A few evenings ago, Dante and I were in Manhattan’s East Village to share a pizza with a good friend, and after our meal the dog and I took a stroll down Avenue D.
Now, once upon a time that might not have been a wise choice since that end of Alphabet City was regarded as especially dangerous. My friend, a native New Yorker, shared with me a saying he learned as a youngster:
If you go to Avenue A, you’re adventurous.
If you go to Avenue B, you’re bold.
If you go to Avenue C, you’re courageous.
But if you go to Avenue D, you’re dead.
These days the situation is not nearly so dramatic, though many people still avoid the area altogether. It’s true Avenue D can be sketchy, particularly at night, and there’s likely a certain degree of local gang activity, but I’ve never felt threatened despite the odd looks I sometimes receive. Dante and I will continue to visit Avenue D whenever occasion arises for a simple reason: it is a holy place, consecrated by the hope and kindness that endure in the midst of poverty, violence, marginalization, and suffering.
Only in the last year or so have I come to appreciate that fact, thanks to a number of ordinary events that touched me in a meaningful way: the reading of a meditation on impermanence by the Japanese spiritual teacher Dogen; the particular beauty of the moon and stars in the night sky on several occasions; the unexpected passing by of an asteroid on the birthday of my late grandmother; the grace to perceive simple things, like clouds and trees and birds, with fresh sight. I have shared these things with Dante, who has in turn imparted his own wisdom during our walking meditations down Avenue D, and at Highbridge Park in Washington Heights, and along the High Bridge into the Bronx.
The night sky, a compassionate tree, a loved one’s birthday, the friendship of a dog – these simple things contain all the wisdom one could ever need.
February 4, 2016