Indra’s Grid

by Translation Guy on July 13, 2012

Manhattanites live by the grid. No wheel of chance for us. The only numbers we can pick are street or avenue, uptown or crosstown. Which makes even a walk of a few blocks a game of chance. Down this street or that, what does it matter?

But it matters a great deal, because this is not a game. There are no redoes. And the consequences are unimaginable, because we can only know what we know. The street not taken is an unfathomable mystery to us.

So, Tuesday evening, my daughter and I head out for dinner, and we pick the dappled side of 29th Street, where the sun was negotiating with leaves and a breeze to break the heat of the day.

A woman calls my name. “Ken?” A familiar face, barely. It’s Sherry, a girl I knew forty years ago in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. How remote a chance is this? Such synchronicity demands a change of plans, and she and her husband Rob join us for dinner, and then to our roof for wine and gossip four decades old.

Before that evening walking the same sidewalk, we were classmates, but by the powers vested in the continuum, we are now connected. Her campfire stories of dear, lost friends, told beneath slow-turning stars, redrew the constellation of my own memory. A great windfall found there on the shady side of the street. Chance as destiny, or fate. I always get those two mixed up.

Wednesday this week was Manhattanhenge. Those two days a year when the clockwork heavens compel the sun to bow in alignment with the city grid, and the whole island is set afire at sunset.

But this only for the briefest moment, at a moment we cannot chose, and requiring our complete attention. Either we are present or lost in this vast clockwork that whirls and gigs about us, powered by butterfly wings. Everything only happens once.

So, for that moment, friend, stand on my roof with me, at least in your imagination. Together we look on as the sun marks its course over New Jersey, solor orb reflected in your eyes, re-reflected in mine, and reflected yet again in the eyes of all of us.

Charles Eliot says, “In the heaven of Indra, there is said to be a network of pearls, so arranged that if you look at one you see all the other reflected in it. In the same way, each object in the world is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact IS everything else.”

What wonders have we missed on the streets not taken? What buses have not hit us? I reflect on this. And this post is a reminder to myself, (and to you, if you’re paying attention) to keep your eyes open.


  1. Heather says:

    “where the sun was negotiating with leaves and a breeze to break the heat of the day.” That was almost poetic, quite nice turn of phrase.

    • Ken says:

      I’m glad someone appreciates it, Heather.

  2. Jackie Ellis says:

    Funny how life works sometimes.

  3. Ulises says:

    She recognized you after forty years? Thats a little impressive in and of itself.

    • Ken says:

      I’m the same lad I was in high school, except for the bell bottoms.

  4. Sarah says:

    Something to think about certainly.

  5. Maralissa says:

    Not what I expected to find here today, but actually quite profound.

  6. Sometimes its nice to stop and ponder pathes not taken, but don’t spend too long.

  7. Michele says:

    This post is really quite beautiful.

  8. Laura says:

    Never heard of Manhattanhenge before, interesting little tidbit there, wonder if the grid was designed with it in mind.

    • Ken says:

      Like all things in New York, it was designed to increase profitability for real estate developers.

  9. I got some great photos of the sunset of straight down 42nd street as I was headed home from work.

LiveZilla Live Chat Software