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August 2, 2001

New York Miracle

http://www.jewishjournal.com/singles/article/new_york_miracle_20010803

There's a storefront church next door to my friend Bill's apartment in New York City's East Village. I'm staying with him for a week, so I pass the church a lot, and the sign in the window becomes like a refrain.

"Free: hugs, foot washing, Band-Aids & money. While $upplies last."

You can also drop off your prayer requests through a slot in the door, and a note promises your prayers will be sent out daily.

An enormous tabby cat sits in the church window, perched atop a child's wooden chair. Another sign reads: "Coming soon: miracles."

The foot-washing, as evidenced in several black-and-white photos, holds a certain appeal.

All I've done in New York is walk. I can't stop walking. I've rotated my shoes to disperse the blisters, but it hasn't helped much. Still, I walk.

The East Village is more engaging than anything. I'm convinced of that. I'm here to do a reading at a Jewish cultural center on the Upper West Side, but that's really just an excuse to see some friends and my old stomping grounds. I haven't been back in seven years.

I walk for days, while Bill works his office job. I pick up flowers for his apartment and stock the freezer with ice cream. I walk looking for old haunts and accidents, like the Jivamukti yoga class I stumble into that makes me sign a release. I live to walk some more.

I stop in at my old dorm, pass familiar coffeeshops, restaurants and corner delis. I pass that church a dozen times a day, and I guess the thoughts going through my head are something like prayers. Mostly thanks. Even though the old neighborhood is familiar, something is so different -- in a good way. I can't place it. I've learned to just walk until I answer my own questions or forget them. I walk, and I know what it is.

Before, when I was a student, I was broke and bewildered, like most people I knew, but it was worse than that. Things were worse in my head. My default setting used to be miserable, and now it's at least three-quarters content. I never really noticed the shift until now. Anxiety and self-flagellation still visit, like me crashing on Bill's couch, but they don't live here anymore. They aren't on the lease.

Every time I see an old place but feel a new way, I'm thankful. It seems so simple, this basic shift in how I walk through life, but no one tells you it's possible to just change the default setting and be OK in the absence of anything terrible or miraculous happening in your life.

Some of the prayers going through my head are the greedy, old-fashioned kind (you don't go to one yoga class and become the Dalai Lama). I wish for a job that would afford me an apartment in New York with a bathtub to call my own. I wish to end up on my old university's big-brag board, the one I stared at for a while, the one that's covered with news clippings about alumni success stories. I'm not on the brag board, but I've done OK for myself, I think, walking some more. I've certainly done better than anyone thought I would.

This thought is so satisfying that my ego decides to pay a surprise visit to my mouth. The sound "Ha"comes out, loud and to myself, and no one cares. "Ha ha,"I mutter, a little softer, as decorum and humility creep back in.

Outside the Public Theater on Lafayette, people are camped out on lawn chairs playing Scrabble and reading about publicist Lizzie Grubman. They are enduring the festival of abuse that is being stuck on a Manhattan sidewalk in July for the privilege of getting tickets to "The Seagull." Their dedication moves me.

Needless to say, this is something you wouldn't see in Los Angeles. The only Chekhov that draws a crowd in Los Angeles is that dude from "Star Trek,"and maybe not even him. A pretzel vendor gets in a fight with a sidewalk art dealer, and I use the word "art"loosely. Nothing comes of the exchange but finger-pointing and swearing in various native languages. I walk on.

I've eaten at every friend's favorite restaurant, from Tibetan to Sicilian. My stomach loves it here as much as I do.

There's that saying, "Wherever you go, you take yourself with you." That's one little axiom I never thought would work in my favor. This week, it does.

I pass the church again. The fat cat slumbers in a patch of sunlight. I have yet to see the place open, but maybe their signs are all they need of a ministry. It seems like a pretty ramshackle place to promise miracles, but who knows? Maybe clean feet and Band-Aids are miracle enough, if you know how to read signs.


Teresa Strasser is now on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com

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