July 9, 2014

Under the Green Umbrella in NYC

I knew it was going to be just about impossible to meet up with her during our visit to New York in March, but it was worth a try. She lived just a hop, skip and jump away, after all.

After sorting through the possibilities by text, finally, an opening emerged. Our group, which I was helping chaperone, would be hanging out for a while, waiting for the rain to pass, at the American  Museum of Natural History. It was our best bet for finding a common place to converge.

"I can make it work," she said, and we made arrangements for where we'd meet and about what time.

I soon realized that if I were to get involved in museum browsing I might risk this one chance to see her. We'd only be there an hour or so after all. No, better to blow off the offerings within and wait outside. I love museums but I love friends more, I decided. Besides, I was craving some alone time.

There's indeed a special bond between writer friends, a certain language you share that not everyone understands. There are common dreams, parallel frustrations and a way of looking at the world in all its wonder and curiosity that can't be communicated with just anyone -- not in the same way, at least.

I treasure my writing friends. Pretty much all of them also double as friends with whom I connect on a spiritual level. Quite honestly, the chance to see Lenore, even if just for a short while, would be one of the highlights of my trip because, well, she's not something to just look at and study. She's someone I know, someone with whom I've eaten Italian food in Fargo, and gourmet cuisine in a screened-in porch in Pennsylvania with golden leaves as a backdrop.

Most of our crossings happen in email, and often, the stretches between even those can get long. But I adore this woman, who has been, at times, a mentor, and other times someone with whom I'm closer to eye level as a fellow professional writer.

We both started our careers in journalism and made our way to children's books. We both have read and love Flannery O'Connor's "The Habit of Being." We are mothers who understand the sacrifices of family life and how that and the writing life can sometimes bump into one another, but that it's important to try to work it out.

And so I looked to our meeting with great anticipation. As the rain came down, I waited and watched.

Writers are good for that, so for a long time I was very content to be outside and not inside, where I'd likely be overwhelmed by the offerings given the small amount of time we'd have to gaze at them. Instead of admiring dinosaur bones, I was content admiring passersby on the sidewalk as they rushed past, or paused, or peered.

I caught the eye of these twins, and asked their mama if I could take their photo.

After a while, though, I started to get worried. I'd seen a lot of people coming and going in what had been nearly an hour of waiting.

Each time I thought Lenore was about to round the bend, I became a little more glum as I realized it wasn't her, and that the clock was not going to pause on our account.

Soon, our buses showed up -- green bus and blue bus. I began to feel a tightness in my chest; a sadness.

One by one, members of our group began springing out of the museum doors and finding their way back into their bus seats, and as they did, I knew I was going to have to surrender. I knew she was close, but I couldn't hold up our group. I didn't have that kind of power.

So I trudged to the bus, trying with all my might to suppress my emotion. All that excited anticipation had to go somewhere and it wasn't going to be into a sphere where Lenore would be, apparently. 

My eyes met my daughter's as she appeared at the front of the bus, not far from where I was sitting. "It didn't work out. She didn't make it," I told her. She responded, "I'm so sorry. I know how much you wanted to see her."

But I was now resigned. It was over and I had to accept it.

Just as the last of the pack began to trickle in, however, someone said, "Roxane, your friend is here."

What? Could it be?  I looked out the window and there she was -- Lenore -- under a big, green umbrella, looking up at me, waving.

I ran into the aisle and down the stairs in disbelief. "You made it!"

Our time together was going to be exceedingly brief, so we agreed that a quick hug and photo would have to do to mark our world-record-short writer-friend meeting.

It was a thrill for me to introduce Lenore to my daughter, whose high school choir had brought us there. I'd shared a lot about my kids with Lenore through the years, and now, one of them was here in the flesh. Their pose under Lenore's big green umbrella will always be special to me. 

I had to jump in too for the necessary proof we were all together at the same time, even if short on time.

Thinking back now on that day in front of the museum in NYC, emotion easily returns; first a good dose of humility, because once again I'd gotten it wrong. I'd given up, decided that what I'd hoped for was never going to happen, and that my little prayer had fallen on deaf ears. But as it turned out, hope had not failed me. 

I also feel a great deal of gratitude, especially toward Lenore. Our lives have seemed increasingly filled with obligations, and we don't talk as much as I'm sure we'd both like, but I know that her being there that day was a sacrifice. Despite all the obstacles before her she still made her way through the travails of traffic in the city, in the rain, just to see me.

As E.B. White once wrote, "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

And so is Lenore. 

By the way, you can read about the rest of Lenore's adventure on her blog, A Globby Bloogie.


Mary Aalgaard said...

Great photos. I like how you said that sitting outside the museum and just being quiet and observing was what you needed most. I'm glad you got that hug and photo in!
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lenore said...

Hi Roxane! What fun to read about this from your POV! It's no easy feat to travel from the Lower East Side to the Museum of Natural History (Upper West Side). Given the small window of time, I knew I ran the risk of missing our rendezvous altogether, but I wanted to give it my best shot since, as you've mentioned, it's such a rare and always cherished event for us to speak face to face. The rain complicated matters just a little as I had to stop to buy an umbrella, only to have it snap in the wind just a few blocks later. I hopped from one subway to another and then watched the minutes slip away on my phone as one of my trains sat on the express track going nowhere for the longest time. I pictured you watching the time too, and lingering as long as you could even as your group was boarding the buses. When I finally got to the museum stop I zipped upstairs and ran straight to your bus! How I knew that was your bus, I have no idea. Breathless, I said to the man at the door, "Please tell Roxane Salonen to come out. She's on this bus and she's expecting me." He did as he was told, and voila! There you were! I can't begin to tell you how relieved and happy I was when I saw the smile on your face. And then to meet Olivia. Embracing your daughter and seeing your love in her made it all worthwhile. Thank you both for the gift of your embrace that day.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Mary, I'm not surprised that you picked that out. I know how much you value thinking time, too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And Lenore, what a complete blessing for you to share your side of things. There is always more than one perspective, and all we truly know is our own. Now, even more of the scenario has been painted, making it more beautiful yet. Thank you, friend. And now, even more, I am grateful for your sacrifices. The green umbrella visual with be with me for a very long time! XXOO, Roxane

lenore said...

Oh, I might add that your photos are all we have of the green umbrella. It was raining on and off all afternoon, and with each opening of the umbrella, more of the fabric tore away from the spokes. Finally, one of its pointy ends poked me in the eye! So I ditched it in the trash and walked home in the rain. Lesson: never buy a cheap umbrella on the streets of NYC.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Ha! I love it. "The rest of the story," and, I would say, the much less romantic version of the green umbrella. I hope the eye poke did not leave you with regret over the visit. It was a moment to remember for sure on my eye. God bless you, Lenore. The green umbrella served its purpose in front of the museum. It was a short life but lived well for the three minutes we needed it most - to harbor us. :)