Friday, April 13, 2018

Helping Our Brothers and Sisters

The mermaid greeting Wednesday night's guests at Cipriani 42nd Street for the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House's annual Spring Gala, "The Big Splash." Photo: DPC.
Friday, April 13,  2018. The thermometer reached into the low 60s yesterday in New York, with quite a bit of Sun surrounding us. The weatherman was predicting that temperatures would reach the mid- to upper-70s today, Friday, the 13th. This comes as good news, thankfully, for everyone.

Fashion presaging. This past Wednesday I was on my continuing journey catching up with the New York Times, particularly the Sunday edition, and most especially the Sunday “T” magazine. There was an important piece by Alexander Fury: “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” with the subtitle “In uncertain times, fashion has always reflected — and deflected – global unrest. This season the responses are extreme of the culture itself.” 

Fury starts out referring to designing “the latest”— “all glitz and blitz and reconstituted Elton John costumes ... seem to not have a common thread between them — a seemingly bipolar mix of downtrodden, derelict styles and escapist fantasies.”

Starting to read Fury’s article with interest, I quickly found myself not wanting to read it.  It was pointing out the obvious in our society right now. The disturbing news. The society of human creatures, that is. In describing the current fashion collections and what the designers are communicating, the writer concluded that the message of the latest collection was “’less apocalypse now” and more ‘apocalypse soon.’”

I’m a person almost obsessed with “watching” my environment. It’s not paranoia but a curiosity about seeing how we behave. I never tire of standing on my terrace or looking through the window to watch the street go by. I don’t spend hours at it but any time day or night, I distract myself with those curious glances. Even in this quiet neighborhood with its parks, private schools and high end cooperative residences on land developed by the Astors more than a century ago, street life is a mirror — of who we are and where we are. At all hours it’s a cacophony of personal stories, but more than that, it’s a mirror of human behavior. The way we are, as creatures. Fashion is merely a messenger.

I get Alexander Fury’s depiction of it because it’s there before your eyes. At this moment in our history we are living in a world where the matter of War which is basically just Murder (of almost entirely innocent victims, no matter the side you’re on). It is the daily subject in the mainstream media along with its players. War is talked about like an upcoming ballgame that is just for watching and of no personal danger to any of us (except maybe the batter up). The word “Peace” — so prevalent in my youth and the decade and a half of Vietnam — is never uttered anywhere by anybody. That’s also the fashion.

Now. With all that in mind, or on my mind, last Wednesday night I had to “forget my troubles, com’on get happy” and put on my black tie and go down to Cipriani 42nd Street for the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House’s annual Spring Gala.

I’ve been to this gala many times now, and like all galas if you go to enough of them each has its group of people that you see again and again. For me at time, it’s like seeing old friends. Lenox Hill Neighborhood House (LHNH) has a nice group of people many of whom live in that actual neighborhood of LHNH — that is, the Upper East Side.
It’s one of those organizations that is dedicated to helping Our Brothers and Sisters, a/k/a Mankind. New York is a wonder in many ways including in the way it is a tough, challenging town. My grandparents on both sides came across the Atlantic to make a new life in America and specifically New York. That human event was challenging for all, and meeting the challenge depended on many other factors. Like Helping Hands.

Meanwhile, Wednesday night’s gala is characteristically a glamorous looking affair. We were dressed to shine — speaking of fashion and what it augers. Nothing to complain about there. The women put their best foot forward and give us their best to look at, and the men in the uniform black tie all look pulled together and in charge (and even with authority) in the nicest way (for a change).

And then there are the tables, all designed by prominent designers. I was at “Spring Showers” by David Kleinberg Design Associates. They constructed a thick blue and grey storm cloud floating above the table with strings of crystal suspended depicting the April showers (which we have had little of this year); below around the table settings were  bowls of both white and deep purple Calla Lillies.
David Kleinberg managed to celebrate the luxury of Mother Nature as well as portray the obvious with that rapturous looking storm cloud just above our heads.
The object of the evening, however, was something beyond all that. Lenox Hill Neighborhood House is one of New York’s premier nonprofits. It was created 124 years ago to assist the children, the newly arrived families at every level from  infancy to seniority. LHNH provides all kinds of human services that Make The Difference in our lives — all of our daily lives, including that “street” I’m always checking out. Social, educational, legal, health, housing, mental healthy, nutritional and fitness assistance for more than15,000 people in need — many on a daily basis — from  ages 3 to 103.

The two Chair Emeriti, Tom Edelman and Diana Quasha, the Chair, Elizabeth Munson, Vice Chair Randy Takian, and Honorary Chair Sydney Shuman all work and have long worked hard to assist those who make the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House prosper as guardians of the Good in us. For example, they served 350,000 meals a year, three meals a day, five days a week to children, adults, the seniors here in New York. They provide a full daily life for many of those people, and help raise the children in an atmosphere the children can take home in their own lives and consciousness, and keep forever.
Wednesday night’s affair of course had the glitz and the shine of a black tie affair at Cipriani 42nd Street with its massive, cavernous space, its lighting (it was built more than a century ago and existed up until the 1980s as the main branch of the Bowery Savings Bank). But most impressive, and singular was the part of the evening when the officers and participants gave their speeches.

This part of every benefit is often boring, and repetitivewith participants talking too long. (Zzzzzz ...) It is not uncommon for the speeches to be overtaken by the din of hundreds of voices at tables talking (nattering, chattering, blabbing even) among themselves, competing unmercifully with the dais.
This past Wednesday night, however, that wasn’t the case. With five different speakers, from the Executive Director Warren Scharf to Elizabeth Munson talking seriously about the work of the LHNH to Rachel Orkin-Ramcy from Christie’s conducting the “auction” (fundraising). In the room, there was complete, rapt attention and silence from us several hundred guests. It was so quiet (and respectful) that I checked with my two dinner partners to see if it seemed way to them. It did. Even at the end of the evening, Virginia Pitman, the Director of Special Events for LHNH, commented, telling me that in her 20 years of organizing this event, she had never witnessed that Silence and Attention. To me, like Alexander Fury’s analysis of “fashion”, it was a  Sign of the Times. Maybe the good news.
The remarks at the podium were concluded when they made the presentation honoring Sana H. Sabbagh for her work with Lenox Hlll Neighborhood House as well as several other charities and philanthropies in New York.

Sana H. Sabbagh.
Ms. Sabbagh has a quiet, gracious presence, almost shy. She thanked everyone for their kind words about her. She is not a native of this country and speaks clearly and slowly with an accent.

After her thanks she told us she was going to read a poem that was her father’s words to remember in life, words that he referred to often: “IF” by Rudyard Kipling.

I don’t recall ever hearing a thank you speech in the form of a classic English poem at an event like this. Nevertheless, Ms. Sabbagh spoke clearly and slowly. There is the quality of a gentle plea her in voice, a deep solemnity in everyone’s favor.

She read: (slowly), sentence by sentence ....

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

The rapt, silent attention of the tables ended in thunderous applause. Ms. Sabbagh had elegantly summed up the evening with the immortal assist of Mr. Kipling. The potential of the Truth — something in grave minority — willing to return. Like the work of the hundreds of associates making a better world over at the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.

To learn more about LHNH, how you can help, and/or how it can help you or your loved ones or your neighbors, go to:

Contact DPC here.