I must have walked by this gated section of the park over a thousand times. It’s at the bottom of Manhattan, right near Castle Clinton. You can see the World Trade Center from there, and the Hudson River. You’ll pass tourists lining up to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, and street vendors and performance artists vying for their attention.
The entrance to the park is marked only by an open gate and a worn path. This time, I walked inside.
Once you cross the threshold, it immediately feels different. Quieter, if that’s even possible. Cloistered might be a better word.
I was alone. The first thing I noticed was a small vegetable garden, with eggplants and peppers and basil all lined up in neat rows. I later learned it's for school children to learn about food and farming.
A few more steps brought me into a sparse, open space. Amid craggy trees, there was what seemed to be a maze outlined by stones in the ground, filled with clover in between. There were a few empty wooden benches. Near one of them was a marker, badly weathered and barely legible, commemorating a gift from the Mayor of Jerusalem to the Mayor of New York City in the 1970s.
I walked around the edge of the maze, and something on the ground caught my eye. A small engraved stone. It looked as if it had just been placed there, at the base of a small tree that also looked freshly planted.
My heart sank as I read what was there. A story told in five words, a birthdate, and two tiny footprints. “139 magical days we shared.” I felt a sense of the parents’ love, joy, and anguish. The weight of their loss, and of a lifetime of remembering.
I wanted to know more. Why was it here? Who were these people? What happened to the child? I felt like I was intruding on someone else’s very personal tragedy, but I took a photograph anyway. I wanted to remember.
I walked slowly past the small farm and out of the park. Back among the tourists and the hum of the city, I wondered how many other stories I had passed by that day, waiting for the moment when I would be open to seeing them.