A Look On The Lighter Side: When you wish on a traveling star

Judy Epstein

I started making resolutions for 2022 when something weird happened. They started turning into wishes instead.

Rather than “I resolve to get out of the house more,” I found myself saying, “This year I want to travel!” I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon or Yosemite or those great Sequoia trees—and I really want to do that before the next plague comes along.

But even if COVID were to disappear entirely from the face of the Earth (which I now doubt it ever will), there are limits to my tolerance for cramped hours of air travel. Which means I may never get any closer to authentic Indian food than the offerings on Long Island—and that thought made me sad.

“Oh, I wish I could go to India,” I blurted out.

“Would you need me to — gulp — go with you?” I noticed my husband was suddenly looking very pale beside me on the sofa.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going.”

He started breathing again.

But if it were possible to teleport, India is one place where I would like to go. I would like to see the Taj Mahal for myself.

Because no matter how many times you see a place, in no matter how many pictures, you never know what a place is really like till you’ve been there yourself.

For example, the first time I actually stood in the Oval Office—thanks both to a relative who worked in the White House and a president who was out of town—I was overwhelmed. Not by the majesty of it or the grandeur but by the exact opposite. It was so much smaller than I expected. Ordinary almost.

But somehow that only made the place even more impressive rather than less.

There’s only one other spot in the world where I’ve had that same reaction and that’s the place where I accompanied my fifth-grader on a special visit: the New York Stock Exchange. Not right on the floor, but a nearby observation gallery.

It was a slow day and some of the excitement had permanently gone from the place, with many transactions moving from in-person to electronic exchanges elsewhere. But even so, I remember that dual feeling: first, “This is it? That’s all there is? After all we’ve heard, and suffered, from what happens in this place?” And then the immediate realization. “But of course! Momentous things aren’t made momentous by the size of the room they happen in or the furnishings, but by the people there and the history they are making.”

Sometimes all your senses are involved. When I first set foot in Hong Kong, I was overcome by a distinctive perfume I would always know again but cannot describe. The ingredients I can put a name to would include garbage, fish and rotting fruit. I soon decided, “If I have to put up with a noisy, smelly, traffic-jammed island, I’ll take Manhattan.”

There is one place right here on Long Island with a special quality that must be seen in person to be believed. It came to me straight from the pages of “The Great Gatsby.” Long before I moved here, I was aware that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s homage to Jazz Age America was set on the North Shore. Whenever anyone visited here, I delighted in telling them that Great Neck was Gatsby’s “West Egg” and Port Washington, my new home town, was “East Egg.”

But in all my local travels around Manhasset Bay, whether with my kids to the Snapper Derby at the Town Dock, on the water for HarborFest, or watching the waves from my allergist’s office on the Great Neck shoreline, I never saw anything that could possibly have inspired Fitzgerald’s double-barreled idea.

Never, that is, until one summer day when I happened to be standing near the water at a Port yacht club. I was waiting for one of my boys to finish a sailing lesson. As I idly looked out at the water, I realized – from this spot, and this spot ONLY – the two shorelines appeared to curve in toward each other, before going their separate ways to Long Island Sound. Which meant that somehow, for some reason, F. Scott Fitzgerald must once have stood in the exact spot where I was standing!

For an instant, I felt a part of literature. Sometimes you have to travel miles for these realizations, but sometimes you’re lucky enough to find them right at home. This year I’m wishing for some of both.

TAGGED: Judy Epsteiin

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Judy Epstein

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