Sunday, August 25, 2013

Familiar Places

This summer has balanced some significant travel time with a generous amount of contemplative time. The rhythm has moved between moments with my loved ones and a good share of time alone.

This week I enjoyed four days of solitude at a quiet cabin on the campus of the Stony Point conference center, on the Hudson River about forty miles north of New York. The staff calls it "a hermitage," although I remember it as a former garden shed. It was surprisingly comfortable - good bed, small refrigerator, table and chair, and - wait for it - an eco-toilet that requires three turns of the crank to dispose of any business.

Felt like a spiritual camp out, without the s'mores.

The food at Stony Point was as good as always, and the campus was teeming with life. Over a hundred Presbyterian young adults were taking part in a training week for the mission volunteer assignments that they will undertake on behalf of the national church. Another group of Unitarian youth were taking a leadership training event. The place is hopping! The campus has an increasingly diverse staff. They grow all of their own vegetables in their own community garden. And, as is the case whenever I go there, there was a good assortment of friends who were passing through.

Who says solitude has to be lonely? I read a good bit, took a nap or too, went for a drive along the river, had a quiet Thai dinner in Nyack. All by myself. Just me, alone. It was a sweet time.

Oh, and I worked on some music, too, for the first time this summer. I took a small rig of a keyboard, amp, manuscript paper, MIDI cables, Finale software, and wrote five new tunes. At one point, Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director of the center, popped his head in the door and snapped a picture:

So this is what contemplation looks like!
What a great time in my creative compost heap!

On Friday morning, I drove upriver to Hudson, New York. An e-mail has notified me that the company that manufactured some of my CDs and DVDs is closing down that part of the business. So I arranged with my contact person to pick up the original copies so they don't disappear. Sadly, when I arrived, my business guy wasn't there. Hmm...that will require a bit of follow-up.

But here's the thing. Rather than move on, I decided to check out the town. It's going through a steady renaissance. There are signs of great creativity along Warren Street, the main drag. The population seems quite diverse. And then I saw a familiar site:

 It's the diner from one of my favorite movies, "Nobody's Fool" (1994), with Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy. The light went on: oh yeah, this is the town where the movie was filmed! 

Since my lunch plans fell through, I thought, why not check out the diner? It was a pleasant surprise, nothing like the movie. Oh, same place, inside and out, but it's now run by a team of young adults who specialize in organic foods and know-your-farmer vegetables.

Right around the corner is another significant venue from the film. The Iron Horse Bar is where "Sully" Sullivan meets his friends for memorable poker games, deepens his relationship with son and grandson, and makes declarations about his life.

Not only is it a "movie scene" (and a real one), it's a place where decisions about life and death are probably made all the time.

That's what I loved about that movie and the novel that preceded it - it is so respectful of small-town life. The characters are real, flesh and blood people that we know and see around town every day. Nobody is cleaned up for the big screen. Everybody's character is revealed over time. Time and village honesty have ways of holding everybody accountable for what they have done and what they have let undone.

Most of all, grace works itself out in the lives of people who welcome it.

All of this resonates with what I know and where I live. As I drove around Hudson, I found myself smiling the same contented smile that ends the film on Paul Newman's lips.

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