Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Getting out alive


at Woodlawn

I usually try to restrict my writing to the steps and church. But maybe the church cemetery is not too far of an extension.

Woodlawn. That famous Bronx cemetery. Final resting place of the famous. From La Guardia to Moses to Duke Ellington. We go to our own wWest-Park burying ground. Still warm for December. Sunny. The feeling of wind.

We get to where Gertrude will join those who went before. There is only her daughter Eugenia and I
Gertrude's resting  place
in the party.  Consider who I have buried since I have een here:

1.   First, there is Eric and Marietta. He the first black officer for this congregation. Back when the ushers  still wore mourning  coats and white gloves every Sunday. Dressing in this very room I still call home.He poured out the communion juice into little cups. Cut the Palm Sunday palms with a long knife.  And Marietta, his long suffering wife. Each with their British tinged English.
2.     Hertha, a black woman married to one of the last Jewish men in the South Bronx. I remember his  funeral, at one of the last orthodox schules in sobro, old men in kippot and prayer shawls and Puerto Ricans.
3.     Keith, gentle and sweet. One of the founders of Circle in the Square theatre. Designer for the first production of Summer and Smoke.  One of our Capital Hall folks. Just walked away from there one day. They found him and took him to  the old mental hospital on the end  of Roosevelt Island. Just a Jessica Lange away from American Horror Story. Lauren and I would ride the tram over there from 59th Street. She’d put ear phones on his head and play Soire Angelica for him. She sang Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling at his funeral.
4.     Gregory. Son of Almena. One of our women in the projects. Fought addiction his whole adult life. Never won. Died at 49.
5.      Arthur Cafiero, who died on our steps. Froze to death. Because he wanted to. The New York Post hung his death on me. And at one public meeting during the peak of the Landmarks struggle, I was publicly accused of killing him. No one knew the three times that night I struggled to get him to come inside. Or why, with no more control over his bowells or bladder, and a sense of dignity, and no ability to quit drinking, he chose to freeze to death instead.  Arthur too, eulogized in our sanctuary, buried in the midst if deacons, elders and ministers and their wives. ( )
6.     And now, finally Gertrude. Right here with her friend Marietta and Eric for whom she had not much good to say. I figure they’ll work it out. Eric and Marietta, the only ones with stones.
I walk around. Look at the tomb stones. Ponder the history:
1993, my predecessor Bob Davidson died of a broken heart. Once the most powerful and popular Presbyterian in the country. Defeated by his own congregation which split. And then half of them left to the church a mile to the south of us. Broken. At age 65.
1973, the pastor before him. After 17 years of service. Committed suicide on Christmas Eve.

And now 2013. I smile. I’m getting out alive. I’m not going anywhere. I’m breaking the pattern of 40 years. I’ll still be here when 2014 dawns. The one who comes  after me will say, what a great place to be….I’m making it out alive.

                                                        * * * *

It’s my birthday. When I come back from dinner with my son Nate, I see a blinking Christmas
Happy Birthday
display. Danielle has loaded a bakery bag with a pastry with blinking tiny Christmas lights. And a beautiful note. I’m making it out alive. 

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