Monday, September 19, 2011

A prayer for Stella

One of my favorite runs in the world – on par with running on tiny bridges over the Nile or on paths deep in the Vermont woods – is Central Park. And the best time to run it is fall.

It’s especially true on a morning like this: 54 degrees at 7 a.m., clear blue sky, a hint of a breeze, sun lighting up the Dakota building like a front-lit pearl.

I’m staying in a hotel on Park Avenue, around 38th Street, which is a little far to do my regular Central Park loop, which takes me around the reservoir, up to 96th Street area or so, and then back again. But I did it this morning, even with a late-ish 7 a.m. start. It required more dodging than normal, especially on the return, but the run was not too cold, not too warm, just right. And with the sun lighting up the NYC midtown skyscrapers, I felt I could have stopped for 10 minutes and just stared.

But I kept going – around the reservoir, around a loop in the park, out of the park down 5th Avenue, until I came to the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I decided I should poke my head in. It’s a magnificent gothic structure and very quiet at 8 a.m. on a Monday. I wandered down one side of the church and came to an area for Polish saints, which had rows of lit and unlit candles in front of beautiful old drawings of the saints.

I am a lapsed Catholic, but I do remember the importance of lighting a candle and saying a prayer for a loved one, or a departed loved one. I immediately thought of my wonderful neighbor, Stella Donovan, who had a bad fall several months ago, breaking her upper fibula, near her hip. She has only been home for short periods since and it’s unclear whether she will move back into her home full-time.

So I said a prayer for Stella, and I took one of those long wooden sticks (skinnier than a chop stick) to light a candle for her. It was easy to light the stick, but I dipped it into each candle holder without any luck. It turned out that there was either no more wax in the holders or that the wick was buried in the wax. I didn’t really want to dig into any of the candles, so I stood on my tippy-toes, and did some candle hunting.

In the meantime, a priest started saying Mass. I was on my second fire stick. I was a little concerned I would have one of those Inspector Clouseau moments when I would reach, reach, reach, and tip over the whole box of candles, setting curtains ablaze, or something like that. Luckily, I found one holder with a teeny wick and a teeny pool of wax, and I got a little fire going. I said another short prayer for Stella and then I was off, stiff-legged down 5th Avenue, happy to have an unexpected moment to think about someone I loved.