I was recently on vacation and reading a book by the New York Times that was a collection of their most groundbreaking cover pages from the 1950s to the 1980s. Clearly, history repeats itself. This is no Einstein discovery, as I am sure we all have heard this before. But when itís presented to you in a book like the one I was reading, you start to wonder ñ when/if we ever LEARN from these historic events, maybe we will know how to prevent them from repeating themselves.
I was intrigued by the repetition all of these news items ñ the assassinations, the mass human tragedies, the cult suicides and the wars. Being a New Yorker, I spent particularly more time when I got to the two New York City blackouts. The first took place in 1965 and the second darkened the city in 1977. I was simply interested in what people did, how the city handled it and what would I do (i.e., if I was trapped in the subway) in these situations if they happened today. Not even five days after this book is in my lap, New York City experiences its third blackout - along with other portions of the United States and Canada at 4:15 p.m. on August 14th.
This piece is not about the heroics of New Yorkers that day, or about the adventures people had sleeping on the steps of the post office on 33rd/8th, or about hanging out in a dark îgreat white wayî in Times Square, or the gatherings of strangers drinking beer around tables that gracious restaurant owners put out on the dark sidewalks for people to use. It's not about the volunteers that directed traffic for hours upon hours while the traffic lights were out (see photo filed ñ Eddie Cochrane of 123 E 75th ?St ñ directing traffic for 5 hours on 75th and Lex with his glow sticks).
That all happened and that was us New Yorkers at our best - check the newspapers for these first hand accounts. This writer experienced the generosity of multiple restaurants offering free cake for dessert, but this is more about a personal observation at a time when I felt stripped down to almost nothing. As I sat around with multiple candles burning in my apartment and one battery operated radio on, I asked ñ why do we need all of these other things? Or more importantly, why do we THINK we need all of these things?
There was such clarity to these surreal moments in the dark. It was like the baggage that we all carry around was left somewhere else - somewhere far away and unavailable to us for what would ultimately be 29 hours. The simplicity of sitting around listening to the radio seemed so right. I thought back to the days of the old variety shows on the radio where families would gather around and listen, and think, and visualize. This night, I felt the simplicity again. I felt the quiet, the stillness and felt sad for what I think our world has become. Who are we really and who do we think we are? What things do we rely on to exist and why? When is the last time we dropped the newspaper, shut off the TV, put the phone down and really checked in with ourselves?
Jack Kornfield writes in his book After The Ecstasy, The Laundry about being on a spiritual path and stripping ourselves down, scale by scale, removing layers to go back and find ourselves again. Cleansing ourselves and letting go and doing a ìgeneral housecleaning of the mind.î I think itís important that we recognize the daily tensions that we have brought on ourselves and really try to explore the root of these. There is plenty of restlessness and resistance that society has created. The silence and darkness on Thursday night was a reminder that we are so much bigger than all distractions that surround us each day. Think back to your childhood and how big things were that surrounded you., how impressive it was to walk in that big field or to see that big ocean; how pure it was to smell the flowers or see the trees. This is what is meant by getting rid of your baggage - to go back to your innocence, to get clarity. It can all be so simple if we clear our plates and check in with ourselves. Not become victims of contemplation, selfishness and attachment. How many things do you let penetrate your mind and how many of them are truly necessary? How much energy is spent on things that donít exist in your life yet? Why do you think those things are important? And what have you missed today while thinking about the above?
Was there a fear of being alone Thursday night in the darkness, or was there a fear of us having to spend time with ourselves alone in the darkness?
Six stories above the Lexington Avenue subway, I feel the floor vibrate as the trains are once again running. Life is once again running, but donít you get caught up running. Stop and take some time to set yourselves free: youíll see how wonderful the view is.