Monday, November 4, 2013

Free at last, free at last

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:21-24

Wretched indeed. 

My four days in New York City were framed by a book that Max handed me the very first night, a book of essays handed to him his very first day on the job as a public defender in the Bronx. This book was gathered together as a response to the question posed to public defenders time and time again, enough so it becomes “that question,” a clich√©, however sincere, offered up as pleasantry fodder at cocktail parties: How can you represent those people?

And the book is a compilation of answers from people who have paid the price, put in the long, non-billable hours seeking for redemptive humanity hidden in the lives of their clients, whom for the most part are guilty. We are all guilty. Just some of us were born into a life lacking social niceties and tenderness and resources and access and they land in the file folders of the public defenders.

And I cannot quite believe how much of New York City I crammed into the four days, two of which we spent squished up in filled to capacity with stand by only seats airplanes, drinking soda water with lime after soda water with lime. 

And I wandered the neighborhood of upper class Brooklyn Heights with adorable trick-or-treaters dressed up as dangling jellyfish or Sherlock Holmes with cheerful parents hauling them around in wagons and running strollers past equally cheerful jack-o-lanterns and stringy while cotton strands. 

And I fell asleep in a beautiful bed overlooking the sparkly lit-up Hudson River with the window cracked open for fresh almost-sea breezes and savored cup after cup of freshly ground organic and free trade coffee. 

And brunch with Uncle Jim and who of all people, my angel brother Scott, at “the grandiose Machiavelli (which) is like visiting a museum of Italian food — complete with long-winded exhibition catalogs. Reams of paper arrive with the menu, bearing tales of the muralist who decorated the walls, the ceramist who designed the plates, the coloratura soprano who even now is singing into your ear,” catty-corner from Jim’s apartment and pretty much where he eats breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, guaranteed a friendly smile in this rushing-quickly-past city. And better here than family-style meals in some sort of bleak group home with an endless soundtrack. 

And Jincheng and I made the great trek across the Brooklyn Bridge, through Wall Street, Chinatown, Little Italy and at last striding up Fifth Avenue into Niketown, five-stories of hype and energy and power where he outfitted himself for today’s high school basketball try-outs. Jincheng cannot really match my stride when I get going.

And  home again, home again, jiggity-jig, to roast chicken and potatoes and apple pie, all handcrafted by Andrea-home-from-work and dinner with Ali Rawaf. Ali ever-so-gracious and just a weary of the full bore nature of life in the city, but can I say how wonderful it was to see him in this beautiful, but barely wider than a hallway apartment with fourteen-foot ceilings and everything exactly in its place apartment? 

And an early morning walk with Andrea, along the brand new park with just-turning leaves of every single color that is bright against the blue blue sky draped by the Bridge on one side and the Statue on the other. After dropping ol’ Jingcheng off with directions to the hop-on, hop-off bus at Times Square, but he just went to the candy store. 

The beat goes on. Julius Caesar in the Dumbo set in a women’s prison which quite honestly and without a doubt the most amazing artistic anything I have ever witnessed. Maybe even including David in Florence. Guacamole and margaritas with Janice and Michael, in town for the great race. Janice from Mexico, who joined in with the dust and peacocks and dirty-faced urchins for a never-to-be-forgotten year, here once again, within an arm’s embrace. Dinner with Steve and Max and Andrea at a little just-off-the-path Argentina place. Which sort of seamlessly rolled into bagels and lox brunch with the extended family, one of whom could speak Chinese with Jincheng, overlooking the Hudson, except for another Uncle Jim moment at Starbucks and a kiss good-bye. And reading through the entirety of the Sunday edition of the New York Times with a roomful of happy silent family and then one last race down Broadway to catch the M60 for La Guardia. After a loooooong delay because of the NYC marathon we somehow managed to slide into our seats just after last call before they shut the door.


And the point of all this, besides writing it down before it floats out of my mind, is that I saw thousands and thousands of faces in just a few short days. Nameless to me. Neither here nor there. A quick glimpse and gone. 

Yet I basked each step of the way in the peaceful declaration of He is Mine. She is Mine. And the oft-repeated line of the essays, well there were several...Am I better than my worst moment? being one of them. But another is the truth, There but for the grace of God go I.

And as I bumped into loved ones all over these islands, I was reminded of our made-in-the-image-of-Godness.  And knowingness. As in the number of hairs on my head knowingness. Each and every soul. Even the ones with stories recorded in this book of abject brokenness.  We are all broken. We are all wretched.

And who am I to accuse? God himself declares us not guilty! Who, then, will condemn them? Not Christ Jesus, who died for us while we were yet sinners? 

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Because of Him we have the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

When we let this freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Thank God Almighty.