My official reason for being in Bryant Park was to visit a friend. She worked as a Marketing Manager and she had arranged for a mariachi band to perform for Midtown New Yorkers as they left their offices for the night. While the band played, she’d have her staff hand out tortilla chips. It was all very guerrilla.
In reality, my purpose for being there was because I didn’t have anything else to do. I’d finished working at Yankee Stadium around 4pm. I had nothing else to do.
Typically after day games, I’d go to any number of parks in New York. I’d listen to jazz musicians in Washington Square Park. Watch company softball games in Central Park. Or get a tan in Madison Square Park. I wasn’t doing anything really. Obviously, no one questions why anyone sits would aimlessly in a park in New York City. They are beautiful and New York is beautiful. So it wasn’t a big deal. But I knew that I was there because I had nowhere else to go. So if I could be at Bryant Park with some sort of actual purpose, I took it.
I arrived early. As was my custom, I took a seat on one of the flimsy green chairs. I didn’t carry books with me because books added weight and I didn’t have extra weight to spare, considering I needed room for clothes and toothpaste. I never listened to music because I didn’t want to waste my iPod’s battery, considering how I didn’t know when I could charge it next. So I sat, watching some play complementary ping pong. I was doing nothing.
I was then approached by two Asians. One man and one woman. She spoke to me. I’m assuming she saw my shirt and its big Yankees logo because she asked me if I was a Yankees fan. I explained that I worked there and that I did like the Yankees. Sort of.
Her English was not particularly good and I mostly filled in the gaps of the conversation. I talked about my love for the Japanese baseball star Ichiro, who was recently acquired by the Yankees late that summer. She smiled and looked interested. She, like most Asians actually from Asia, wasn’t terribly attractive but was nice to look at. If that makes sense.
Anyway, she lingered just enough to convince me that she wanted to discus something other than baseball. She then explained that she had come from Japan to promote something called Jo Rei. She told me that it wasn’t, per se, a religion. But was a science for the mind.
As I came to discover after researching it later, Jo Rei is “an ancient Japanese practice that transmits healing energy from a channeler from channeler to recipient”. She intended to demonstrate this transmitting on me.
She asked me to put my hands on my knees, palms up. I was to close my eyes and she’d keep her hand above my face. She told me to make a wish. And she would then begin.
I initially would have objected such a request for three reasons. My father, a devout Christian minister, raised us to be wary of such practices. He argued that the Devil secretly loved religion and was actively working through people such as my two new Japanese friends to deceive and twist the minds of impressionable people like myself. Keep in mind, he also believed that the Devil was secretly working through Coldplay, Barack Obama and American Idol. And clearly, his religious energy toward me only took me as far as Battery Park at night alongside Vietnam vets and hippies with dirty dogs without bus fare. So I discarded his lessons on this particular afternoon. Still, psychologically speaking, even if the Devil or Demons or Energy did not exist, my imaginative mind simply had to be convinced that they did and, boom, my imagination would put together a reality describing things and places I did not want to explore. Plus, I didn’t have a lot practice making wishes. Usually, for birthdays, I’d wish for World Peace. If I did not know what to pray for, I prayed for World Peace. World Peace is an entirely wonderfully acceptable answer. I’m not one to be in the habit of wanting things. Definitely not enough to wish for them. But if I was being honest, if I had a wish, I’d wish for a job. I’d wish for a place to sleep that night. I’d wish for something to do.
And so if there was someone who most needed healing, if there’s someone who most needed a wish granted, if there’s someone who needed, that person would not have been me. But I sure wouldn’t have rejected it. So in the middle of midtown Manhattan surrounded by New York’s finest tourists, its most accomplished workers and a mariachi band, I consented and I closed my eyes.
With my eyes shut, my thoughts felt amplified in my head. I’m sure most people are like this. I accessed the situation. People were watching. They were judging me. Who rationally allows themselves to have a skinny Japanese woman put their hand over their face? After a lifetime of rejecting Yoga or Tarot Cards and Horoscopes or all manner of well-meaning pseudosciences, I was in Bryant Park doing that very thing.
She must have sensed my tension and told me to relax. I did as best as I could. there really was no risk. I wasn’t doing anything anyway.
But then another, more terrifying, thought hit me. My wallet and my phone and my iPod sat on the table in front of us. Could it be that she had elaborated this whole scheme to get me to relax and close my eyes while her partner, who’d stayed silent the entire time, ran off with my things? I panicked and debated my options.
If I opened my eyes, it’d signify that I didn’t trust her and she’s stop giving me the healing energy she promised. If I didn’t, I could be left with only warm, positive energy and no cash.
It’s funny. In a lot of ways, I’d come to live on benches because I was someone who kept my eyes shut. I didn’t have a plan for the future. I didn’t access chances or risks. I live expecting them to happen. And was royally screwed for it. And so even now, I wasn’t going to do any differently. Something good can happen, even though I don’t know how or from where. I’ve always thought this and I wasn’t going to change, for better or for worse, this day. So I kept my eyes closed.
I don’t know how much time passed. I settled into my chair and simply relaxed. I wasn’t channeling any energy. I wasn’t give any away. After all, It’s not like I didn’t have practice doing nothing.
When she told me to open my eyes, I tried to make eye contact with her first. Naturally, I looked straight down. Naturally, everything was there. She asked me if I felt something. Diplomatic Robert assumed my body. Obviously, I didn’t feel anything mystical but couldn’t say that outright. I didn’t want her to feel that she’d come to America for nothing.
But, in a way, I was happy to have met them. I was glad they cared enough about something to come to New York and tell me about it. I was glad to know I still was open to the possibilities of amazing things happening. I was glad that I was willing to risk giving up something to make that happen.
So I told her that I, indeed, did feel something. She looked at me skeptically but smiled. They went on their way. I stayed seated.