I once had a poetry professor who loved coincidence. He often began class by telling us a brief anecdote from the previous day or so about a coincidence he’d encountered- however small or seemingly insignificant- like planting asparagus in his garden and then unintentionally coming across a poem about asparagus. Little things. I shared with him a quote from Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “…it is right to chide man for being blind to such coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.” Though some believe coincidence to be proof of the hand of God or fate at work, it is true, I think, that coincidence is a subtle reminder of the beauty and joy of life, however small or seemingly insignificant. With all that out of the way, I now present to you a story of lovely coincidence.
Over Easter weekend I flew to New York to visit my friend Makaiya, whom I’ve known since middle school. Neither of us has changed much since then; maybe we’ve read more books and been to more places, but we’re still the same goofy-but-awesome girls who stay up late to parse through said books and why they matter so much to us.
Shoutout to our friend Lindsay, who couldn’t make it because her stupid friends were getting married or something.
Before leaving Laramie, I’d emailed my Opa (‘grandpa’ in German) about my upcoming trip, and he suggested I visit the “Little Church around the Corner,” an Episcopalian church located in Manhattan, which is where Makaiya lives. He and my Oma (‘grandma’) were married there after meeting in Europe, falling in love, and taking separate boats across the Atlantic to start life anew and together in the US. They hadn’t been in America long enough to make any real friends when they were married, so their wedding guests were a couple new friends they’d made on the boat to New York.
I flew out of Denver, where they took our plane to be de-iced before takeoff since it’d been snowing all afternoon. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of sitting through a plane de-icing, it’s sort of like being in a giant car wash, with different shades of pastel foam adhering to that second pane of window glass and being rinsed off, repeatedly. It’s strangely comforting, knowing that it’s cold and snowing and miserable just on the other side of this window, yet here I am in a semi-comfortable seat, warm enough, watching apparent chaos in the form of giant hoses, technicolor foam, bucket trucks, and unmarked asphalt mere feet away.
By the time the plane approached New York, night had fallen, and Manhattan was lit up with that orange glow of streetlights which eerily reminded me of the inside of an electric oven. I always forget that New York is on the water; it’s so easy to get absorbed in the city and never even see the water, once you’re on the ground. The bird’s eye view of the city at night is very distinct, sharp cutoffs where the last inch of usable land ends and the dark body of the Atlantic begins.
Once landed, I took a taxi to Soho and stood on the sidewalk in the middle of Manhattan for the first time since my doomed Hurricane Sandy trip (we walked >50 blocks to find electricity; the subways flooded; the airport flooded…). Cities I’ve been to more recently number just three- Denver, Salt Lake City, and Seattle (I don’t count Raleigh, sorry)- which is hard to believe. I suppose my mountain lifestyle has led me to more remote places in the past few years, which is mostly okay, until it’s not, and you have to get to New York.
The morning after I arrived, Makaiya, her dad, and I took the Amtrak to a little town in upstate New York called Hudson. The whole train ride follows the Hudson River, and people strategically pick seats on one side of the train in order to gawk at the open water. Having lived in Wyoming for almost two years now, I’ve grown accustomed to desperately open spaces, so I can only imagine how it must feel, as a New Yorker, to leave the city through Penn Station and emerge alongside a wide, placid river.
Hudson is a beautiful old whaling town with a cute, Laramie-sized downtown made up of boutiques, spas, coffee shops, a bookstore/bar, and good restaurants. Many of the buildings, both businesses and homes, are easily over a century old. Makaiya’s mom picked us up at the train station and toured us through the home she’d purchased and been slowly heaving back into life. The little two-story wooden house hadn’t had any insulation, and its only heat source prior to the renovation had been a woodstove.
Makaiya’s mom is a painter, and daughter of Pulitzer prize-winning poet Carolyn Kizer, and her dad is a poet too, so as you can imagine, our conversations deal mostly with food and the internet- oh, and art, too.
To celebrate Makaiya’s dad’s birthday, we drove to the DreamAway Lodge in Becket, Massachusetts for dinner, which is tucked back into the woods and emerges from a gravel road, a beacon of burgers and fireplaces and acoustic hipster music. The lodge is a cozy renovated house, and piled up against the windows were feet of snow, not quite ready to slip into spring. As we ate and later listened to said hipster music, fog rolled in, as it always does, from who knows where. (A more accurate description of fog’s movements would be to say that the fog descended, which would reveal its true identity as a mere cloud. More accurate, but decidedly less whimsical.) Kudos to Makaiya’s dad for getting us out of that Massachusetts fog via some deft maneuverings!
The next day we left Hudson via car, headed back to the city, where we were trying to make it in time for an Easter vigil service in Manhattan, only to get a call from Makaiya’s mom’s security company, telling her the house had just been broken into. Understandably frustrated/frantic, we pulled a U-turn and drove all the way back. Nothing had been stolen, but it’s possible the wind blew open some of the old storm windows, so we locked everything up tight and went instead to the Amtrak station, our last hope for getting to the city in time for the Easter service. Makaiya picked up literally (the old, correct use of this word, mind you) the best Caesar salad I’ve ever had along with some yummy sandwiches and a gooey, oozy cinnamon roll for us before we settled into our train seats. On the way back it was easier to get a river-side window seat.
We made it back to Makaiya’s apartment, changed into church-appropriate attire, rushed to the subway, and got to the Church of the Transfiguration for the Easter vigil service only to see the sign informing us that the start time was an hour earlier than we’d thought. We were already late for the wrong start time, so at first we just stood around the beautiful church grounds, feeling sorry for ourselves. Makaiya’s dad led the charge (not really a charge, more like a sneaking) into the building, where we stood and then sat at the back, listening to the bulk of the sermon, and admiring the gorgeous woodwork.
The chapel was truly beautiful, like stepping back in sacred time. It reminded me of the smaller ancient chapels I’ve seen in Europe- not the ornate, glutted cathedrals you’re calling to mind right now, but the simpler ones designed for townspeople to use not just on the Sabbath, but for daily prayer, lament, and celebration. We stayed until the end of the clergy’s procession, and then slipped out in the same manner we’d entered.
The next day, the last of my trip, was filled with more of your typical city activities- eating, drinking, shopping. I managed to get my bubble tea fix, thank goodness (it’s impossible to find out here!).
And in spite of how short my trip was, I somehow ended up at the restaurant Lucky Strike multiple times, which is where Makaiya and I met up with some old North Carolina friends.
It was only after I’d landed in Denver and driven back to Laramie that I realized I hadn’t visited the church where my grandparents had been married. A heaviness settled over my shoulders as I sat down to search the internet for the Little Church around the Corner, hoping to glean a sense of its beauty from a series of pixelated images.
My heart almost stopped as I read, “Welcome to the Church of the Transfiguration located in Manhattan’s Chelsea/Murray Hill/Flatiron District…. Our parish is also known as ‘The Little Church Around the Corner.'” WHAT.
I inexplicably ended up seeing the church where my grandparents were married while on a long weekend trip to New York, where I only spent a day and a half in the city, which just happened to be Easter weekend (Makaiya and I wouldn’t have bothered with church otherwise), and Makaiya’s dad just so happened to want to attend a service at that particular church, which we almost missed anyway. WHAT. I’ll say it again: WHAT!!!
I cried a little. Ah, the beauty of coincidence! And it was made all the more beautiful by how I’d been sitting there, in the back of this “little” church, enveloped by holy incense, the sermon thrumming in my ears, completely ignorant of that place’s significance to me. How strange and beautiful life is.
Love to all.