For months now, I’ve been dreaming and talking about the day I’m fully vaccinated.
“This is the plan,” I’ll tell anyone who will listen. “I’m going to go to the theater district and visit all my favorite places.”
Eyebrows rise. “Aren’t theaters closed?” my patient conversation partner asks.
“Yes,” I confirm.
“So…what are you going to do?”
“Just visit. I like to touch the buildings. Check up on them.”
If you’ve ever been with me on a walk down 45th Street, you’ve seen me do this, and it doesn’t make much more sense in person. For more than a decade now, I’ve been incapable of passing the Booth Theatre, site of my beloved Next to Normal, without touching it. The Booth has these enormous exit doors that pour from the house out onto 45th Street; in the Next to Normal days, they featured headshots and bios for that show’s six characters. (“On the young side of ageless. Assured. A rock star.”)
I’ll put my palms directly on these doors, flat, like I’m on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and I’m about to “heal” this building. Some kind of noise comes out of my throat, keening, like a wounded animal. I do all of this almost without thinking. It’s instinct.
I am no Nora Ephron. I don’t romanticize this city. There are many parts of it I don’t know well, and many parts that just bum me out. I have bruises all over this city – patches of sidewalk that, in passing, make me overwhelmingly sad for just a few minutes, sites of past trauma of various scales. I have experienced transporting joy in this city, but wherever you go, there you are, so I’ve brought my depression here too. I have been brought to my knees here too many times to count. I could make you a map of all the places in this city where I’ve completed the famed New Yorker rite of passage of crying in public.
A few months ago, during Holy Week, I watched the 1973 movie Godspell for the first time. Even though the story of Godspell comes straight from the Gospel of Matthew, the movie takes place in a contemporary New York City. We meet the various characters of the ensemble as they’re mired in quotidian struggles, trying to park or waitressing at a diner. With the obvious yet bizarre logic of a dream, John the Baptist appears to each one, popping in and out of sight like an apparition.
Then John blows a shofar. Each of our disciples drops what they’re doing and goes to meet him. Together, they are baptized in the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. From that moment until the end of the movie, the city is empty except for the disciples and Jesus. It’s a beatific, summery snow globe. The characters gambol through various landmarks, the city their private playground. What better place to spend a day with Christ incarnate?
Two days after I watched the movie, I watched it again. I feel the same way the disciples in Godspell do: my emotions about this city and about theater are inextricably caught up with the divine. I seek communion with all three.
I will make my pilgrimages to whatever sites I can find where the barrier between the mundane and the transcendent wears thin. I will touch every part of this world that sings to me.
I can do that now. I’m vaccinated.
Featured image: David Haskell as John the Baptist in Godspell: A Musical Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (1973), © Columbia Pictures