Sunday, October 09, 2005

A week of Perplexing Paradoxes

This time last week, I was a guest at the Waldorf Astoria, surrounded by serious money. The trip to NYC was a planned treat for my sisters and I, compliments of my Mother. Her intentions were to blow our "inheritance" on us. Game, we definately put a major dent in it, and had a blast doing so.

Arrangements were made for me to meet up with them at the hotel as we were flying in from different directions. This plan gave me some limbo room to do as I pleased for a couple of hours before the game began. Somehow, I managed to snag a white limo drive from La Guardia to the hotel a couple of hours ahead of them. This, of course was a shared drive, though a limo drive nonetheless. So, on my first trip to NYC, I was stylishly joined by a cash cow couple from Cleveland, two Toronto chicks escaping mommydom (somewhat like moi) and a Montreal Soprano-couple with an attitude that oozed entitlement. I liked the latter the best, simply because they had attitude and weren't afraid to express it. I think they liked me too, because I kept laughing at their attempts to take control over the limo driver's scary driving tactics (like the driver really cared) and when they weren't doing that, they were chatting it up with me. More than anything, I was revelling in the absurdity of the experience, wondering how I had the brash nerve to go along with the limo driver when he offered me a ride while I stood in the Taxi line unbeknownst to the mode of transportation. Leap of faith? Guess so.

Chances are, no one was paying attention to me as I disembarked at the entrance of the Waldorf, driver opening the door, graciously handing me my beat up old leather knapsack, and taking my fare and tip. If they did, I hope they thought I was an eccentric "old money Mainer" or a famous (but they couldn't place my face) novelist/journalist type, who chose to wear her beachcombing duds and carry a pack on her back that has seen better days. I didn't care! I was playing the role as I made my momentous entrance into the grand foyer of the Waldorf Astoria!!!! And it was GRAND and full of historical splendour. Loved it! Quickly I realized, however, that there was a cornucopia of people milling about, some who looked quite similar to me, and others who arrived for a weekend (?) with a multitude of matching luggage custom made in Milan or some such fancyschmancy place. I didn't stick out. I somehow fit in to this vastly different world than I normally live in.

It was amazing how quickly I acclimatized to the dark wood floral scented surroundings as I waited for the Concierge to place my bags in a secure storage area. I could get used to this life, I thought. Then, I wondered.............where do these Service staff go at night? How far do they have to commute to afford a place to live? How do they feel about serving so many guests who have gobs of money and cares that only the rich can afford to have? Thoughts of my real life working with people looking for employment, and trying to clamour out of the cycle of poverty are never far from my thinking. It's just the way it is, always has been. The paradoxes of life.

The weekend was a whirl of intense bargaining for knock off fashion accessories on Canal Street, rubber necking all famous landmarks in lower Manhattan, inhaling the visual stimulation of Times Square, marvelling at Lady Liberty, emoting at Ellis Island and wishing my grandmother was there to enjoy the moment inbibing, enjoying, watching, listening, feeling, talking, absorbing, laughing, riding, running, walking, writing, looking, discussing, with us. She would've loved it. And, as I sat glued to the stage watching the Twyla Tharp dance production to the Billy Joel music that has played the most integral part of my life since I was 13 years old, I was struck by my good fortune. Throughout the weekend, wherever I went, however, I saw the glistening glow of richness and the wallowing poverty of homelessness and loneliness. I recognized and acknowledged the ones in the middle, the individuals in the "service industry" who also struggled daily and went home every night exhausted to pick up their family lives and perform more services and more importantly, who kept the city that never sleeps awake and vibrant. Haves...........have nots. Haves.............have nots............and the ones in the middle keeping the world moving along. The perplexities of life.

When I returned to my corner of New Brunswick, to a city that also has the paradoxes, though on a much smaller version, the scales tipped in favour of the financially impoverished. I advocate and work with them every day, so it's a normal transition. And, I also counsel the frontline people in this service industry which was also requested of me this week. So, the 7 days after my trip of luxury to the Waldorf were teeming with forceful recognitions of the lives of the individuals I work with. It was like................yes you can go see how the rich and well-off live and play, but you will remain awake and alert to the needs of others. The contradictions are humbling. It is what grounds me.

"Life is a long lesson in humility." James M. Barrie

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