It’s really been a long time since I observed Easter in any meaningful way — or in any way at all. Tradition lived on this year, with an afternoon drive to Brooklyn and a late dinner, alone in my near-empty apartment, of Indian takeout and a couple Heinekens.
Long gone are Easter Sundays when I was up with the sunrise and deep into a basket of chocolate before church. Still, the holiday marked spring and rebirth, another opportunity, like New Year’s Day, to finally get it right — to renew, to reaffirm, to rededicate oneself to seizing the moment, to cherishing each second of this precious life.
Not this year. The sky darkened as I motored west on the expressway. Suffolk turned to Nassau, Nassau to Queens, earth to concrete, open space to confinement.
My thoughts were far from renewal. Quite the opposite: The week had been marked by death. First, of an acquaintance in the professional-audio industry and then, just a few days later, of Phil Ramone, the “Pope of Pop,” a towering figure in the world of music, and an awfully good and decent man. It is the end of an era, and it will never be the same.
As Exit 17W neared, acres and acres of gravestones rose, first from Mount Zion, then New Calvary, and finally, as the road loops to merge with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, Calvary Cemetery. Each a veritable city unto itself, a miniature skyline of monuments to long-dead beings. As traffic straightens to parallel the East River, the sprawling, majestic, deafening silence of Manhattan is a bleak backdrop to so many tombstone shadows.
It had started to rain at Union Square, and I hurried to Irving Place and a seat at the long bar of Pete’s Tavern.
In my earliest memories, my family lived practically around the corner, on Gramercy Park South, and we dined there a lot. I was only 3 or 4, and the whole staff doted on me. I loved Pete’s.
It was good to see José in the back, under the gas-lit chandelier at the cashier cage. José was at Pete’s way back then, and he’s still there. All the others — Mr. Frawley, Dottie — had died years ago.
The bar was strangely quiet, and a bowl of soup and pint of beer were welcome after the long drive. Soon, a woman walked in, sat down next to me, and ordered a glass of wine. We struck up a conversation.
She is a writer. “I’m a writer!” I say, pretending to be a writer.
She has spent a lot of time in India. “I’ve spent a lot of time in India!” I exclaim. That one is true.
She is a prolific author, a filmmaker, and the offspring of an internationally recognized figure in . . . well, I promised not to tell. More relevant: Her explorations of ancient and Eastern spiritual traditions greatly surpass my own, yet I am aware enough, I hope, to recognize and listen to one more awakened.
In the course of an hours-long, sometimes contentious conversation spanning Gramercy Park, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, and New Delhi, the Hamptons and the Himalayas, the Beatles and the Buddha, and the wretched and the sublime of the Indian subcontinent, a joyless holiday became, instead, a gentle awakening. I like to think of it as a meeting of like minds, but that’s inaccurate — one troubled, clouded, faithless, another tranquil, clear, knowing. One came away with a spark of renewal, though.
Rebirth, renewal, resurrection. What I needed was a reminder.
Christopher Walsh is a reporter at The Star. “I Am the Resurrection” is the title of a song by the Stone Roses.