>> You want to know what serendipity is? Serendipity is walking randomly into a bookstore in Brooklyn and finding playwright and feminist Eve Ensler’s memoir In the Body of the World, her gut-wrenching book about her own cancer and the cancer of violence against women in the world, a week after you’d read an excerpt from it and had known at once that it would be the book that would change your life.
Serendipity is that it’s not finding just any copy of the book, but an author signed copy. Serendipity is that Ensler had officially released your own book Spirited Souls: Winning Women Of Mumbai at the NCPA many years ago. Serendipity is that you had happened to attend the premier of her play The Good Body in San Francisco. Serendipity is finding two other books right there that addresses the issues of physicality, sexuality, and inhabiting one’s body, that you have been thinking about a lot recently: Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and philosopher Alain de Botton’s How To Think More About Sex.
Serendipity is thinking about these books early the next morning as you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in an attempt to reclaim your body.
A heart in New York
>> So I’m walking on the bridge. The bridge completed by a woman. The bridge that connects two worlds. The bridge on which people run to claim their body’s strength and beauty. The bridge that connects where I’m living to where I’m going. And I’m thinking about bodies, health, writing, running, men, women and sexuality.
My iPod is playing It’s a Beautiful Day now as I watch cyclists, ballerinas,, beauty queens, lovers perform their parts on the bridge. Will I finally take up running? Or writing seriously? Was that Murakami who whizzed past me now? And then as I reach the end of the bridge into Manhattan and the sun is up, I recall a conversation I had with my son the day before about his friend’s aunt. “She’s recovering from cancer in Manhattan, mom. And guess where’s she’s staying while she’s in New York? Right next to Art Garfunkel!” he had said. “Isn’t he the guy who sang Bridge over Troubled Water? “Yes, and also A heart in New York,” I’d replied. What’s that we were saying about serendipity?
The Brooklyn bridge
>> A word about the Brooklyn Bridge. This is not just any old bridge. It is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States connecting Manhattan to one of its most important boroughs Brooklyn by spanning the East River. It is a bridge whose legacy has been as much of a tragedy and defeat as it has been of the triumph of the human spirit. Its designer, the German immigrant John Augustus Roebling was compelled to undergo an amputation of his toes when his foot was crushed while overseeing construction after which he’d developed a tetanus infection, which led to his early death.
His 32-year-old son, Washington, who took over the project had also suffered a paralysing injury as a result of decompression sickness shortly after the beginning of construction, a condition that afflicted many of the workers working on the project. When Washington’s condition left him unable to complete the bridge, his wife Emily Warren Roebling stepped in. And it was she, who studying higher mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, the strength of materials, bridge specifications, and the intricacies of cable construction and helped oversee the completion of that historic metaphor of the modern world. A woman had been the critical link in the bridge I’m walking on, is what I’m thinking as I walk on it more than a century later. A woman who’d been the bridge over troubled waters.
>> We live in a world of hyper, inter- connectivity, happen chance, serendipity and synchronicity. What one person calls coincidence another knows as life’s winks and nudges. The completion of the bridge in 1883 was not the end of its troubles: six days after its opening, a rumour that it was going to collapse caused a stampede, which resulted in at least 12 people being crushed and killed.
Then on May 17, 1884, legendary circus impresario PT Barnum helped to douse doubts about the bridge’s stability — when he led a parade of 21 elephants over it. So, is it any coincidence that while I walk across the bridge, my iPod chooses to play The Ganpati Parade by the Indica Project?
Running and Writing
>> ‘If some people have an interest in long distance running, just leave them be and they’ll start running on their own. If they’re not interested in it, no amount of persuasion will make any difference,’ says Haruki Murakami who runs six miles a day, six days a week and has been doing so for a quarter of a century now. Running and writing.
Somehow there is a compelling connection between them in my mind. I, who have been waiting on timorously on the edge of both activities knowing that they are the only ones that will help me inhabit my body and fulfill who I am in the way that Ensler speaks about in her book. ‘I think what the book is really about is how we can be forced to leave our bodies at a young age, how exiled we are from our bodies, due to whatever the circumstances are. In my case, it was enormous abuse and violation. But I think many ‘leave home.’ For me, so much of my life has been this attempt to find my way back into my body. I tried various forms, from promiscuity, to eating disorders, to performance art. And I think it wasn’t until I got cancer, where I was suddenly being pricked and ported and chemoed and operated on, that I suddenly just became body. I was just a body. And it was in that; in that finally landing in myself that I really discovered the world in my body. That world where we are connected,” she said in an interview in the Huffington Post recently.