Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bridge to Restoration: It's not about being back, it's about being here

Time for a Father’s Day luncheon at French Roast, then back to work. Amanda and I going to Fairway for fruit plates for the reception, more wine. Back on the steps, Louis is in dialogue with an African-American woman. She is declaiming loudly, The community got tlgether and sved this place. They was going to tear it down, those developers, those snakes, those sharks...but we won, yes we did...
So apparently for her, landmarking was a victory. I try to explain that we were never going to tear it down. It doesn’t matter.  I try to explain the financial realitites. My church is landmarked, she says, the Bible says that whatever you ask God for he will give you. Just ask God, you’ll get it all. If it were only that simple. 
While we’re backstage waiting in the green room, the session room, Ashley says to Erasmia, This is the room, meaning that this is the room in which I performed their first marriage, the one to make it legal, before the later big one in the Greek Cathedral. 
The crowd is starting to come. And I begin to realize that this is going to work. Katherine’s friends are coming. There’s my colleagues, like Elise, and Miriam, and Takako and Mark from the UN, back again. People who reponded to Erasmia’s media blitz. People who had left the church, angry at me, I assume.  Rudy is here. And so is Johanna, who went with us to Ground Zero, another casualty of the landmarks struggle. My friend Beppe is here. The P&G boys. More and more people. It’s a bit overwhelming.
I open, along with Marc Greenberg, from the Interfaith Assembly. I introduce Andre. And he begins with An die Musik, the piece that he and Erasmia began with on their rehearsal night. As he finishes, the applause rings out. And rings out more. And Andre glows.  Jed plays Schumann’s Arabesque and Ashley turns his violin into a fiddle for Louisiana Blues Strut. 
Andre and Erasmia do Litany, based on a poem by Langston Hughes. Greg does a dramatic bongo solo, going into its Afro-Cuban roots. His power in performance, practice of his craft, has grown immeasurably. Then Jed and Greg do an improvisation all around, over, and under and in the piano, played in every possible way. Ashley and Erasmia join on Massenet’s Meditation from Thais. The first half ends with Andre singing Ain’t Got Time to Die. And a standing ovation. 
After intermision, Zahra remembers her years in this church and introduces her father and  Andre in turn introduces his son and grandson.  And then the song with which he is most identified, Old Man River, from Showboat, his signature song, though he never really liked it.  And the house is brought down again.
Jed plays Bill Evans’ Your Story, then Andre joins him for Waltz for Debby. Then Dana, who defies any categorization, sings a song in Japanese. Takako and her friend smile, some of the few who understand. I remember Dana and her response to 9-11, her Song for the City concert raising money to provide professional musicians to work in schools that couldm’t afford it.  And then, as we prepared for war, her Not in Our Name concert. She draws the audience into her Healin’ in de Spring.
Greg returns, this  time with his berimbau, the one string bowed Brazilian instrument he has used  so many times here at West-Park, and launches into a capoeira style song. Ashely and Erasmia play together again on Estrellita. The Andre sings Once Upon a Time with Jed and then finishes with his true signature song, the one he loves, Here’s to Life, and the applause goes on and on. A bow. An encore. It’s over.
There are metaphors. And as always, one must be careful in approrpriation of meaning. In a sense, the church has suffered its own brain hemmorage, bled our own metaphoric twelve hours, slipped into our own coma, and this process, this night is bringing us back into life.  To the extent that this concert was giving Andre back his life (he always has a life, as an artist, as a man, everyday, but this was giving him a public life again), I too felt soemthing given back, something  I wasn’t sure I’d feel again, here. For one night, I remembered, relived all that we have been...and saw what we could be...
Talking to Andre at the reception , he says, It’s good to be back. Though what does that even mean? And I say, it’s not about being back, it’s about being here. 
The last to leave are Danielle, RL and I. He wants to help us finish the bathrooms, sheetrock and all.  Get rid of the smell.  Knows a mad ukrainian who can get it done.
As he’s leaving, he reminds us that he’s not a Christian, but there’s something about the place that  gets  him (Maybe reading  that poem at  Chrismas? When his spirit joined the building?) And then he says, you don’t know me, but I feel you’re a good man. I smile and say, thanks, RL, I know that you are. 
At the moment, when  I saw Andre’s face as the crowd applauded, I felt that if I never did another thing  in life, this was enough. This is where I find my joy, god, if you will. Unlikely circles of people coming together in unexpected ways to make something beautilful happen. From RL and the P&G boys to neighborhood clergy to wonderful  musicians...that collaboration, that coming together is what we want the Centre to be. 

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