Did you ever write a letter to yourself, one that you meant to revisit at a later time? I think the same idea is behind marking the interior frame of doors with your children's heights. If you look back at the series of scratches you can see how much your children have grown. I wrote the entry that follows exactly two years ago and boy does it stir up feelings to re-read it. Anyway, here it is again. Another life marker. One more scratch on the doorway.
Saint Mary Magdalene from the Master of Palazzo Venezia Altarpiece Panel, artist unknown. 1350. National Gallery, London.
I met with a friend this week, someone who moved from Atlanta to New York around the same time I did. We had coffee and played catch up with our lives. One of the interesting things we talked about was this idea -- on the one hand, social media helps us stay in touch and on the other hand, it does sort of photoshop our real offline experience of living. So, as I write this tribute to living in Manhattan for the better part of 15 years, I also realize that I have not captured all that has been so truly magical and inspiring and beautiful about my time here nor have I shared what has been heart-breaking and painful and tragic about my time here. Or, in other words, there's more to each of our stories than meets the eye.
No matter what happens next, I think the biggest gift that I will take away with me is the writing life. Manhattan is where I came into my own as a writer. Whether I will ever achieve professional success as the world measures it or whether my success will be the simple writerly ways that I carry forward, I am most grateful for all the opportunities and experiences here that centered around a writing life. Mom and Dad always encouraged me to write (Mom specifically suggested children's books with illustrations) but, being rather contrary I suppose, I decided that I wouldn't. It took Manhattan and a life too large to understand any other way that made me into a writer. And it turned out that my dream became remarkably similar to my parents' dreams for me too.
I close with this picture of Mary Magdalene which I was lucky enough to see up close and personal in the vaults of the National Gallery of London. They had removed it from the exhibition hall and when I asked about it, the docent who heard my story, suggested a way that I could ask permission (and just see what happens). It was the best present imaginable when they opened their doors to me.
This painting was once part of a large multi-paneled altarpiece. The National Gallery has both the Mary Magdalene and Saint Peter panels. When the artist (aka Master of the Palazzo Venezia Madonna) was creating this altarpiece Italy and Venice were gripped by the plague. This artist, probably assisted by apprentices, spoke through all that death and suffering by creating this. Now that's all kinds of wonderful.
For those who aren't familiar with the Mary Magdalene story, she was the first to receive the news of the resurrection or the "disciple to the disciples", as she is sometimes known. I love thinking about the story of hope and survival that this artist is telling from a point in time where the world is collapsing under the weight of the plague. Life and Death side by side. It's all there in the painting. And it's all there in the un-photoshopped wonder of our lives.