Keep Moving Forward

Here’s what happens when you have an adult child who lives and works in New York City and you hear that there was an explosion. Your brain starts firing off all kinds of signals, the largest of which is silently screaming out, “Where is my child?”

We had the TV on at home Saturday night. My husband was channel surfing and happened to flip to CNN just as the first news broke that there had been a large explosion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. They were showing a map of where the blast had occurred. It took just seconds for my brain to process that location: it was very close to where our daughter works. Uncomfortably close.

Now, this was Saturday night, and chances were good that our daughter was not at work. But chances were also good that she was out doing something on a Saturday night with friends or roommates, somewhere in New York City. I grabbed my phone immediately and sent her the following text message: “We are hearing about an explosion in Chelsea and just want to make sure you’re okay. Please text and let me know you are alright. Love you.”

Seconds later, my phone rang. “Mom, it’s me,” she said. “I am okay and we were not anywhere near there tonight.” It turns out that she was miles away. New York’s five boroughs cover many miles, so you can be “in the city” and still be very far away from Manhattan. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. But as our conversation continued, I realized that she, too, may have been shaken just a little, because Chelsea is a neighborhood where many people go out at night and she easily could have been in that vicinity. This time she wasn’t. We chatted for a few minutes, and then knowing that she was safe, we hung up with confidence that our daughter was going to be just fine. But what about everyone else’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles? We had the luxury of breathing a sigh of relief. Not everyone had that luxury, but fortunately there were no fatalities. It was actually the next day before I realized that the second, unexploded device was found in the very same block where our daughter works.

We have two grown daughters, both living in major east coast US cities. We talked to them about personal safety and have always urged them to be careful where they go, with whom, and when. From afar, we continue to urge them to exercise caution regularly. But how can you exercise caution against senseless acts of violence? There is no warning sign. It’s not the same as someone following you into a dark alley, which would be very scary, but our daughters should NEVER walk into a dark alley since we have drilled that into their heads. An explosion in a dumpster or on the street or sidewalk means that anyone who happens to be walking by can be injured. Any person. Any time. Any place.

We do not want our daughters to live in fear. We do not want anyone to live in fear. We want people to be able to go about their normal lives, conducting normal business, building relationships, helping others, doing their jobs, and simply living.

While it is thrilling to see our adult children pursuing their dreams and taking on great challenges, it is a struggle for us as well. Sure, we understand that just getting out of bed in the morning presents some safety concerns. We absolutely get it. You can be injured anywhere: small city, village, rural area…anywhere. But terrorist acts don’t usually happen in small, rural communities. They most frequently occur in major metropolitan areas where they can do a lot of damage: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

So here’s my message to my daughters today: keep on living your life! When scary stuff happens near you, the best way to fight back is to keep moving forward. Don’t let it disrupt your dreams or your goals. Don’t let it interfere with your work or your friendships. Sure, you should always stay alert for odd occurrences and you should absolutely report anything that looks strange or out of place. But the best revenge is living a good life, and you are both doing that in your respective cities. Please try to stay safe, and continue to humor your mother when she texts and asks if you’re alright. It takes just a moment for you to text or call back, and it comforts us to know that you are safe. We love you both so much.

We sincerely feel for the injured and their families and are relieved that at least one alleged perpetrator of these crimes has been caught.  At the same time, and I don’t mean this to sound at all flippant, we encourage everyone to keep on keeping on. Nothing can truly settle the score, but moving forward with the business of life is often humanity’s finest enterprise.

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Farewell Old Friend

My husband worked there. His late father had worked there. Both of our daughters worked there. So when the Chautauqua Amphitheater was demolished, our family felt a profound sense of loss. To witness the razing of a structure that has so personally touched so many people is heartbreaking. At the same time, we understand that our emotions defy logic.

A panoramic view of the old Chautauqua Amphitheater

A panoramic view of the old Chautauqua Amphitheater

Logic tells us that the building was no longer safe, nor did it meet the demands of its current role. It was incredibly difficult to get in and out of the Amphitheater, for performers who had equipment to load in and out, and for spectators who had incredibly steep ramps to traverse just to find a seat on a rock hard wooden bench where your knees may or may not have hit the back of the bench in front of you. Countless times we rose from our seats to help catch a person (young and old alike) nearly taking a header down a ramp. We also watched as parts of the Amp struggled to keep up under the weight of rooftop snow. We heard from the Chautauqua staff about engineering studies which showed that many of the columns holding the roof over our heads had never been permanently anchored in concrete below the frost line; that they were actually just stuck into the earth, and that the building was very slowly sliding downhill towards Chautauqua Lake.

This Amphitheater was not the original at Chautauqua. An earlier flat-roofed model lasted just thirteen years before it was replaced. In addition, this Amp had been changed so many times over the years that almost none of it was original equipment: the Massey organ chamber was built, the stage was replaced, and countless other changes were made over the years.

I don’t believe that replacing the Amphitheater was ever an easy decision for any member of the Chautauqua Board of Trustees. Every person who has ever set foot under its tent-like roof has felt the weight of the historic speeches and performances there. The gravity of the loss has not been taken lightly. Yet the board is also required, as boards are, to look forward for the good of the Institution. Creating a vision and mission are the most crucial roles of any board. I do believe that the founders of Chautauqua were progressive thinkers. Having read about Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent and their vision for Chautauqua, it is clear that they were in the business of focusing on teaching others in order to create what they felt would be a brighter future. It was their vision that created the Chautauqua Institution we have all enjoyed for decades. Now, their successors, are working towards maintaining that vision and looking forward.

Ruins of the Amphitheater

Ruins of the Amphitheater

When push came to shove yesterday, quite literally, the remains of the Amphitheater fell to the ground in less than sixty seconds. It turns out the engineering studies were right, and that the structure by itself was not safe. Once it was no longer anchored to the organ chamber, the crew on site could see it shifting and felt it could fall into the organ chamber, which would have been a disaster since that structure is being saved with a new Amp to be built around it. A few pushes by backhoes and a pull by a crane claw at the other end were all it took to knock it down in just about 45 seconds, according to the videos I have seen online. To watch it come down this quickly is both affirming and heartbreaking. Progress is often painful, but safety should always come first.

The landscape at Chautauqua is suddenly dramatically different, at least temporarily. It is very hard to see the place we have loved lying in ruins. Our family has spent hours in the old Chautauqua Amphitheater, both working and watching amazing performances, hearing fascinating lectures, and worshiping with inspirational preachers. Our children have graced that very stage, participating in All County Music Festivals and the Music School Festival Orchestra. We will always have those extraordinary memories.

Now, as we wait to see the new Amphitheater rise in its place, we look forward to making new memories. After all, it is the people and the relationships we have built that make Chautauqua a special place. The Institution remains focused on art, religion, music, and education, and that has not changed. We hope you will join us there next summer as we gather under the new Amp. Come and see if you’re inspired, as we have been, by the words uttered from the Amphitheater stage by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, to “think higher, feel deeper.”