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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Here’s the first of my storytelling performance videos, where I tell the tale of a love triangle involving me, a gentleman friend, and a sporty vehicle. This story, told at the Auld Shebeen in Fairfax, VA in June 2016 when the theme was “The Graduate,” is just about my very favorite. I told it again in July 2017 at Lake Anne Coffee House in Reston, VA. I was surprised at how little prep I needed to tell it again practically verbatim.
Note: When I say “1977” please mark your copy to read “1997.”
When you unexpectedly hand a complete stranger a heart-shaped piece of glass, they usually have questions.
“What’s this for?”
“Did you make this yourself?”
The most poignant question is a bewildered, “For me?”
I began giving hearts to random people to remind myself that I’m worthy of giving and receiving the small kindnesses that even the most jaded human beings are capable of. I’d been led to believe otherwise since childhood.
I’m about to share a little too much here so bear with me: Keep Reading
For the last few years I’ve shared stories on Facebook about the little glass hearts I give out and the people I give them to. My original motivation was to record the especially, well… heartwarming encounters yet I worried that I’d be seen as simply blowing my own horn. “Look at me! Look what I do! Aren’t I special?” But to my surprise the stories have been very well received and my friends report vicariously experiencing the same joy and optimism that I do during the encounters I write about.
In addition to my heart stories on Facebook, I occasionally tell personal true stories on topics from A to Zamboni onstage in Northern Virginia through Better Said Than Done.
Followers of both types of stories have told me I should make them available publicly. So after a great deal of foot-dragging I’ve created this blog. I’ll start by posting my backlog of FB stories and videos of my stage stories to date. The first story, to be posted very shortly, will explain why I give out those little glass hearts.