MSK Lobby, NYC
Sitting in the air-conditioned lobby of New York’s Sloan Kettering, I wait for my husband who is having radiation therapy. If I close my eyes, the air rushing in the colossal vents sounds like the ocean’s white noise. Audubon’s bird paintings hang along the corridor to the cafeteria and I am both calmed by recognizing some of my beloved birds and chilled as the hawks are portrayed ravaging a smaller bird’s nest, their talons in the forefront. Carnage is frightening and universal. People parade past me quickly on breaks to eat or grab coffee—it is all very impersonal, this business of keeping people alive, alleviating suffering. Many answer the patters on their phones and I overhear bits of conversation addressing loved ones, or settling business. I think to myself, despite the fact that we are all masked, the world goes on, operating, negotiating, laughing and planning. We are all eyes looking out from deep within. Some of us run down the escalator while others amble bemused in unseen conversation. I am awash on this shore that thrusts and heaves with the building’s tide, waiting. Outside the windows, smoke curls and blows southward from a source I cannot see on York Avenue. The sun blazes forth while the blue scrubbed minions wrestle with the houses of flesh brightly and dutifully behind doors in many rooms and on many floors. I think there is something of love in this business.
A small downy woodpecker has discovered my hummingbird feeder suspended from our backyard dogwood tree. He surely appears to be drinking the sugar water, and even more, seems addicted to it. He chits at me if my proximate activity disturbs him from his drinking just as an alcoholic becomes upset when separated from his bottle. In my zeal to protect the hummingbirds, I have even tried spraying him with a water mister. He flies up into the dogwood, then away, but quickly returns once I am safely inside the house. After a few futile attempts, I give up. Let him enjoy his addiction to something so sweet. What makes me so determined to thwart his pleasure anyhow? Is it that I count little sweetness in my own life of late? Even the hummingbirds themselves seem not to be bothered by him. What right have I to separate him from his sweetness? What would I know of such off-bounds sweetness and how we return to it over and over—even when the risk of discovery, of trespass, of obliteration, threatens? Don’t we all crave, demand such sweetness, even when we don’t deserve it? Who would not cover up with the little white lie, delude oneself with promising to mend one’s ways, vow to give it up, later? Oh, what have we not done in the name of that sweet thing we cannot get enough of!