The following is my belated response to the Ecotone topic, “Coming and Going.”

I’ve had the words of Walt Whitman ringing in my head ever since we went to Manhattan this weekend. There’s a bus that connects Keene and New York, so we spent a good portion of the weekend wending our way through snow-blanched fields and anonymous brick facades. And although we were on a bus, not a boat, the lines of Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” kept echoing in my mind:

    Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
    Clouds of the west–sun there half an hour high–I see you also face to face.
    Crowds of men and women attired in the usual constumes, how curious you are to me!
    On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose.
    And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

Whitman, of course, never rode a bus. Although he was a native New Yorker, he lived in the era of stage-coaches and trains, not buses. Had he been born somewhat later, though, Whitman would have loved buses. He would have loved the scenery streaming by at 55 miles an hour; he would have loved the trucks and cars you see from above as you pass. And he would have especially loved the stream of anonymous faces: at each stop, new faces embark and old faces disappear, never to be seen again.

Buses, like cars, inevitably put me to sleep. When we lived in Randolph, Massachusetts, I regularly took a city bus to and from Boston. This bus traveled the urban streets of Roxbury, and I was typically the only white face onboard. And I always, inevitably fell asleep on that bus even though my mother’s voice warned me that inner city Boston was a dangerous place and that anything could happen to me as I slept defenseless on a bus with strangers. But nothing ever happened on that bus to Boston; I simply slept.

And so this weekend on a bus to New York I similarly slept, and so did Chris, the two of us nodding as faces black and white slept around us. And in a dream I imagined our souls floating above our sleeping bodies, the souls of rich folk and poor folk, white folk and black. Above our bodies, these souls mixed and mingled, dancing in a delicate swirl as landscape and clouds streamed past our windows like the inevitable march of time. For while we rested, time rolled on ever wakeful, gradually and invariably taking us toward our intended end.

Manhattan is a marvelous city not primarily because of its museums, music venues, and fancy restaurants, although Chris and I sampled all of these. Instead, Manhattan is marvelous because it is home and host to a diverse crowd of humans, a pedestrian�s dream. Walking the streets of Manhattan, you see people everywhere, endlessly walking: women in designer furs, homeless men with cardboard signs, suited businessmen with cell phones, puffy-jacketed youths selling imitation handbags. Eavesdropping on the streets of New York, you�ll hear the tongues of the world: Italian, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, German, French, Hebrew.

On our walk home from the Metropolitan Museum, Chris and I stopped to watch the skaters at Rockefeller Center. Everywhere stereotypes were shattered as urban youths skated alongside suburban mothers alongside gay men in tailored slacks. All those faces simply flowed fluidly around the rink as teenagers joked and jostled, lovers held hands, and children clung tenuously to the hands of parents and grandparents. In the hypnotic swirl of faces circling singly, Whitman�s words again resonated in my head:

    Whatever it is, it avails not�distance avails not, and place avails not,
    I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
    I too walk�d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
    I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
    In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,
    In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,
    I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
    I too had receiv�d identity in my body,
    That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew should be of my body.

The faces of New York City, emanating with infinite variety, transcend both space and time: visiting Manhattan is like traveling across the world or across the centuries. The faces you pass on the street might be the same faces Whitman studied; the gray-bearded homeless man brushing his teeth in Central Park, thinly hidden from a young woman tossing snowballs to her dog, might be Whitman himself. �Maybe he�s a Zen Master,� Chris said of the homeless man; maybe we all are, I thought.

This weekend in New York a woman died while walking her dogs in the East Village: she stepped on a poorly insulated electrical plate, fell to the sidewalk, and was electrocuted. Her dogs were injured but survived, one with burnt paws and the other with a bitten nose; the woman who died was only thirty years old. Just like that, she came to the end of the road, and her ferry crossed to some other shore. She�d been walking, not sleeping, but even the wakefulness of city streets couldn�t save her from fate�s sudden unforeseen turn.

We all are coming and going, even those of us who never leave our hometown or house. All of us are wending inevitably toward some end which we�ve not chosen nor do we know. In the interim, we skate and sleep with strangers, if we dare; we walk our dogs and brush our teeth as if we�re fated to live forever. We�re not, but we forget; in our slumber, it doesn�t feel like the bus is moving. And yet it floats, gradually and inevitably, toward a sunlit shore we�ve never seen and can�t begin to imagine; around us is an infinite band of other travelers, nameless faces, whose souls mingle with ours across the aisles.