* inspired by a trip to NYC in October 2017
A man was sitting on a bench in the middle of the platform. Despite the cloudy morning, he was wearing sunglasses with orange lenses that obscured his eyes. He was playing the guitar. Maybe “playing” is a bit exaggerated, as there were only three strings left and he kept strumming the same notes in a monotonous rhythm. I tried to divert myself from the disturbing noise and continued to search for Him amongst the many faces.
I'm a journalist for a local New York magazine and I still couldn't believe that he had agreed to this interview. This was to be a milestone for my career.
He had said to meet Him here at 74th and Broadway and I had been waiting now for half an hour. Whatever He wanted in this place was beyond me - a subway station in Jackson Heights, Queens is hardly the place you would expect to meet the Creator of all things. But my grandmother always said „the Lord works in mysterious ways!“.
I had written down a list of questions. Which was the right religion? Was Jesus really his son? How exactly did he create the world? I was about to uncover the mystery!
A wave of fast-paced New Yorkers getting on and off the train on their way to work rushed by me, when suddenly I noticed a figure moving at a moderate tempo, like a walrus in a swarm of herring.
I knew right away, that it must be Him though He wasn't at all what I had expected. He was shorter than I was, bald and wearing wide, faded jeans one might have found in the 90's with a mustard colored shirt that highlighted his round belly.
„You're late!“ I said. He winked at me and shrugged. „When you've lived as long as I have, you have a different conception of time!“
His gaze rested on the man strumming his half-stringed guitar. „Lovely“ He said with a gentle smile. I wasn't quite sure what to make of Him.
We hopped on the E Line that took us all the way down to Manhatten. We got off at 72nd street and passed Strawberry Fields on our way to the Lake in Central Park. I have been here countless times before and am still fascinated by the quiet haven of tranquillity in the middle of this bustling city.
I watched as a boat with two lovers passed us by, reminding me of a scene in the canals of Venice. „Yes, it always reminds me of that, too.“ He remarked ... I hadn't spoken my thoughts out loud.
„I have some questions.“ I began. „I expected that!“ He answered with another wink. „You can ask me whatever you like. But I can't promise that I won't answer your question - with another question.“
The two lovers turned around. I took out my list of questions, trying to decide what to ask Him first.
A kid stepped beside me and waved at the couple in the boat. They waved back. I turned to Him, but He had disappeared. I looked up and down the road and the kid next to me started giggling. It was a weird looking child. One eye was placed higher than the other on his brown face and his … or her, I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or girl ... curly hair was died blue in patches. And then I realized … He hadn't left … He had just changed appearances.
The Child took me by the hand and led the way. Still astonished by this sudden transformation, I followed.
We took the elevator up to the top of the Empire State building. The Child ran out the door and jumped up on a stool that shook dangerously. My parental instinct automatically kicked in. „Get down from there!“ … Had I just rebuked God?
The Child didn't listen but started pointing towards the buildings. The stool shook. „Careful!“
The Child jumped up in joy of finally having spotted Chrystler building and fell off the stool. It got back on Its feet and beckoned me to pick It up so It could continue looking at the Skyline.
„What is wrong with you? This is ridiculous! People down there worship you! They have been killing in your name for centuries and you're up here playing games!“
The Child tried to jump up on the chair again. „I told you not to do that!“ It climbed up. „Why aren't you listening? You just fell and you still haven't learned!“ The Child looked at me with a weird expression on Its face. As if It knew something I didn't. A woman passed us by, shaking her head: „You can teach your kids all you want! They will still do what they want!“ The Child gave me a superior smile. „What … so you're saying all those people who have bad things happen to them … it's their own fault?“ It shook Its head. It reached out Its little arms towards me. „Forget it, I'm not helping you! You got up there! You get yourself down! Not my problem“ The Child slowly lowered its arms in wordless disappointment … and I realized … „Well … how about I give you my hand, but you jump yourself?“ It gave me a broad smile and stretched out Its hand.
We walked down 7th avenue towards Lower Manhattan. The Child skipped happily at my side. We stopped to get some New York street hot dogs and The Child proudly payed for them. Dripping ketchup and mustard all over Its shirt, It led me down to the docks and we boarded a boat to Ellis Island.
We stepped on the ground that had once been people's first contact with a new beginning and walked along the beach. I glanced over to Lady Liberty rising like a sign of hope overlooking the City that never sleeps that was built on lies ... like most of them are.
„What I don't get ...“ I said, „is why you don't stop things from happening before they do. Obviously you know what's going to happen! Haven't you always sent prophets and people who can predict the future? How could an apothecary of the 16th century, for example, know what was going to happen 400 years later?“
„Mahicantuck,“ said a deep, hoarse voice next to me. The Child had vanished. A tall woman was walking by my side. She wore a long white dress and her flowing white hair shined like silver against her cracked black face.
„Mahicantuck. That's what they called this river before it became the Hudson. River that flows two ways. Fascinating isn't it? There is a duality to everything. So tell me... did the prophets predict it because it was going to happen? Or did it happen because they predicted it?“
I have always loved New York in October. The leaves are changing and the whole city glows in gold and bronze shimmers of fall. We walked along the Brooklyn Bridge and watched the sun set over the high-rises along the East River. Even though this sight usually calms all my senses, for some reason I was filled with unease.
„Okay! But what about natural catastrophes? Human behavior didn't always have an influence on earthquakes and floods!“ „That's true ...“ She gave back and looked out into the sunset. I couldn't tell if She was figuring out how to answer me or if Her mind had wandered off somewhere beyond the rooftops. „Can't you stop them?“ I asked. „Maybe“ she replied. „So you haven't even tried? No wonder the human world is so messed up! When you created us in your own image you made us just as lazy as you are!“ She shook her head. „That is just the Christian interpretation of creation.“ „But if you didn't create us as your equal … what is the point of our existence?“ She turned and looked at me.
„Sometimes there are no answers. But that doesn't mean we have to settle with the question!“
„ So you're saying, we need to keep searching for the answer?“
„I'm saying sometimes there are no answers. But that doesn't mean we have to settle with the question!“
„That makes no sense!“
„It's all a matter of perspective.“*
She was starting to get on my nerves.
„Then we need to change the question?“
„Or is the question the answer?“
„Is that the answer?“
She smiled. „Come! You look tired.“
When I was a child I had this picture in my head that God lived on a throne surrounded by golden gates on the holiest of clouds. That image of course changed through the years, but never would I have thought, that She lived in a ground floor apartment in Harlem!
We walked through the front door and wandered to the back of the building. She opened the door with the number 12 ... the paint was crumbling ...
She showed me to a bedroom at the far side of Her residence and as I lay my head on the pillow, it almost felt like I was sinking into one of the clouds I had envisioned as a child. I had hardly finished my thought about what a weird twist the day had taken before I had fallen asleep.
The first thing I noticed when I woke up the next morning was a soft sound. Music was playing on the old stereo on my cupboard and a sweet little humming-bird sat on a branch in the back yard whistling his own little melody in perfect harmony.
I went into the kitchen. There was a cup of hot tea on the table and the child who had been an old woman was now the bald man once more.
I took a look around the room. There was a picture of Maria on the wall, right next to the 99 names of God written on a piece of parchment in Arabic. I saw a statue of Shiva on a pile of books about meditation and tales of the islands. Seven candles were burning in a menorah on the table where I sipped my tea.
„Who are you really?“ I asked The Bald Man. „I am what you need me to be.“ „So you don't really exist then?“ „That ...“ He said with a wink „is for you to decide.“
We left the place with the humming-bird's soft call and dove back into the concert of horns in the streets of the big apple. We got on the red Line and changed to the E Line that took us all the way back to 74th and Broadway.
„This is where I leave you ...“ He said. At this point I had completely forgotten, that it had been me who asked Him for an interview. It would have been up to me to end it but once again He had gently taken it out of my hands and I let Him guide me.
„Is this some kind of metaphor? To end up in the same place as we started?“
„This is where we started in the first place, yes. But is it really the same as when you started?“
“Well … no.“
He nodded slightly. „Anything else, you would like to ask me?“
I thought of the questions I had written on my list. I hadn't asked a single one.
I gazed at the man on the bench in the middle of the platform. There was something soothing in the consistency of his music.
„Will the Red Sox win this season?“ He smiled at me and said: „I am just as curious as you are!“ And with a last wink, he got on the M Train and left the station where the man in the orange glasses was still beating on his 3 stringed guitar.