Café Heart

The following is a Facebook post from February 2, 2017, one year ago exactly. It was an especially warm heart exchange that reminds me that while I have my own agenda for giving hearts there are times where  recipients see me as an intermediary.

How do a headache and a search for rice noodles end up with a heart and a hug? Easy. I had a sinus headache threatening to move over to migraine territory so I went to the weigh-and-pay cafe at work in search of some carbs and ginger candies. As I spooned some rice into my styrofoam tray, I moved over a little to let a woman who appeared to be in her late 50s pass by. She said, “oh, you’re not in my way. I’m just looking to see if they have those rice noodles today. I never know when they’ll have them.” A conversation ensued about how the cafe only offers certain hot dishes on certain days but it’s hard to keep track of the schedule. The woman mentioned she’d just turned 63 the week before. I pulled a heart out of my pocket. “Happy belated birthday!”

While she stared at the heart in astonished silence, I gave my elevator speech about keeping hearts handy to give to people I connect with, however briefly, and that she seemed like a good person to give one to. Still astonished, she looked at me and said “I know old angels when I see them! I’m about to cry.” That almost made *me* cry. I sensed she was open to a hug so I offered one. It was one of the warmest hugs I’ve shared with a stranger I’ve given a heart to, and that’s saying something. She wasn’t a stranger for long. She introduced herself and asked for my name. She told me her brother shared her birthday — 4 years apart — and that he had passed in 2011. “When you gave this to me I felt a chill go all through my body! This is my brother saying hello.” She looked at me again and said, “Sandra, you’re one of God’s angels!” We parted with smiles.

I was so moved by the exchange that I forgot to get the ginger candies. It didn’t matter though because my headache had all but disappeared.

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A Heroic Heart Encounter

Young girl wearing Batman cape, seen from backYou never know when you’re going to meet a superhero. I certainly didn’t expect to meet one at an interstate rest stop during a recent road trip. Yet there she was, getting a sip of water from the fountain outside the rest rooms.

The cape is what caught my attention but the way the wearer held herself is what kept it. I saw poise and I saw power. She looked to be about 9 or 10. I’m assuming gender based solely on the hair cascading from the back of the adult-sized snap-bill cap. I’ll continue using a female pronoun in this narrative but boy or girl, the outcome of story is the same.

I surreptitiously took a picture while she had her back to me, to preserve her anonymity. But when I looked later I saw that I’d caught her as she turned her head toward me,  as if she knew what I was doing.

I made eye contact and told this young woman I thought her cape was cool. She smiled. Not a shy “oh, no, a grownup noticed me, I’m not worthy” smile but a smile that said she knew she had power and was pleasantly surprised that it had been recognized.

I held out a heart to her. She was reluctant to take it. Frankly, I was reluctant to give it mainly because it meant elevating our exchange from  casually verbal to tangentially physical. I was very aware that a parent might be nearby,  rightfully vigilant about the behavior of other adults toward their young child in a bustling rest area on a major highway. But I addressed her as the equal empowered being that she was.  “Go ahead. That’s for wearing a cool cape.” She took it and smiled that power smile again.

I would have loved to ask her name and talk with her a little bit but as mentioned it wasn’t the time or place. I gave her a parting nod to honor her then found my traveling companion and headed on down the road with him.

The warmth and hope of that power smile stayed with me for hundreds of miles

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Heartstock, Part 3

This is the last installment recounting my series of heart encounters on September 10 and 11, 2017 in connection with a pilgrimage I made to the site of the original Woodstock festival. This post covers Monday, September 11. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Time TraveLodge
Monday morning. The day would end with my sleeping in my own bed. I’d only been away for 4 days but it felt longer and for good reasons: the Woman Within weekend had left me with the usual glow. I’d driven roads I’d never been on before. I’d expected miracles and they’d obligingly happened.

And I still had the day ahead of me. I was going to complete my pilgrimage to the Woodstock site. All of my mes were excited: the 8-year-old me who’d heard about the festival on the news the weekend it happened, the same weekend she and her family moved into their new house in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and while waiting for the furniture truck to arrive camped out in the living room in sleeping bags, “just like those kids at that big concert in New York!” The teen me who saw the movie and envied “the kids” both the show they saw and the peaceful sense of belonging they shared. The 30-something me who felt too old and too uncool to be part of Woodstocks 2 and 3. The present-day me who finally feels a sense of belonging in the world and who, especially after the previous day’s visit to Big Pink, wasn’t ashamed to want to occupy space and breathe the air at iconic sites.

The universe had a lagniappe for me. I’d booked a room at the Days Inn in Liberty because it’d showed up on the list of “hotels near the Museum at Bethel Woods” for about what I was willing to spend on a reasonably clean room and it didn’t have unnecessary frills I’d be too tired to enjoy. I didn’t know until the night I was there that the town of Liberty was where Grossinger’s was. And I didn’t know until after I got back home that in 1969 that Days Inn (then a Holiday Inn) had been where many of the Woodstock performers had stayed. I’d read in a book about the event that they’d turned the lobby into a stage for a massive jam session. Had I known where I was, I’d’ve taken a moment to sit in the lobby and imagine what a sight and sound that must have been.

17B or Not to Be
I checked out of the hotel  around 9:30am, filled my travel mug with free coffee in the lobby (while unknowingly bumping into the ghost of Jimi Hendrix?) then headed down Route 17. At Monticello I turned right onto Route 17B, which would take me the last 10 miles to my destination.

As I drove I realized that I hadn’t been in anything other than a small town since leaving DC on Thursday. The largest commercial area with national chains I had seen was in tiny Liberty. I only saw mom-and-pop businesses along 17B, and those were sparsely scattered. A cafe. An insurance agency. A farm equipment dealer.

I pictured the road as it had been that August weekend in 1969, choked with abandoned cars and hordes of people on foot, heading toward Yasgur’s farm. The day I drove Route 17B into Bethel I had the road pretty much to myself.

At last my last turn came up on the right. Hurd Road. I turned  onto the tree-lined country road that looked as if it must have in 1969, except for the road sign that invited me to “Please Drive Peacefully.” A ways up, signs appeared for The Museum at Bethel Woods, as the site is known now. Parking lots to the left, on what back then had been cornfields. The modern-day concert pavilion was to the right, although not visible from the road. Then the museum itself was on the right. I turned into the parking lot directly across Hurd Road from the museum entrance, shortly before 10 am, which is when the museum opened. There were only a half-dozen cars there already, not surprising for a weekday during the off season: Labor Day had been the week before. In fact, I had counted on a lack of crowd.

“We Must Be in Heaven, Man!”
Plaque commemorating Woodstock festival site's being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.It was a gorgeous morning, clear, cool, cloudless and peaceful. Very like the weather on another September 11, the one in 2001. Being in a place so closely identified with peace and love on such a day felt right. For a site known for the record number of people to inhabit it all in one time, it was a little eerie to find it so empty. Nonetheless, the introvert side of me was glad that I’d be able to explore the space on my own terms rather than being herded through like one of Max’s cows.

My first stop was the museum, which is similar in spirit and execution to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Multimedia exhibits and well-curated displays give a sense of the time and culture surrounding the festival. The bits that I was most taken by were the actual artifacts: staff t-shirts and jackets decorated with the iconic bird-on-guitar-neck logo, a psychedelic bus that you could board, correspondence surrounding the mammoth logistics to make the festival happen in the first place. No internet back then: it all came together over the phone, telegram and mail.

I signed the guest book with a message of love and compassion, then exited through the gift shop.

A Field Guide to Fields
Next up, I wanted to step foot on The Field. The museum brochure had a little map showing where it was. I followed it to the far end of the parking lot and looked over a field that didn’t quite match up with what the brochure showed. Whether or not it was the actual field where the music happened and thousands listened, I was sure that at the time of the festival it saw some foot traffic. 

The next and final stop was the monument at the corner of Hurd Road and West Shore Road. I parked in the tiny lot and walked through a stand of hedges. A helpful sign explained the site layout better than the museum brochure had. The actual audience field was just beyond the monument and the stage had been to the left. THIS was what I’d come to see.

The empty field in front of me that had held a then-record 400,000 people in 1969 and looked so ginormous in pictures of the event seemed so… small. The natural bowl that had contained a stage with so much talent  playing so much good music so loud seemed so… quiet. The site that had been declared a disaster area was so… peaceful. And I was… there.

Fences blocked off the field proper from foot traffic but there was an open area with picnic tables and a “message tree” that gave a sense of community.  I added my name to the hundred on the table tops with one of the several Sharpies that were there and wandered over to the message tree. I reached into my pocket for a heart to leave. I thought “red,” the color of the Woodstock posters, and a red heart appeared in my hand. Yep, miracles.

It was nearly noon. I’d been at the Bethel Woods site for 2 hours and had to think about heading to the highway back to DC. I’d gotten the experience I was looking for. I took one last look around and headed back toward the parking lot.

I Came Upon a Child of God
I heard another car pull up on the other side of the hedges. Its passengers beat me to the hedges so I stepped aside to let them through. It was a trio of senior citizens, two men and a woman. One of the men was already gesturing toward the field saying “… and is where we sat.”

“Excuse me. Were you here?“ I asked.

“Yes. But just on one day.”

”Which one?”

”Sunday. It was my 17th birthday.”

“Sounds like a great way to spend a birthday.”

”It was!”

”Were you here?” the woman asked me, laughing.

”No. I was 8.” I wanted to tell them about the sleeping bags in the living room and hear the man’s story of his day at Woodstock but I’d had my time at the site and now it was time for them to have theirs. Like the night before at Big Pink, I knew it was time for me to leave.

I reached into my pocket for a heart. Another red one, yes! I gave it to the man. He took it with a bemused smile and thanked me graciously.

“Enjoy your visit!” I went through the hedges and got into my car.

A Few Goose Bumps in the Road
My GPS, apparently fully recovered by now, was telling me that I’d get home at 5:30pm. I didn’t want to deal with DC rush hour traffic so I started thinking about stopping to get some lunch. I could also spare some time to stop at the New Age-y shop I’d passed on 17B for a woo-woo souvenir.

I headed back toward Monticello and got there without having seen the shop I was looking for. Oh, well. Not meant to be.

I had seen a sign for Tilly’s Diner, so while I stopped to fill up the gas tank I looked it up on Google Maps. It showed me the location where I already was. Oh, great. GPS is on the fritz again. But then I looked up there was Tilly’s, right across the street from me.

I sat in a booth and ordered breakfast for lunch. The diner had a friendly, family vibe, more so than the Liberty Diner. For example, a customer passed by my booth at the same time as my server and both women stopped right there to chat cheerfully. It became quickly clear that they were cousins.

Then the customer, an elderly women, noticed me and asked, “Is your name Anne?”

”Um, no.” I smiled.

She laughed. “Well, you have a double.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

While the woman turned back toward her cousin to continue their conversation, I reached into my pocket for two hearts. I held one out to the woman. “Excuse me. The next time you see Anne, give her this for me.”

She looked surprised. “Oh, I won’t see Anne.”

Um, ok. “Well, this is for you, then.” I put the other heart that I was going to give her after Anne’s back into my pocket.

She gasped then leaned into my booth to give me a hug. She kissed on my on cheek and whispered into my ear “bless you.” She stood back up and showed me her forearm. “Look!” Her arm was covered in goosebumps. “I call them Holy Ghost bumps. I feel them when the Lord touches me and you’ve blessed me!”

“My pleasure.”

She told me her name, Marjorie, and asked for mine. Then she asked what the hearts meant so I gave her the elevator speech. “How wonderful!”

Her cousin brought my food out just then so Marjorie gave me a smile and went back to her own table.

A little while later I was spreading the last of my eggs over easy on my rye toast when I felt a tap on my arm. It was Marjorie.

“I want to steal your idea! Where do you get the hearts?”

“I ‘stole’ the idea from someone else, so go for it!” I gave her some heart-buying tips. She was grinning from ear to ear, very excited to start handing out her own hearts.

We chatted a little bit. Marjorie told me she’d lived in Monticello all her life. She had just attended her 60th high school reunion over the weekend… at the Woodstock site.

Marjorie’s husband signaled he was ready to leave. We hugged again and she left.

I left shortly after. It was time to go home.

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Heartstock, Part 2

This is the second installment recounting my series of heart encounters on September 10 and 11, 2017 in connection with a pilgrimage I made to the site of the original Woodstock festival. This post covers the evening of September 10, after my encounter with Sion at Big Pink in West Saugerties. Read Part 1 here.

Unexpected Wilderness Interlude
Sion had mentioned it was an hour and a half drive to Liberty. It hadn’t looked that far on Google Maps and even with the time it would take to find my way back down the mountain roads to the highway it seemed like an overestimation.

But even after I’d found something like a main road it seemed to be taking a long time to reach the highway. The GPS was showing dozens of miles to go on the 2-lane rural road I was on. It was lovely and peaceful, and for the time being I was driving in daylight, albeit with the setting sun hitting my eyes at various turns so I kept driving blithely on.

I skirted the north side of the Ashokan Reservoir then took a sharp left onto another 2-lane road through… wilderness. There was a house here and there but otherwise the unassuming road passed through an untouched valley. Meadows. Ponds. Outcrops. Everything looked pristine. Lovely. Enchanting. Wild. And still dozens more miles to go before the next crossroads. It made the rural roads leading to Big Pink seem practically metropolitan.

Follow me down the road

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Heartstock, Part 1

I had a series of heart encounters on September 10 and 11, 2017 in connection with a pilgrimage I made to the site of the original Woodstock festival. There’s so much to share that I’m breaking the narrative into 3 parts. Here’s the first. It’s long and I hope you find it worth the time it takes to read. Enjoy!

Setting the Stage: A Long, Long Neck Ago
The whole story starts, as all good stories do, with a giraffe.

I’d become a fan of internet sensation April the Giraffe in February of this year. Watching her and her baby daddy Oliver on a webcam during April’s final months of pregnancy helped me get through the final months of a long-term contract job that I was unhappy about having to leave.

When April gave birth on April 15 my gentleman friend and I were on a long weekend getaway, attending a relationship conference in Denver. The “she’s giving birth right now!” text I’d signed up for came around dawn and we huddled together in bed watching on my iPad as Tajiri came into the world. So it felt right to visit the new giraffe family on a future getaway.

April and me
More April in an upcoming story.

Accordingly, July found us spending a weekend in Binghamton, NY, the closest big town to April’s home, Animal Adventure Park. Details of that park visit aren’t directly relevant to this story although a few hearts were given. They’ll be recounted in a future post.

The part that is relevant is that on the afternoon following our giraffe visit we were chilling in our hotel room, thinking about what else was nearby that we might visit before dinner. On a whim I asked how far away Bethel, NY was. The original Woodstock festival was held there. I’ve long been fascinated by the event, even though I was only 8 years old when it happened. If we were within easy driving distance it would be a nice add-on to the trip.

Read on

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The San Francisco Treatment

Here’s video from my most recent story, told on August 26, 2017 at The Auld Shebeen in Fairfax, VA as part of Better Said Than Done’s “Vacation and Other Disasters” show. Learn about the disastrous day trip to Monterey I incurred during a San Francisco vacation in October 1991. My narrative falls necessarily into the realm of creative non-fiction because 26 years later I remember only the basic sequence of events, not actual conversations or the finer details. My first draft, presented at rehearsal 2 weeks before the show, was basically a memory dump with a tentative framing device. The notes I got from my fellow storytellers helped me fill in some gaps and solidify the frame. In the interest of time and cohesiveness I had to compress some timelines, leave out some details and alter others. Along the way I gained some insights about why things played out the way they did all those years ago. I’m pleased with the final product and it got good feedback from the audience and my fellow storytellers. I’ll shut up now so you can watch the video. When you’re done and if you care to do so, read on below for a behind-the-scenes look at the actual events.

Go behind the scenes

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Heartless Encounter

This past week I learned you can give a heart without giving a heart.

On Wednesday morning while I waited for the elevator in the parking garage at work, I admired the leather-looking bag carried by the stylishly-dressed woman who was also waiting. It was yellow, a color I don’t normally think much of one way or the other, but this bag was a deep shade of topaz that I found pleasing. I said so out loud to the woman. “Thank you!” she smiled, “I got this at the thrift shop.” “Wow,” I said, “I never would have guessed.” “I get most of my clothes there” she replied, as we both stepped into the elevator. “This skirt was a few hundred dollars online but it only cost $20 at the thrift store. And I got this jacket, scarf, blouse, and… you know what? Everything I have on today came from the thrift store!” “That’s amazing!” I said, and I meant it. Her delight at talking about her clothing and where she got it was so infectious that I wanted to give her a heart. Only I didn’t have one on my person — no pockets in my outfit. There were a few in my rolly-case but it would have taken longer than we had left before she got off at her floor to dig one out. I could have asked her to wait while I got one but she was already smiling so brightly that for the first time ever I felt a heart would be superfluous. We brightened each other’s day just fine without one.

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Clearly Uplifting

Facebook post from July 29, 2016:

It never fails to amaze me how being open to the world around me brings a little joy and a connection to something as mundane as standing in a checkout line. At lunchtime I picked up a few things at Target. I made eye contact and smiled at the woman next to me at the check-out, which led her to remark on the weather, which led to her talking about her husband’s stuffy, soulless, windowless work environment at the Brentwood postal facility in DC. It seemed as if she needed to vent and I was glad to be there to listen. I reached into my purse for a heart to hand to her. It was a clear one, my favorite. When I handed it to her she looked surprised, thanked me, and blurted out that she was a two-time breast cancer survivor and that “they just found another tumor” that would be coming out soon. Then she told me her name, Cathy, and I told her mine. I paid the cashier and took my bags and wished Cathy well. I didn’t think to say it at the time, but I hope the clear heart is a sign that she’ll soon be cancer free. Time of the entire conversation: Less than one minute.

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Improved Connections

It was a first-world problem certainly but it led to encounters with 2 people whose backgrounds were different than mine but who I connected with seamlessly.

I woke up on the Sunday following the deadly events in Charlottesville to find that my cable and internet (from the same provider) were both out. My plans for the day had centered around staying in and catching up on some housework and writing tasks while binge-watching a tv series I’d just discovered. In the wake of the previous day’s events some news-watching would also be in order. I used precious wireless data to catch up on news headlines on my tablet then did all the cable/internet troubleshooting I could, mainly turning the cable box and modem off then back on again. No joy. Keep Reading

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Zam and Circumstance

Following on to the Zamboni story video, here’s video evidence of my cornering skills and Tom’s hanging-on skills.

Also, here’s my prized Certificate of Achievement. I gave Tom a heart in exchange for it.

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