Today, on my way to work, I was sitting on the Downtown 1-train staring at my shoes and noticed that I had a small scuff on the tip of my left shoe. It held my attention for an unusually long time—especially for such a tiny scuff—because I realized I have that same tiny abrasion on each of my left shoes. Every one. I thought to myself, “When did that happen? How did that happen?”
My day went on like a blur because that’s how New York City really is, especially on a Monday: Moving too fast for the parts of me that are still wanting to go back to those lazy Sunday strolls through Central Park with Etta, missing the quiet. Tuesdays are not any easier. I put in a half-day before I run out the door, trying to squeeze in a workout at my overpriced gym before flying down the subway—back on that Downtown 1—to my piano lesson in Chelsea before I run back to Columbia for my doctoral seminar, flying uptown on (you guessed it) that 1-train.
But that piano lesson is a holy time. I’m not required to take lessons, but it’s something I wanted for myself. Amongst other things, I’m working on Träumerei (translates to Dreaming) by Schumann. It’s a favorite of mine—you’ve heard it as offering music over the pandemic—and every lesson, while I stumble through, all I can hear is Shan playing it from that beautiful Steinway, making it sing in a way that keeps me just on this side of atheism. That memory of her, and that profound stillness in the Sanctuary—our Sanctuary— after she finished the postlude lives in my mind rent-free. (If only New York was rent-free!)
There is so much of my life now that feels like I’m dreaming. I’ve spent a night dancing with my friends on a boat, circling Manhattan, and sailing past the Statue of Liberty. I was invited to Carnegie Hall before it opened its doors to the wider public and heard the first music in that hall since March 2020. I’ve biked through Times Square at 4 AM, when there was not a soul in sight. I am curating concerts, conducting a children’s choir, and teaching courses at Juilliard. I walk along the Hudson at sunset every chance I get. My apartment is gorgeous. And then I remember how hard it was: How hard it was to leave home, my school, and especially you, dearest Emerson; how hard it was over the summer, counting down the Sundays; how hard it was to close my laptop after my last service… no Shan at the piano. I remember that profound stillness, too. I thought to myself, “When did that happen? How did that happen?”
But I know exactly when it happened. It happened that day I decided that I wanted this wild, precious life. It’s something that I wanted, chose for myself. Instead of putting one foot in front of the other, I took a leap of faith. I said, “Yes,” to life.
And I know how it happened.
It happened slowly and in small ways. It happened when Katy would leave me treats, or we’d snicker at an inside joke during a staff meeting, or she’d check in on me knowing that I was running (on fumes) from job to job. It happened when—as a section leader—I feverishly took notes about loving and being loved during Becky’s sermon. It happened when Ale said, “It’s okay,” after I forgot to respond to an email (again!), always in her sweet cadence that reminds me of my family in the Rio Grande Valley. It happened when Bill Tackett reminded me not to take life so seriously. It happened when I wept through Mark’s memorial missing his jokes, and when I could make Karen laugh in a way that I’d like to think only I can (just after she’d give me a look only she can give). And it happened when Michelle told me I was a unicorn.
But more than anything, it happened with the choir, every Wednesday and every Sunday for over a decade. Those were the holiest days of my life. Sacred. They shaped me in ways I will never be able to fully express. They enveloped me in a love that I didn’t know I needed. They put me back together. They believed in me when I couldn’t and didn’t stop until I did. Without them, I would have never known how tall I can stand, how deeply I can love, or how hard I could laugh.
This letter is way overdue, dearest Emerson, and for that, I deeply apologize. Michelle asked me in May to write this, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m not good at “Goodbye.” But it was so much easier when I realized that this was the best chance I’d have to say, “Thank you.” So much of what I am most grateful for in my life in this big city was made possible by our time together, Emerson. There are so many times when I want to pinch myself to make sure this isn’t all a dream. But then I remember you always taught me to dream. I grew into my own, grew my wings in that Sanctuary—our Sanctuary—and it’s not long before we see each other soon. Your roots, our roots, hold me close.
With all my love,
Oh, Adrian! Such a beautiful, lovely letter. We are the ones to say thank you! You are and will always be our lovely choir director person <3
Such a beautiful letter about the joys and sadness of moving forward in our lives. Never easy. Not easy for you. Or for us Emersonians. Be well. Be happy and enjoy the wonder-filled journey that is your life right now.
It took me a day’s delay to read this because I knew it would make me choke up. I was right. Thank you for your beautiful letter — but most if all for the thousand beautiful, sacred, soul-stirring moments you gave us over the years. Don’t ever doubt the value of what you shared with us.
All the best.
Once you are a part of the Emerson family, you always belong. No matter the time or space between. Adrian, you always have a space and a place at Emerson–part of the fabric of the beloved community with whom you shared the miraculous gift of your music and your caring and your sharing. We are eternally bound together in appreciation and in love. So glad for you and so glad for the time you spent with us.
Than you Jill for your lovely words! I have shared your message with Adrian.
Thank you Kris! Your comment has been shared with Adrian.
Thank you Ken! Your message has been shared with Adrian.
Thank you Judy! I have forwarded your message to Adrian.
Our (my) Beloved Adrian, All everyone has said – and more. You gave and gave and gave and always with a smile. It’s overdue for you to receive joy and excitement – and it sounds like a bit of energy too ;) Sounds like you are enjoying NYC and what it can give you. But I miss our Wednesdays and the stories you would tell (yes even when they were told just to distract us to get our heads out of the music so we’d have room for the heart) – and your loving guidance to make us all better musicians. So why the scuff on the toe of your left shoe? Xoxoxoxo
Hi Adrian, Thank you for your beautiful letter. Writing seems to be another of your creative gifts. I love thinking of you just a few blocks away from our Columbia granddaughter and maybe catching the 1- train with our other New York granddaughter. You are the perfect example of Mary Oliver’s words. Yesterday we returned to church in person. What a joy, especially the live music. I know we have you to thank for setting the highest standard. Sounds like you are taking in everything New York has to offer, and you will give back even more.
Oh gosh! Thank you, everyone, for the kind words. I am missing you terribly, but so happy to feel your presence through these comments. Sending all my love!