Faith. My move to the Hudson Valley began with a leap of it. So much so, that almost four-and-a-half years later, I still don’t have a cogent answer to the very simple question, “Why? Why Kingston?” The honest and most accurate answer would be Faith, but I’ve learned over the years that faith, at least in the way I experience it, is met with a fair share of skepticism. Religious denominations? Yes. Church, prayer circles, Sunday gatherings, Holy Ghost, The Father, The Son and the unfailing and necessary belief that God intercedes and averts tragedy in miraculous, albeit sporadic ways? Absolutely. The blinding white light of televangelist Joel Osteen’s veneers promising wealth, happiness, love, redemption? Every Sunday on the regular. But what I mean by faith is the ability to listen to that incredibly powerful whisper within, the one that offers instruction and direction that sometimes flies in the face of Reason.
My Mama Carolyn (It's a cultural form of respect in Caribbean and African families to address an elder as Mama even if she is not related to you) talks about hearing it on 9-11, telling her to go right and run like hell when uniformed authorities urged her co-workers to wait and then move left—a directive that left almost no survivors. Heard it last week in the Bahamas, after dinner, when another mother and I turned down the offer to extend our night into the wee hours with dancing and blackjack, because something was telling us it was time to collect our kids from a sitter whose competency we initially had no reason to doubt. Suffice it to say, we arrived less than 15 minutes after an incident that left both our children unharmed but emotionally uneasy.
Sometimes The Voice isn’t even a voice. Sometimes it manifests as a spontaneous act, like calling the homegirl you haven’t spoken to in ages, only to have the sound of your voice prompt an onslaught of tears and hitherto undisclosed admissions of being dangerously close to that proverbial edge. It’s what the old Caribbean women on the isle of my birth knowingly refer to as “Spirit.”
This expression of faith meets an incredible amount of resistance in the secular world, even though most people experience it at some point or another. Some folks call it intuition. For others, it’s “a funny feeling.” But we live in a world that teaches us to systematically discount its legitimacy, surrendering it instead to other, more tangible conventional authorities. Tell people you are making a move based solely on faith—one like selling the increasingly valuable Brooklyn brownstone of your childhood dreams and buying a late-19th-century Victorian in a town you’ve visited only once, briefly, as in a few hours for a wedding, and where you know absolutely no one—and they are bound to start quoting stats, headlines, Scripture, stock quotes, police reports and all the other sensible things that fall under the umbrella of Reason. And they are likely to do it with the rapidity and urgency of speaking in tongues.
In the face of this onslaught, the once powerful assuredness of the voice gets diminished and dismissed. The voice becomes impulsiveness, faith becomes whimsy, and following spirit is sure to bring certain doom and failure. Crises in faith for me are prompted not by God’s failure to prevent human suffering, but by others’ well-intentioned reasoning. The latter never fails to inject a toxic dose of Doubt into my fundamental belief that God speaks to us consistently in familiar, intimate ways. Faith for me is listening.
So it was a calculated decision on my part, four years ago, not to tell anyone I was moving to the Hudson Valley until a few weeks before the moving van was scheduled to arrive. The responses were pretty much what I expected, reasonably polite versions of Girl, you have truly lost your mind. In all fairness, not all of their doubts were unreasonable, and most were prompted by confusion and concern. A move to the suburbs, let alone the country, was uncharacteristic, to say the least. I am about as diehard a New Yorker as they come—a city chick to the core—as evidenced in everything from my tendency to punctuate even polite conversation with four-letter words to the preternaturally quick gait of my Gucci stilettos. At 37, I’d never owned a car and the 10-year-old license in my wallet was solely for ID—save two occasions when I was forced to drive in Hollywood (work) and the Hamptons (food)—and by no means indicative of ability or desire. Others assumed I was still suffering from post-divorce trauma complicated by a failed business venture, professional writer burnout, the pressures of single parenting; not to mention the sobering reality of a post 9-11 New York. And yes, these were factors, but ultimately they were not reasons. There was simply a voice, and it was telling me gently, but with increasingly pressing urgency, that it was time to go.
And so these days when people ask me why I moved to Kingston, I answer in a kind of spiritual shorthand. It’s a sexy enough story: City chick sees turn-of-the-century Victorian on the Internet, packs up her worldly belongings, and moves to the country. She fell in love with a house. She was tired of the city. She needed to hear herself think. Starring in this version casts me as a bit impulsive and, arguably, reckless. It was the first and only house I looked at in Kingston, and I did little to no research—schools, crime, ethnic composition—before calling the realtor back in less than 48 hours and telling him I wanted it. Still, all of that is preferable to trying to explain how much I’ve come to trust and love that voice, and meeting with condescending cynicism. Unfortunately, for many it’s too hard and scary to believe that the essence of faith is the willingness to embark on a journey without necessarily having to know Why, and simply trust, wholeheartedly, that the reasons will be revealed in time.
In the case of the Hudson Valley, the why came later, revealing itself unrushed in myriad subtle ways. The most obvious is that while I did sell the home I’d imagined owning since I was a teenager living in the most poverty-stricken area of the South Bronx, I ended up owning a home more beautiful than any house I would have given myself permission to imagine, one that exceeded both my childhood and adult expectations. Between work, commuting and parenting, my nights in the city usually ended after midnight. In Kingston they end between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Most mornings I’m up with the birds, early enough to catch glimpses of the sun rising over the river, a sight that never fails to invoke gratitude. I don’t remember ever starting my days in the city with a thank you to the universe, simply for the privilege of being alive.
My work as an author, lecturer, writer and teacher requires a ridiculous amount of travel, but on the days that I am home my son and I lead very simple lives. And while a slice of heaven can still be described for me as Sunday brunch in the Meatpacking District followed by window wishing at Catherine Malandrino and Christian Louboutin, it does not rival the joy I get from attending every soccer practice and game, taking my son to swim class, and being able to provide a home-cooked meal almost every night. In a city full of my family and friends, functioning as a single working parent still required the assistance of a nanny. Here I have my neighbors the Muandas, who adopted us into their family and generously take care of my son, sometimes for days at a time.
The Hudson Valley, with its easy pacing, has allowed me to hear my thoughts with a clarity I never thought possible. I used to approach faith and prayer with a goal—ignoring the voice in an effort to make the right choice or do the right thing. Now I’m not even afraid of getting it “wrong,” because I know that the essence of faith is the willingness to take the journey with no guarantees, and the blessing is what we learn about ourselves in the process.
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