My walk in Brooklyn's Prospect Park on the last day of 2008, my "year in the park," was much like my first and many others in between. I cut through the opened fence and the "desire line" worn by feet up to the South Drive. I love that term, desire line: a shortcut, but with the acknowledgment that sometimes shortcuts satisfy a real need, or just make more sense.
I passed a lone dad and daughter feeding the grateful Gluttonous Waterfowl. Few others were about in the falling snow...
...but, as almost always, someone had staked out some peace and solitude in the rustic shelter.
I passed my beloved Blasted Tree, taking comfort as always that it could thrive, even with its core destroyed, because its lifeblood flowed just below the surface of the bark. Who says deep is better than superficial?
A year ago, I wondered aloud in cyberspace whether a year of daily visits to Prospect Park could change my life. To understand what this year has meant, let me tell you a signal moment—a danger sign, if you will—in my shared history with my mother in her old age. Once sharp-witted and tender-hearted, she had slipped into a deepening cycle of depression and disability. One summer evening, as she sulked on the couch before her array of pill bottles (none of which made her any happier), I suggested that we sit together on the porch and get some fresh air, which blows straight off the park to our house.
Why bother pushing the damn wheelchair out there? my mother responded. There's air in here.
Some folks spend a lifetime searching for the secret to happiness; in that moment, I intuited that I had stumbled on something perhaps even more valuable, the secret to perfect unhappiness. Why move? There's air in here. I carry half my genes from my mother's pool, in which swum a brace of robustly morose and self-obsessed Irish neurotics, several of them prone to dramatic suicide attempts. I do not mock her response as much as you might think; I've done time draped over the furniture, brain bloated with bad chemicals, barely motivated to breathe the air "in here," much less out there.
But the other half of my family tree, like the tree above, seemed to have gifts of astonishing resilience. My father, who never met a human being in whom he couldn't find some interest and goodness. His twin elder siblings, Don and Valeska, who lived to their mid-nineties defying a battery of physical ailments and frailties just to get out of the house, explore their worlds, and (especially in Don's case) take pictures, even when one eye no longer worked and his hands shook. (He produced some wonderfully impressionistic photos in this phase.) They would all have understood AYITP and come along for the walk, in any weather. They showed me another way forward, even into old age, beyond thin ice.
As I mulled all this in the softly blowing snow, music was borne out of the Wollman Rink on the wind. A young couple, poor-looking, with thin coats and no gloves, approached me and asked which way it was. Right over there! They headed off eagerly to skate away New Year's Eve. My thanks to everyone who has joined me on the journey, by reading, linking, commenting, or getting the calendar (still available). This little chronicle of my forays will indeed continue into 2009--I keep finding cool stuff and can't not share it, just as I promised, although for Google's sake I don't think I'll rename it "Another Year in the Park." Give my love to the fireworks at midnight tonight on Grand Army Plaza (I'll be away visiting friends, please send pictures!)...and let's go to the park again this weekend, okay?