I’m struck by how lively and energetic Sunset Park has become and by the people who have found peace through martial arts at its highest point. I walk there every morning, and until I had my knees replaced, would also do Tai Chi at the top of the hill.
A few years ago, drug addicts congregated at the bottom of the hill; a few slept in a makeshift lean-tos, and as the sun emerged it brought another day of challenges.
At the top, were the health seekers, a group of Chinese residents who practiced Tai Chi. I believe their dedication to martial arts transformed the park from a dangerous bed and bathroom setting into a vibrant and exciting sanctuary.
Tai Chi, which originated in China over 3,000 years ago, draws its main principals from the ancient Chinese Taoism philosophy. Practitioners of the ancient art believe that yin and yang are two complementary elements used to balance relationships.
As I took my walks, I got to know the group. Usually deep in conversation, “The Old Man,” as I call him, crossed his arms back and forth above his head to wave at me. If I saw him first, I would raise my arms in a “V” and then, so did he.
Another Tai Chi enthusiast I call “Woman Walking Backwards” and her friends beamed when they released their broken English “Good Mornings” waving sideways like windshield wipers.
I named a cordial married couple “The Omers” because they began their exercise routine with an energetic and prolonged Om.
Mrs. Omer frequently greeted me by nodding graciously in an engaging bow. She approached me while I was walking, then took my hands in hers and kissed me, once on each cheek. I gave her a quick smile and jetted from the scene. It’s a reaction that still embarrasses me today because Mrs. Omer and I never spoke. But, how I wish I had at least stopped to acknowledge her generous act of warmth.
Communication with these lovely people felt wonderful, a real treat in New York City, where people can live on the same floor in an apartment building without saying hello.
I wonder if their openness resulted from watching a Caucasian-American appreciate their culture by doing Tai Chi in a diligent and respectful manner. Or, maybe they were just gracious. Whatever it was, I loved it and wished that everything else in my life could be as peaceful at the top of the Sunset Park hill.