It was really special to have my sister and niece visit me in Albuquerque this past week. My niece, Mary, comes regularly and it’s always great. My sister, Robin, however, doesn’t travel much and has never been here in the thirty years I’ve lived in New Mexico. In fact, this may have been the biggest chunk of time we’ve ever spent in such close proximity.
Robin was 19 years old and living away at college when I was born. As I was growing up, we’d see each other on holidays and at other special occasions, but these were always short visits. When I’ve traveled back east to see the whole family, Robin and I would usually have a couple of days together, but always with our other siblings and parents and cousins around, so it’s mostly a group thing.
I’ve always felt close to my sister, simpatico in outlook and sharing a similar sense of humor. But we’ve never actually had much of an opportunity to be close. So having her here was a big deal for me — even more important and meaningful than I’d anticipated it would be.
A conversation over dinner one night kind of blew my mind. We were deciding not to include the Sandia Peak Tram in our activities because of Robin’s dislike/fear of heights. I remarked that I am really drawn to high places. I began to describe how, for as long as I can remember, I have loved the feeling of looking up at a high place from below — specifically, how standing close to the base of a skyscraper like the Empire State Building, gazing up at it, fills me with a vertiginous euphoria that I can’t quite explain.
Robin said, “That must come from my college graduation.” I didn’t follow. I had no idea that I’d been to her college graduation. She explained, “You were about two years old. Lynn (our brother) was watching you while Mom and Dad came to the ceremony, which took place about a block from the Empire State Building. My apartment was at the Martinique Hotel around the corner. I’m sure Lynn walked you around the block, and you must have had that same up-close view of the skyscraper from below.”
I’ve never understood my attraction to tall buildings — it’s primal and intense, and has always seemed like something out of a dream or perhaps from an important past life. It has felt intimate and soulful in a way that is hard to describe. I’ve always related to it like my own deeply personal psychological kink…
Now, though, 52 years later, it makes sense. It’s a real memory. It’s probably my very first memory, which is pretty cool. And rather than being an isolated peculiarity of my own consciousness, like I thought it was, it turns out to be something that involved my entire family. And involved them in a way that wasn’t even about me — it was Robin’s graduation — I was just being babysat.
For my entire life, I’ve thought of this as MY thing, but all along, it’s been OURS in a way I didn’t know.
My visceral attraction to tall buildings didn’t emerge out of thin air, but out of a shared experience, a shared reality. As I considered, I realized that this sharing can be as broad and inclusive as I want to think of it. It involves my family directly. It also involves those who constructed the Empire State Building. And those who had a vision for it. And all those who have yearned to scrape the sky. Also, that from which this yearning came — a divine urge, a collective inspiration…
Maybe this memory I’ve held for over half a century has always been about everything we have in common. A thing not only in my mind and heart, but in ours. Personal and individualized, yes, but also always part of a greater truth that we share and in which we are sharing.
I was reminded of this beautiful passage from 20th-century Kabbalist Abraham Issac Kook:
“There is one who sings the song of her soul, discovering in her soul everything — utter spiritual fulfillment.
There is one who sings the song of his people. Emerging from the private circle of his soul — not expansive enough, not yet tranquil — he strives for fierce heights, clinging to the entire community in tender love. Together with her, he sings her song, feels her anguish, delights in her hopes. He conceives profound insights into her past and her future, deftly probing the inwardness of her spirit with the wisdom of love.
Then there is one whose soul expands until it extends beyond the border of nation, singing the song of humanity. In the glory of the entire human race, in the glory of the human form, her spirit spreads, aspiring to the goal of humankind, envisioning its consummation. From this spring of life, she draws all her deepest reflections, her searching, striving, and vision.
Then there is one who expands even further until he unites with all of existence, with all creatures, with all worlds, singing a song with them all.
There is one who ascends with all these songs in unison — the song of the soul, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, the song of the cosmos — resounding together, being in harmony, circulating the sap of life, the sound of holy joy.”
Yowza, that sounds delicious. All the songs in unison — the personal and relational, the communal and universal — all of it together, everything we have in common.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, June 18, 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space. Happy Father’s Day. XO, Drew
©2023 Drew Groves