Manhattan henge - a parable of hope
by Laura Cadieu, writer from Los Angeles, CA
Helen Keller wrote, “If you keep your face to the sun, you cannot see your shadow”.
Twice a year the sun sets between the high-rises in chaotic, frenetic, and mesmerizing New York City. It is a phenomenon called Manhattanhenge. Between78th and 79th Streets due West, the sun appears as a bright orange fireball lighting up the hot sultry summer sky. It tucks its way between the high rises and descends slowly like a large scoop of orange sherbet fading, fading, fading… until it melts away.
Many New Yorkers know of this phenomenon, but most don’t realize the magical effect it has on those lucky enough to witness its’ glory. It has been said the sun has a secret hidden power unlike any other and on this fateful night, people’s inhibitions disappear. They feel empowered to act out of their comfort zone. Buttoned down Wall Street Stockbrokers have been known to cross-dress with transsexuals on 14th Street, and wealthy prep-school girls from the Upper East Side, forbidden to break curfew, head down to the East Village after dark, hoping they won’t get caught by their parents when they walk in the door at 5 am.
But one year the mayor of New York City formed The Manhattanhenge Committee. It was a time rewind experiment. For six months they scrutinized who would be “in the know” about this plan. Its’ committee culled through lists upon lists and named three individuals who had no mutual ties to one another. Each of them was given 100 tickets to hand out to those who they felt would benefit from this miraculous time rewind “gift”.
With over 8 million people residing in the five Burroughs of New York City, only three hundred people were handed tickets and could choose to participate or not participate in this experiment. Not only did it give a true cross-section of The City but more importantly, it was intended to help restore hope to those who wished they could change their life, perhaps do it all over again, but just a little bit better.
It all depended on who you know, but doesn’t it always? The three-people chosen were Mrs. Ethel Goldstein, age 89 residing at Scotto Nursing Home in Staten Island, Daniel McGregor, a C.P.A., 46 years old and Penelope Piper, a six-year-old from P.S.150. On July 1st they were each sent an invitation to report to the NYC Mayor’s office at 10:00 am. They were told of the Manhattanhenge Project, handed their 100 tickets, then told to meet again at 8:00 pm on July 21st at 4500 78th St. New York, New York 10012. With less than three weeks to fulfill their mission and to hand out all their tickets, Ethel, Daniel, and Penelope went their separate ways with puzzled looks on their faces.
Ethel Goldstein went back to the Scotto Senior Residences. During dinner, Ethel spoke to her best friend Merrill. Having both lost their husbands over twenty years ago, they had built a strong bond. She mentioned she had tickets to hand out to people about an opportunity to rewind time. They discussed the chance to go back in time with no guarantees they would be able to see Seymour and Ernest again.
Ethel was surrounded by many people in the home, mostly women as they commonly outlive their male counterparts. She heard excuse after excuse. It is not easy to convince octogenarians that this rewind time “gift” was a blessing. Instead, they all thought it was utter nonsense.
“I have all these wrinkles from acquiring wisdom, who wants to go back and live it all over again?” “I never go into the City at 8:30 pm, that is way past my bedtime”. “This sounds like stupid folklore to me Ethel”.
Rather than taking a chance and going on a journey where they could right their wrongs and have another stab at success, or even return to a more youthful existence, the unfamiliar just felt too implausible. Ethel tried to get someone to accept the golden tickets but after a few days she gave up. She said, “I am not getting paid to run this Mayoral test and I never asked to be a part of this whole thing anyway”. So, she quit.
Daniel spent most of his life within the confines of his 33rd-floor corner office on 48th and 5th Avenue. He was so busy with his job and found this to be an imposition, a bother, and a distraction to his career. Daniel told his best friend, Johnathon, about this golden ticket idea at Malvern’s Tavern, their favorite watering hole, where they met every Thursday after work. As the bartender poured them a shot of Whisky, and then another and another, they couldn’t stop laughing. Daniel explained that he didn’t understand why he was chosen. They were getting drunk and creating a scene. Here it would have been so easy for him to hand tickets. There must have been at least 50 people in the bar, but since he was so cynical and chose to make fun of this whole “henge” thing, he wasn’t selling it! Then, astonishingly he ripped up all the tickets into shreds and flung them in the air. All the magic of those tickets lost forever.
But the youthful Penelope Piper was so excited to go to school the next day. She even arrived a little early, so she could approach her teachers, the Principal, and as many parents dropping off their children as she could find. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and she was having fun! She was very convincing for a six-year-old. Her belief that it could be done, combined with her innocence and sheer chutzpah couldn’t be denied. After all, she had youth and optimism on her side. But, by the third day, she was starting to lose her momentum even though she did manage to pass out more than seventy tickets. A lot better than Ethel and Daniel, but by weeks’ end she just wanted to play with her friends after school instead of recruiting people and working at handing out the “golden tickets”. It had all appeared to be more like a chore which was a feeling she didn’t like very much.
One day after school Penelope was consuming a banana split at Serendipity with her mom. Mrs. Piper watched her relish every little bite, while she licked her lips. She didn’t have to worry about pesky little things called calories or cholesterol. Just then, an elderly couple approached the table and introduced themselves as Gertrude and Theodore. At the same time Penelope spilled chocolate sauce all down the front of her new pink gingham dress.
“We don’t mean to bother you, but we would like two golden tickets please.” She didn’t remember meeting this couple but then again everyone over the age of thirty seemed old to her, so she reached into her Hello Kitty backpack and said here you are! She forgot that on that first day of recruiting she had met them as they dropped their grandson off at school.
Gertie and Theo had discussed the proposition of rewinding time and decided to take her up on her offer. They had met during WWII and never stopped loving each other, but they had lost touch when Theo was fighting “over there”. As luck would have it, Gertie kept all the letters Theo had written her. She was surprisingly good on the internet and scoured several sights to find they had both lost their spouses over ten years ago and they lived on opposite sides of Central Park. When they met up again, they still felt the same way about each other, but they had aged. They were thrilled to give this golden ticket experiment a chance.
So, on July 21st just past 8:00 pm, a small crowd gathered including The Mayor, his entire committee, Penelope, Mr. and Mrs. Piper, and Ethel Goldstein. They stood gazing at the looming skyscrapers between 78th and 79th Streets. Daniel McGregor was nowhere in sight for he was at some bar having completely forgotten he was even selected to be part of this experiment in the first place. The only reason Ethel showed up was on a dare. She had lost at bingo, and the Scotto Home Residents wanted her to attend to prove how silly “golden tickets” are in these times.
Not one golden ticket recipient out of three hundred had shown up yet, extremely poor odds if you’re playing craps in Vegas or betting on The Belmont. It simply shows how few people want to take chances or try things that have not been proven through facts or logic. But, at 8:30 pm, Penelope tugged at her Mom’s skirt.
“Mama, look here comes Ms. Gertrude and Mr. Theodore.” They ambled down the sidewalk and stood as they watched the Manhattanhenge work its’ magic.
Theo started to stand up straight instead of being hunched over with the hump he had carried for twenty plus years. Mrs. Piper watched as Gertie’s hair miraculously went from grey to a beautiful rich auburn while the little creases around her eyes started to become smooth and the blush in her cheeks returned. They were in their late forties again. They were not as young as they were when they had fallen in love all those years ago, but now they saw each other with a new-found youth and hope as they held on to one another’s hands and looked into their eyes. They smiled at each other and the NYC Mayor tipped his hat as he watched Gertie and Theo grow young together. They were no longer in the shadows; they felt more alive than they had felt in years.
On one side of the street, we can stand and be cynical, skeptical, and full of doubt. On the other side, we can stand with hope, wonderment, and awe. These are choices we make every day. This Manhattanhenge story is fictional, but it shows how we have free will and can choose to re-invent ourselves with hope and fervor with the dawning of each new day.
Ask yourself, “On what side of the street will I stand”?