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Posts from the ‘New York City’ Category

An Unexpected Journey (or Two) of My Own


“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

The long-awaited release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” has gotten me thinking about journeys, and my own, in particular. In my lifetime, I have only met one person whose journey has been, well, expected. As I stood there listening to him reel off the list of calamities he’d escaped (major illness, financial setback, divorce, rebellious children, the loss of a loved one) I thought to myself, “Just wait, buddy. Your time is coming.” And it is and probably has, by now.

Not that I wish ill of anyone. Far from it. If anything, I wish the whole lot of us were immune. But we’re not.

Photo: Paul Steele,

Ben Nevis    Photo: Paul Steele:

I was just 14 when my parents received the news that my 23 year-old brother, Lawrence, had fallen to his death while climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland. Lawrence was getting his Masters at the University of Edinburgh. He’d been accepted into Yale Divinity School. And he had recently proposed to the girl he loved. Now all those hopes and dreams lay shattered—along with my innocence—at the bottom of that mountain.

As I crawled into bed that night, I had an epiphany: Life is short, so go for it. Take risks. Dream big.

I’d always understood that life was a journey. Now I felt an urgency to begin my own.


Significant Journey #1: I’d just finished my freshman year of college when I declared my independence, moved away from my parents, and moved to the beach. It was a magical summer. I forged new friendships, broke a few hearts, and had mine broken, too. When the time came to return to school, I made the decision to stay (Remember? Take risks). Then, one by one, my friends packed up and left. And the magic left, too. I’d come to this place to find myself. What I found was this: When you take risks, you risk pain. Ouch.


Significant Journey #2: A year and a half later, I was living in a sparsely furnished apartment in New York’s Upper East Side. I’d left college once again and headed to the Big Apple to find fame and fortune (Take risks). I wanted to be a cover girl, and nothing less would do (Dream big). Bright-eyed and innocent, I pounded the pavement while The City pounded me. I signed with a top agency and was told “if I played my cards right” I could land a million dollar contract (Life is short, so go for it). But trying to navigate that treacherous climb to the top at the tender age of 20 was just too much (Dream big, risk failing big). So one afternoon I walked to Penn Station and slipped away quietly on a train heading south.

There have been many journeys since then, too numerous to mention. What were some of the most unexpected? Having twins. Becoming a teacher. Returning to modeling at age 44. Being diagnosed with breast cancer. Getting divorced. (I did finally finish college, by the way). I suppose the most exciting and unexpected, by far, has been my journey of faith.

Just before Bilbo and the dwarves head into Mirkwood, Gandalf leaves them with this, There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.

Despite the difficulties, I have learned to press on and expect the unexpected. Because I know what Bilbo and the dwarves soon discover: there is always an adventure waiting just around the bend.

Living in the Shadow

Now go back to your classroom and act like nothing has happened. 

Those are the words my headmaster spoke to me after telling me that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers and that no one really knew what was going on.

I remember thinking, I can’t do this. I can’t go back in there and pretend that the world has not changed forever.

I took a deep breath and walked dutifully into my classroom. I looked at my students sitting up front on the circle and lifted a quick prayer.

My own children, thank God, were there with me at school that day and I knew they were in capable hands.

The rest of the morning was a blur. I remember trying to pull up something, anything, on my computer. Finally I saw a photo of smoke billowing from Tower One. The image took my breath away.

The next thing I remember is taking my students out for recess. That day was not unlike today. The sky was cloudless and blue (we all remember that) and crisp and cool and tinged with a hint of autumn.

I looked up at the sky, anticipating something awful.

But we are in North Carolina. How could anything bad happen here?

Then: The world as we know it has just come to an end . . . who knows when and where “they” will strike again . . . no one is safe.

I carried on that day with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat. Unlike thousands of others, I did not have a loved one who worked at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or who had boarded United Flight 93 that morning en route to San Francisco.

What I was thinking of that morning was 1976. I was twenty years old and living in New York. The World Trade Center had opened just three years earlier and it was the city’s crowning glory. I was an aspiring model who spent time in the company of fellow models, photographers, and successful businessmen who were also my close friends. Very often we would all end up in my friend Martin’s limo headed downtown to the Twin Towers and Windows on the World.

Windows on the World (Photo: Ezra Stoller/Esto)

I remember the elevator whisking us up to the 107th Floor. The doors opened onto a world we called our own. Standing there taking in all of Manhattan in its glittering nighttime beauty made us believe we were invincible. We laughed, drank, ate, and sealed the bonds of our friendships there. It was magical. And it filled us with hope.

But on that clear September morning, that hope was shattered.

My daughters’ lives and the lives of the students in my classroom (and the rest of the world) were changed inextricably that day. We have all grown up in the shadow of those Mighty Towers. They are now a part of our collective history. They bind us. The Towers are gone, but the lessons learned from them live on.

Remembering the Twins. Forever in my heart.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. ~Psalm 91:1

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