My birthday was almost a week ago. I had been looking forward to honoring it quietly and simply, which included plans to take my kids out one night and the next, enjoy a lovely romantic dinner with my honey. An additional surprise came when my boyfriend announced he been offered a personal invitation by Maestro Kurt Masur to attend a concert with the New York Philharmonic. Even better, we’d been invited to enjoy the program in the Maestro’s private box at Avery Fisher Hall. So much for quiet and simple, but far be it from me to turn down such an exciting opportunity!
After a harried week, spending a really grown-up evening in the city sounded like heaven. The hour train ride to Grand Central Terminal flew by. Before I knew it I was waiting for my boyfriend in the middle of the central foyer, admiring the view of the main concourse amidst the bustle of the evening commuters who scarcely seemed to have time or the inclination to admire its grandeur.
With the excitement of two teens playing hooky, we began the short dash to the Times Square shuttle and on to our connecting train.
And that was when I saw her.
Sitting next to the stairs close to the number 1 Broadway local crouched a dark-haired woman, somewhere around my age with a two-year-old. The baby sat in her flimsy umbrella stroller, eyes drooping closed while sucking on the bottle her mother propped up with one hand. In the other was a sign: “I lost my job and have two kids to feed. Please help me buy some food.”
As usual for a busy NY subway, most people were too preoccupied or just tired of seeing “these types” in the subway corridors to notice.
I grabbed the only remaining single I had in my wallet and knelt down to place it in her hat. As I did our eyes locked. “God bless you,” she said to which I replied, “and God bless you. Hang in there, I hope this helps…” my words trailed away, not sure of what I could really offer knowing I had no time to even stop and chat, ask her name, how she was doing or where she’d be sleeping tonight with her children.
As I dashed away, I glanced backwards to catch sight of only one more lady dropping money amidst the throngs that were shoving by her. A thousand questions raced through my mind and I felt so badly that I could not offer more. Mostly I felt an intense rush of emotion because it seemed in the little amount of time I could observe her, that I was the only one who at least took the time to look into her eyes…
In that moment as the train doors closed, the alleged mid-sixteenth century statement came to mind: “There but by the grace of God go I.” Choking back tears it all came back to me; just how close I was to being that woman.
Several years ago I survived an abusive marriage, a bankruptcy, and a high-risk pregnancy while raising my then-two-year-old toddler.
Adding to that darkness I had also lost my prestigious clergy job in a large synagogue. Not able to make ends meet, I found myself at the mercy of the kindness of strangers and close friends. One man I knew gave me money for my utility bill so they wouldn’t shut off my heat. An elderly woman, a stranger, within the Orthodox community gave me food cards for the local Kosher market.
How could I have gotten to such a dire place? Just a year and a half before that I had been hired as a soloist with a world-class orchestra. Was I really that different from the woman in the subway? Barely.
Tonight, as I passed by the Lincoln Center Revson’s fountain on my way to our seats, I remembered acutely the sharp contrast of where my life had been just a few years ago. Wasn’t it just a blink of an eye that took me from a budding life of high culture to losing my home and wondering if I’d be able to afford diapers and food? And all the moments since then have been my steady climb back out of that pit of despair and sorrow.
A human life is so fragile, so complex, full of inexplicable twists and turns. For me the ride has been more often dizzying than peaceful. But what gets any of us through these dark points is our indomitable spirit and a desire to move through and well beyond the challenges. Simply, a mother does what she has to in order to take care of her children.
Tonight in the subway, as the down on her luck woman peered into my eyes, the eyes that peered back were not just my own, but those of any mother would could so easily find herself in an untenable situation.
That evening I listened to the sweeping Beethoven-esque passages of the Brahms first symphony and was struck, again, by how much beauty there is in the world, and how much pain.
Being reminded of this allows me to retain not only my humanity but my gratitude and most importantly, my belief in miracles. There is always music to soothe the mayhem and my life is dedicated to finding, sharing and celebrating that. This is why I write, sing, do presentations and past life regressions for other women who wish to better understand their life’s journey and karmic balances. And most importantly, each and every night, I count my blessings as I kiss my children good night.
Somewhere in a dank Manhattan subway tunnel I suspect that dark-haired mother is doing the same.
BIO: By day Shira Adler is a cantor, spiritual vocalist, certified pastlife regressionist, voice-over artist, producer, performer, writer/blogger and mompreneur and by night… well, she is actually the same person at night though she does admit to wearing fuzzy socks when no one can see her and hiding a secret stash of Mallomars somewhere near her writing desk for those late night pick-me-ups. In, around, and between her various work activities, she is raising two beyond-the-spectrum children as a single mom (though lovingly gives a shout out to her best friend, editor and soulmate whom she considers the bees knees). Is it any wonder her website’s tag line is One Voice Many Paths? Seriously, look up the definition of a multi-tasking Mama and you will find her picture there. But when it comes to living a life of connection, faith and consciousness Shira is the gal to call — or if you’re fresh out of Mallomars — she’s always happy to give you one. For more information visit: ShiraAdler.com, read her blog at Diva-Mama.com; Social: Twitter (1DivaMama), Facebook (DivaMama1), Tumblr (not really sure, but the name is cute) and LinkedIn (because doesn’t everyone?).
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Photo credit Girls Eyeball by Mikaela Dunn