The Angels of 286 E. 2nd Street

In 1984 there were real life angels living at 286 E. 2nd Street in New York City’s Lower East Side. I know there were angels living there for a fact because even though I’m not an angel, I lived there too.  And the people in this building helped save my life, in large part, by helping me decide to continue taking part in it. You don’t get more angel than that.

I was held up at gunpoint early one August morning on a Brooklyn street in 1984 and shot in the head at point blank range. The bullet, along with some bone fragments to keep it company, remains lodged in my brain. Knowing the wound can abscess at any time and, if it does, possibly end my life, is a full plate’s worth of reality to digest.

While it was the 84th Precinct of the New York City Police Department and the doctors and nurses in Long Island College Hospital that saved my life. It was the angels of 286 East Second Street that helped me decide to keep it, and then, live it.

My dictionary, New Oxford American English, defines the noun, angel, as “a spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God, conventionally represented in human form with wings and a long robe.” 

This definition perfectly describes the angels of 286, though being from the New York City’s Lower East Side, they didn’t need any wings – or robes, for that matter. It would have cramped their style, come to think of it.

I moved into 286 in the early 1980s. It was there I met, for the first time, Dane Arnold, Hart Faber, Joshua Holland, Zeke Kisling, Arthur May, Kenneth Mencher, Dominique Nadel, Dorrill Semper, Kathy Semper, Thomas Weatherly. 

Every single one of them, honest, compassionate, loving, strong. In truth, they are, every single one of them, some of the most extraordinary individuals I’ve ever known. 

Each one of the exemplified that singular wisdom of Henry David Thoreau by allowing themselves to be themselves.

“I learned this, at least, by my experience: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” 

Break for freedom – Day 21 (Three weeks)

Day 21 – Thursday, August 31, 2017  (Three weeks)

Today marks three weeks since I started morning solo walks, walks without my dog, without a walking stick, without music, without pepper spray, without sunglasses, without anything that served to make me feel safer in a world known to be dangerous. Victims of criminal violence (and that includes rape, for those of you who haven’t fully digested that reality) have their It-can’t-happen-to-me-syndrome destroyed. Not damaged, not hurt, not hobbled – destroyed, permanently. So, in some cases, taking part in life again can be a steep climb, like climbing Everest without a supplemental oxygen supply.

I can’t tell someone facing a personal Mount Everest what to do, or how to do it. I can tell them the weaponry I use in my fight. First, I believe the following observations are facts. Because it feels impossible does not mean it is impossible, it means that’s how it feels, two different things. Both valid, easy to blend. Same thing with hope. Feeling hopeless does not mean there is no hope.  And then there is a sentence I call the fear tool, It’s okay to be afraid, don’t let it scare you. In other words, go through the fear, allow the experience. It feels lethal, but it’s not.

My emotional experience is not the definition of the experience itself, it is the definition of my response to it. Most of the time I keep this reality in view.

7:27 a.m. – Back from the walk. I am learning daily walks are like daily runs. Each has its own personality. Back when I ran marathons slowly (I thought it was neighborly of me to let so many thousands finish ahead of me.) I’d run six days a week – five days in the mid teens, and then one push to 20, 21 miles.

I don’t know if it was because I knew today marks three weeks since they began, or because it is August 31 and I’ve made it through another August alive, who knows. Whatever the reason, I pushed the pace straight through this morning’s walk, without let up. I have one of those pedometers that tells you the number of strides per minute. I’m normally around 100.8 strides a minute, and today I was at 104.7 strides.

Remember to live.

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For my father, Sanford Kahrmann.

Break for freedom – Day 16 (A writing pause)

Day 16  – Saturday August 26, 2017 (A writing pause)

9:26 a.m. – I home from my walk about two hours ago. It was a peaceful affair, sweatshirt weather, it was 45 degrees this morning early. I completed the entire walk in comfort. I am going to, for now, pause the daily briefs about the walks. No doubt I will be back reporting on how they are going, or how a specific one stands out, and why.

I will, you have my word, report if I take a single day off from walking, and what led me to do so. No doubt I will at some point, but all of me knows, now is not the time.

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For Charley

Breaking Free – Day 13 (Beethoven)

Day 13 – Wednesday, August 23, 2017 (Beethoven)

7:44 a.m. – Home from a walk that came with a gift. I spent most my time with Ludwig van Beethoven, a hero of mine since I was a boy. I was hooked on his music and his story straightaway. That he composed the Ninth Symphony, in 1824, when he was almost completely deaf, just three years before his death in March 1827, is an act of creation that leads me to be still with its truth and grateful for the moment.

I can’t remember its name, or its author, but there was a biography of Beethoven (and one of Geronimo, by the way) that I read over and over again when I was a boy. I remember the kindness he received from the von Breuning family. He needed it. He was 17, his mother had just died, his father had fallen full-tilt into the death-grip of alcoholism, and, he had two younger brothers.

I remember passages in the biography detailing how Beethoven would go for long walks in the woods, by streams, in all weather, and hear the existence of music – meaning – in all he heard.  This brings me back to this morning’s walk. Beethoven was present the moment I stepped out the door. This morning offered a strong shifting breeze, a sky with a mix of dark clouds and sun-backed white ones – the dark clouds had the advantage – and I could hear the water rushing from last night’s downpour through the man-made channel just yards away. There was movement laced with sounds and shadows and colors and birds singing the day awake. The occasional and not unwelcome soft-deep puff of breeze pushed gently into my ear, brought with it sounds of cello and kettle drum.

Every morning is a gift.

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For ADAPT

 

Break for freedom – Day 12 (Adding distance and hills)

Day 12 – Tuesday, August 22, 2017 (Adding distance & hills)

6:08 a.m. – Years ago, not long after the shooting, me and my close friend Dane Arnold belonged to the 23rd Street YMCA in New York City.

We used to play paddle ball as a pair against these two old guys who were so good they barely had to move to, well, basically wipe the floor with us. That’s not quite true, we did win some, lost more, and were always in the game, but they were far more skilled with their placement of shots, and the English they could put on their shots would impress Houdini. As always, I played with all I had which meant diving for a ball, crashing into walls in order to fire off a shot, and so on. On one occasion, after I dove for a shot and crashed into a wall, one of the older guys, smiling from ear to ear and laughing, asked Dane, “Does he always play like this?”

Dane said: “Are you kidding me?! He does everything like this. You should see him wash the dishes; it’s like he’s trying to get the pattern out of the plate.”

Now, my gentle reader, I know this may sound silly, maybe even a stretch, but I believe the same part of my character that plays that hard, or, to put things in sharper focus, the part of me that doesn’t like giving up, is the same part of my character that helped me stand up after I got shot.

Right or wrong, it sure as hell is the same part of me that’s decided to double the hills and the length this morning’s walk.

7:54 a.m. – Back home.  A shade over one mile: 1.1 to be exact. I am smiling. A long way to go, but this morning felt good. Still does!

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For Dane Arnold