I met a friend for lunch the other day. Well not really a friend, I had only met her once before. So when I arrived at the restaurant I wasn’t sure if she was the one at a table in the far corner. Reading the menu, her face was down. The hostess smiled at me as I perused the place. Just then the woman at the table in the corner looked up and waved. It was her. I smiled and waved as if, of course I recognized her and had just that minute walked in, arranging my scarf from the outside breeze.
We had met the week before at an art gallery; she and her husband were looking at a 19th century landscape and the husband started speaking about the provenance and how much it fetched at auction last year. He owned one by this artist but wasn’t sure of it’s authenticity, tho nonetheless, he liked his painting. We continued talking about the show and the art scene in New York in general They used to own a gallery and had much of their inventory hanging on the walls of their apartment, they said. Come over for drinks, they said.
I love checking out [judging] people’s apartments so I said I’d love to. The next week on an unusually warm evening, I headed uptown to their apartment, a large and unassuming white brick high-rise. I arrived a tad after 6:30 (arriving on time, apparently, is something only old people do.) The doorman announced my arrival and sent me up to the apartment in the elevator. The door opened and they welcomed me into their small living space/art gallery, every wall covered with beautifully framed masterpieces. We hugged (obligatory these days.) The apartment was illuminated by a row of windows with early evening views of the city. I had to just stand there and take it all in. Save for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of art on the walls and a New York skyline view, it was quite modest. Aside from the unseen bedroom and bath, the place could be taken in with one glance. Paintings were everywhere, displayed in rows, one piece on top of another, all with little gold plaques indicating title and artist. We talked a bit and the husband poured us all a glass of Italian wine (the vineyard which they had visited, of course), and we noshed on cheeses and crackers and other interesting snacks from beautifully arranged plates. The man was excited for me to savor each piece in their collection, as we visited each one and he revealed the cost and current price and how they were acquired. We all picked our favorites. It was a lovely New York evening and she and I agreed to meet for lunch soon.
The next week at lunch, splitting a turkey club sandwich, she and I talked as if we’d been friends forever. She and her husband had a solid marriage and enjoyed each other. I envied her status: upper east side apartment, lots of money, traveling all over to buy and sell art, investing in beautiful objects, collecting fine wines. How happy and satisfied she must be, I thought. She has it all. Over the next hour, tho, I learned her life was far more complicated, far less perfect. It really threw me and I realized I totally (mis)judged her life by her fabulous possessions. She had tears in her eyes and thanked me for being there and listening. I told her I’d be here if she needed to talk.
I think we all mistakenly think everyone is more successful, has more, makes more. We walk among the crowds of people, good looking, well dressed, smiling, ..they must be happy, right? For many, their reality is dark, and sadly, only they live in this darkness. It’s such a harsh world, a lot of hate out there lately. Time to be kind, ask people how they’re feeling and listen fully. That cranky bodega guy may have a lot on his mind, and people rush in and out of his shop without a word. A few kind words and a smile can’t really change lives but it’s a start.