Manhattan in February. It’s pleasantly gray, misting off and on. I had scheduled just three hours between LaGuardia airport and my destination when I impulsively made a crazy overture that was crazily accepted. But now the rain has whittled those three hours down to barely more than one. Messages back and forth in the taxi, then at last–I arrive! I’m at the cafe we agreed on, one just a few blocks from my journey’s end. We have exactly one hour before I need to move on to the main purpose of my trip. One stolen hour for this delightful addition to my itinerary–to look at cards on a rainy late-afternoon with my teacher Enrique.
I don’t think the upper East Side is even his stomping grounds, and the time was changed and changed again due to the weather and the plane, but Enrique is lovely and flexible and warm as he walks into the cafe–just as he’s been in accepting a request buried under the rigid constraints of my travel agenda. It’s a reading, and a lesson in reading. We chat, then he pulls out a set of Noblet Tarot cards that have a thick and leathery feel, so well-used are they. And a special, newer card for me–Judgment, Leiugement. He picked it for me, he says. And that’s all, without needing to explain the choice to either of us.
I am a careful student by both nature and training, so I have prepared a question of sorts. After some more talk and coffee served, he lays three cards and we talk about them. He points to how things move in each card, tells a story between the three, and how that story might serve my question, which has to do with my age-old propensity to go full-steam in several directions at once. Do I need to choose one career? Can I, should I have room for passions I can’t leave behind, or is it best to settle down to/for a single thing? The card images show flexibility–that Bateleur!–a sort of thumbs-up for the path of dual interests, pursuits.
We sip our coffee. We talk about some of his neighbors, and about how things are in Venezuela (not good). Then he suggests we pull more cards, to see if those three will tell the same tale. Curiously, they do, and he points out the similarities. I take pictures of the cards to remember later. I know it’s not so much the words I need to save, but the triptych-as-image I will want to remember as a talismanic reference (if that’s not too fancy a phrase) for creating (if that’s not too bold a word) the next bit of my life.
We talk more, and while making some interesting point or other Enrique refers in passing to the French painter Fernand Léger. I am momentarily distracted. When he pauses, I say, It’s funny you mention Léger. A dear and departed mentor of mine–part of the reason for my trip, in fact–was a Frenchman, a painter who lived just a few blocks from where we are right now. As a young man in France, he was an apprentice to Léger. (Some strokes of Léger’s paintings–would that I knew which!–are actually the hand of my beloved friend.) Enrique muses. Léger is not a painter I think about often, his name isn’t close to my lips as a rule, he says. We sip for a few moments in the most companionable of silences.
Again, in the most natural way, Enrique says, Shall we lay three more cards for your question? Just to see if they say the same, or the opposite this time! And in a way it turns out to be both–a kind of right-angles commentary to the previous trios. Which is much more interesting than either another repetition or a refusal to comment. The cards are very accommodating.
I’d (inwardly) rushed so much to get here, while outwardly being held immobile and hostage to the gods of Air(planes) and Time. Now I’ve relaxed. Here in the quiet of a nearly-empty cafe on a rainy 4 o’clock, the tension of straining to force things go faster than they obviously would has ebbed. I’m at peace, satisfied and happy. I’ve met Enrique! He’s just as thought-provoking and clear-eyed as I’d hoped, with an inner quiet I didn’t know to hope for. I feel we’ve had all the time in the world to think about my question, yet inexplicably, there are still a few precious minutes available.
Oh! I say. I do have another question. I’ve been involved in something that’s been an important part of my life for a long time. But it’s seemed to go dry for me for quite a while now. It’s hard to know if this is temporary, or if it’s actually time to let it go. So he shuffles again and lays three cards. Lamoreux–Le Pendu–Iustice. A picture of the angst of indecision that strings the questioner up tight. Then Justice enters, unsmiling and with a big sword, to put an end to the puling nonsense.
I hardly know what to say. Did we both say “Cut it” or just one of us? And which? I’m not sure. The cards are very clear with mundane questions, Enrique says. Then suddenly it’s time to get the waiter to take our picture–social media!!–and go.
On the street it’s misting again. Enrique has a large umbrella big enough to shield both of us and my small travel bag too. We walk together for a block or two, then I must turn while he continues down the avenue. I’m pretty sure he does not know what a tizzy I am in. How could he know I’ve made a difficult trip for the very purpose I’d asked about, wondering if I’m going through the motions or if I really want to be here? The cards presented such an embarrassing representation of my inner state of indecision! I could not avoid the sense that they knew exactly what my situation was and what to do, in a form any ninny could see. Just “Cut it!” No qualifiers. Perhaps three blocks from the end of my long journey wasn’t the pleasantest point at which to hear it, but then there’s no good time for endings.
So what was I going to do? Hop a cab back to LaGuardia then and there? I couldn’t deny the clarity of the message, even if delivered by small, time-leathered bits of cardboard. But turning around seemed grossly impractical, even silly–I mean, I’d finally gotten there, after weeks of planning and effort. So Le Pendu’s “traitor’s” punishment would be to go through the weekend gathering in light of this shocking advice. Living (squirming) in one’s own painful contradictions is a precious teaching, not easy to come by. Looks like I’d come for this rare opportunity. So I traveled that last block alone, in the rain.
And what happened then? Inexplicably, the life came back into me (it was me all along, perhaps, and not the others after all). The weekend was rich, and I was humbled by the gift of it, and reawakened. The rain in Manhattan was just the thing for that sere land I’d wandered for so long.
I was too busy then, being nourished, to marvel at the sequence of unexpected turns the day had taken.
Later, I thought about what had happened, the cards that had been laid and the message that had seemed so clear. Yet things turned out so differently–or had they? Didn’t I learn from Enrique that it’s the querent who reads the cards? All the reader does is point. Maybe I was the only one who said “Cut it.” And didn’t I also learn from him that it’s the querent who knows which one of two diametrically opposite interpretations to choose? And choose I did. But looking back, I could see that “cut it”–which I took in the most literal way to mean leaving–could simply mean cut the endless indecision. Get off it, says Justice pitilessly, shut your precious whining that’s tying you in knots so you can’t move. And then I’ll take my big sword and cut you down, she adds generously.
Two different interpretations, leading to very different “advice.”
But it can’t be denied that the cards laid spoke to my condition, in that wonderful Quaker phrase. It would be hard to think of a better description of my inner state than the perseverating Lover giving way to the total helplessness of being strung up topsy turvy. And one way or the other, Justice says, this has got to stop–now. That triptych limned a complex situation in a few breath-takingly deft strokes. How did those cards know to appear on that table on a rainy Friday afternoon? Was their presence the alchemical nudge I’d been waiting for so long?
It wasn’t till I’d been home a while, with a renewal of my inner life, that I remembered I’d put Enrique’s gift in that extra pocket of my purse. Leiugement. Why was that “my” card? As my esteemed teacher might say, No reason. It’s just beautiful, the gift of a card.
Thank you dear Enrique, for a lovely coffee.
Cards: Tarot de Jean Noblet, Flornoy restoration
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