There was a light drizzle when I emerged from the subway. I had a few blocks to walk, so I turned on my old (really old) Walkman. It’s actually an FM only radio with a dial. No screen, no buttons, no colorful “skin”, just an on/off switch and a dial permanently set on the Classical station. "Hello, I am Midge Woolsey and I'll be with you for the rest of the afternoon" said a beautiful soothing voice of WQXR. "This is your weather report. It’s a cloudy and wet day, about 55 degrees. Thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Ida, there will be periods drizzle and steady rain". “Babushka, Grandma, I miss you”, I thought. “Thanks for passing by with a little drizzle. I don't mind it as long as I can sense you around me.”
As I walked towards 5th and 82nd, the feeling of guilt was almost palpable. As in, I could taste its bitter flavor in my mouth. The stern voice in my head (the one that Martha Beck in her book "Finding your north star" calls the "social self") was whispering "sweet nothings" in the ear of my consciousness. It went something like this: "Who do you think you are? Taking a half day away from work? Do you know how many messages and emails you'll get on Monday? What kind of way is this for a grown woman, a wife, a mother, a professional, for Pete's sake, to spend HALF a DAY? I don't believe the audacity! Do you have a doctor's appointment, is your new stove being installed, is there an emergency!? NO! You are going where!!!?? Museum! @*!!!$$" And, yes, my social self is often a nasty angry thing, and yes it curses. That day it sure sounded pissed!
I was so lost in this disturbing monologue, that I didn’t even notice how I arrived at the destination. When I looked up, I realized that I was standing in front of a majestic palace, one of my most favorite places in the world - The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met).
I kept thinking that my crabby social self was partly right...What business did I have to spend an afternoon HERE, in THIS WAY!? But my essential self (that’s the part that is your pure core, the one you are born to be, according to Martha Beck) was blooming with happiness and enthusiasm. It was also doing a little celebratory dance and was so excited that it lost its ability to "speak." Plus, there was some business to attend to. My essential self was enrolled in the Art History Grad school, and we (all three of us: me and my two selves) had a homework assignment - to see a painting by Henry Fuseli selected for my thesis on the 19th century art.
After the blur activity including purchasing a ticket and opening my bag "wide" for the security guard, I was in front of the staircase leading up to the main galleries. The world (at the least the world of the Met) was my oyster. "Look at you...drooling, dumb smile on your face, don't get too excited! You have to leave at 4 sharp to be on time to pick up your son...remember, your son?!" Yes. This was once again, the scrooge of my "Christmas," my well-trained social self. The UN-fun part of me.
I shoved the guilt a little deeper down and walked up to the information counter to inquire where my thesis painting is located. "It is not on display" the clerk said. "What!!!!????? It can't be! I prepared, I studied, I pulled a ton of research material together. I have to write about this painting and I MUST see it...” He just shook his head, "Sorry, it’s in the storage".
I felt crushed. Martha Beck writes that when we do things that are nurturing to our true selves, that bring us closer to the life of fulfillment and joy, the Universe will provide a helping hand. For instance, there will suddenly be an additional ticket to a sold-out concert where you are meant to meet your soulmate; if you are in traffic, the plane will be delayed and you'll be upgraded to first class, assuming you are going to a city where you are meant to find true happiness; the painting will be ON DISPLAY when you are enrolled in a grad school program you are meant for......pause here for a screeching sound of the breaks. "Hahaha!!! Well, there you go, wipe off your drool, check your Blackberry and get back on the subway to pick up your son early. What? You don't want to make him happy and pick him up early? Selfish."
The clerk, clearly seeing me being totally distraught said "Okay, call the 19th century department. Maybe they'll help." The next thing I knew was I was on the phone with someone named Patricia
Patricia: "It’s in the storage and you can make an appointment to see it."
Patricia: "Yes that's what people normally do. Let me see, the next available appointment is in February, will that work for you?"
Me: "But it’s November"
Patricia: "Yes, I am aware. Look, the painting hasn't been on display for a long time. It’s all the way in the back of the storage room and it will take several technicians to move other masterpieces to get to it..."
Patricia: "Hello, are you there?”
Me: "Yes. So there is absolutely nothing you can do? It’s so hard for me to find the time to come here...I would be forever grateful if I could see the painting today.
Me: “You see I am in the grad school, and I have to do a presentation on this painting. And part of it should be a detailed description of the painting which requires seeing the art work itself."
Patricia: "Well, I won't promise anything but I'll try to help you. But it will be about two hours until I know for sure. Give me your number and I'll call you"
Me, with my heart pounding in my ears: "You'll call me? Wow! Thank you".
Patricia: "But don't get your hopes up, chances are you'll have to come back and even if they let you in the storage you won't have more five minutes to look at it."
I thanked Patricia for giving me a sense of hope and hung up the phone.
I had two hours to "kill/" Of course, being at the epicenter of the artistic life of NYC (one might argue), there was no shortage of things to feast my eyes on. Speaking of a feast, suddenly I felt terribly hungry. You see, when I wait for something (good) I can only do one of two things: wait or eat. I am wired in such a way that I can't possibly occupy myself with something more useful than stuffing my face or just sitting and waiting. Plus, happiness or anticipation of happiness make me really, REALLY hungry. Aha, I saw a sign pointing to a cafeteria. There, I had a little "snack", generous serving of some of my favorite things including steak, rice, and steamed vegetables...and a small bottle of red wine. What the heck!
After inhaling the food (I had to eat fast so I can seriously concentrate on the important task of mindless waiting) I started checking my calendar for potential days in February I could make this appointment for. "What the hell are you doing here? You don't belong among these people who can AFFORD to spend their time leisurely lunching in the museum cafeteria. And who is buying this crazy notion that you HAVE to see this silly painting? What's with the misplaced obsession? What you SHOULD be worried about are you real life responsibilities instead of this ridiculousness. And you have a piece of steak stuck between your teeth. Look at yourself in the mirror!"
Again the scrooge was theoretically right. The painting is somewhat hideous and could even be considered disturbing. It’s supposedly a scene of an infant sacrifice. Fuseli was a bit out there…and maybe there was something seriously wrong with him. Maybe something is seriously wrong with me. Why am so fascinated by it? Why the Art History degree? What am I doing here?
Just then I heard a little, childish giggle...a bit tentative, but audible. It came from somewhere within. “Its just a burp” sarcastically said my social self. But I knew better. A part of me really belonged here. The giggle was real, I felt like a fish released from a fishbowl ("nice analogy! You have lost your marbles, sister!")
My phone buzzed. A message? Could it be....I was afraid to hope. "Rina, I got a hold of the technician and she agreed to show you the painting. At 2:15, you should knock on the door of the storage. It’s on the second floor” Pause. “…Honestly, it’s quite a miracle...that someone was available to move the painting and stuff. Anyway, glad I could help! Good luck.”
I was on cloud 9, maybe even 10! "Five minutes in front of some crazy painting. THIS is what you are excited about? I don't even recognize you anymore!"
"Hee-hee" said my essential self. I gathered all my stuff and ran, even though there was plenty of time. In just a couple of minutes I was in the Rembrandt’s gallery where the storage door was located.
I finally took a deep breath, found a spot on the bench and looked around. The dumb smile was still on my face. Wow! Breathtaking. To the right of me was a beautiful courtyard, in front of me was Rembrandt’s famous “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer” and to the left was the magic door, behind which was the painting I was meant to see.
Every now and then (about every 10 seconds) I looked at my watch. My essential self was bursting at the seams; my social self was sulking in disgust. Just like in my childhood, the time moved unbearably slowly.
I walked over to the balcony with the view of the courtyard. I looked up. A glass roof. I’ve never noticed it before. The rain had picked up a bit. The remnants of Hurricane Ida were crying. But I could tell they were tears of joy. She was happy for me…happy with me.
“Miss, Miss” I looked up. The woman in a blue lab coat summoned me to the door. “You are the one who wanted to see Fuseli, right?” I nodded unable to utter a word. “Well, we hung it up. It’s on the second floor, 19th century gallery, room B”.
My head started buzzing a little. And what is it? The tears. No not the tears! “How inappropriate. You’ll just make her feel uncomfortable. Pull yourself together immediately” Said my impatient social self.
“May I give you a hug” I said to the technician “Sure,” she said. “It’s no problem, really. You can see it any time now.” “You made my day,” I said, shook her hand and started walking.
So, it’s true, when you are in the right place at the right time, when you are doing that which connects you to, what Martha Beck calls, your “North star” (the thing that you are meant to do), the Universe smiles its wide, charismatic smile and extends its hand. And then, cautiously but gratefully you take it and leap into a big, wonderful, pool of endless sweet possibilities.
“Yes, it’s true. THIS kind of joy is what life is all about.” Said my essential self. “Don’t forget to take good notes for your paper. Don’t be lazy now. I won’t accept anything less than an 'A' in this class” Said my social self.