The River

sky waterIt’s late afternoon and I’m sitting at the end of Pier 25 in Manhattan, a concrete oasis that seemingly sprung up overnight from the broken pilings and submerged wreckage of what used to be here. There is miniature golf, a soccer field, , sand volleyball, a skate park, a playground, and the marina. None of this was here before. The rivers are healthier these days. People congregate at the edges of the river, exercising, chatting, kissing — sometimes even venturing into the water. Over decades, life has returned to the waterfronts, and to the water as well. Fishermen line the promenade. A story is told of a particular marine worm that accelerated the rotting of the wooden piers when the waters started to clean up and the worm repopulated the Hudson.

We tell stories. I wonder how many of them are true. I know precious little of the history of these waters, except for the past nine years, which I know well. I know as well as anyone does where a small sailboat sank in a storm. I know where to find the best offshore view of lower Manhattan. I know the moods of the river.

I am sitting in a window seat in a bookstore, high above Broadway on the Upper West Side. Part of what I’m looking for are the true stories — the histories of the places I know. But I am distracted by the choreography below. The traffic light changes and pedestrians surge and flow along, then across the street. The people ebb and flow. A group moves forward, then eddies back onto the safety of the sidewalk, thinking better of it.

I am practicing saying hello to people and smiling, after some years in which the tidal flow of air and human contact seemed not to reach all the way into the brackish backwaters to clear the silt of days and years. I am practicing taking the risk of being the odd one, the too friendly one, and I wonder when in my life this became an effort, something I have to think about. Or was it always so.

Little currents intertwine. In the bookstore, I pick up a recommendation from someone I met sitting on the end of the pier. Maybe we will be friends. Maybe we will write together. Maybe these things aren’t as hard as they seem.

I meet a group of friends for dinner and there is laughter. Like life returning. At the end of the week, we bring our sorrows, our frustrations, our triumphs, our hopes, throw them all on the table, and turn them into laughter. The breeze is fresh, the people dare to venture out. The waters become safe to fish, to swim. Life returns. It’s laughter. Like air to breathe, let there always be laughter.

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