comfortable with my experience.
I had been raised Jewish in a mixed social and religious sense, and was able to lead the congregation, at age ten, through the entire Friday night and Saturday morning Sabbath services in Hebrew, without looking at the book. It welled in my heart (and still does) when everyone in the Synagogue rose to their feet and sang in unison, “Shema yisrael adonai eloheinu adonai echad.” (Oh hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.) It sent shivers through my entire physical body and awareness. Yet, I had a deep attraction for Jesus, and could not understand it when my parents could not tolerate me speaking his name in our house.
I purchased tickets for Connie and me to attend “JC Superstar,” a very popular off-Broadway musical presentation about Jesus Christ. The actors in their private lives, of course, did not live the principles they so expertly portrayed. I sat absorbed in the performance, oblivious to the thousand or so people who surrounded us in the playhouse. I was able to completely set aside any discomfort that the actors were simply playing roles and embrace the beautiful rendition. Their voices resounded through the hall powerfully, the costuming was perfect, and my heart melted into the experience of the life of Jesus. Near the end of the performance, as the crucifixion becomes imminent and Jesus sang, “Dear Lord, forgive them, they understand not what they do,” I broke into uncontrollable sobs. In that vast theater, many eyes were on me. Some people showed compassion, others, like the older woman seated in front of me, turned and glared with a hardened visage. I could not stop crying. Between the wracking tears, I tried to tell Connie, “I got it. My life is meant to understand what it is that Jesus understood and the others could not. That is my life’s goal.” She looked at me coldly and vacantly. “How audacious,” was her comment. I reeled for weeks at the power of the revelation I had experienced. Aside from a couple of brief contacts with Connie after her visit with me, it was the last we saw each other.