Through the Door of Our Past

New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a hard place to live—it was a volatile city reacting to the dynamics of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s movement, and the Vietnam War; it was a city crippled by social disorder, struggling to merge its diverse and divisive populations; it was a city rife with crime, economic stagnation, and palpable unrest. It was an ugly, crumbling city. And at the same time, it was a city of artists, actors, musicians, and writers. It was a city of activists, passionate in their dreams for a better future. It was a city receptive to new ideas. I was born and grew up in this city and I attended elementary school at the Manhattan Country School--a school founded in 1966 upon the principals of Martin Luther King, Jr and reflecting the vision of the Civil Rights Movement. The school set out to teach students in a community with no racial majority and broad economic diversity, and to instill in students a desire to champion justice, compassion, and peace, and the rights of all people to equity.

I left MCS thirty-five years ago. This morning, I returned for the first time. I went back not only to see what’s changed over the past three decades, but to see what hasn’t changed. I walked through the big green doors of the converted 1904 townhouse, into the courtyard, and up the spiral staircase to attend an Alumni breakfast and take a tour of the school. There’s a computer room there now, but that room used to be a terrace, and suddenly reverberating over the tapping of keyboards was the smack of my pink rubber handball hitting the brick wall and bouncing to Derrick. From the kitchen, I was sure I could smell Consuela’s chili and rice. In the library, my face suddenly flushed at the embarrassment of being made fun of by David, just there, at that table by the window. In the round classroom, I tasted the sweet dust from the sugar cubes we’d pasted together to make igloos. As I walked down the back staircase, I heard my own voice calling to my friends—Nicole! Nina! Betsy! Maria! Leslie!—in a race to see who could line up the fastest to go to the park with Doc. In the glorious wood-paneled music room, morning light streaming in the tall windows, I was six-years-old again, singing “We Shall Overcome Someday.” And in a corner of a small classroom with a blue rug, surrounded by fabric and glue and cardboard and pencils and crayons, I smelled the Elmer’s and felt the textured brown fabric that were to become my first hand-made book—Magic Moon and Magic Sun.


I walked the halls of my past this morning, and as if being jolted from sleep by a vivid dream, I realized how much of me was nurtured and brought to fruition during those years at MCS—an interest in and respect for other people; a passion for books, writing, and drawing; a desire to help others; a sense of hope; a trust in people; a trust in dreams; and a profound belief that what's right will prevail. Out of the corner of my adult eyes, I saw my younger self becoming a citizen of the world, and for just for a moment I was that girl again—that Emma all gangly limbs, scraped knees, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off, Danskin pants, songs off-key, and make-believe—and I was overcome by the endless possibilities and promise and resilience that can envelope and inspire our childhoods.

It was a precious gift my parents gave me, sending me to MCS and thereby opening my heart and spirit to the world. I never thanked them for that; I thank them now.  It’s a precious gift to be given an opportunity to revisit one’s past and experience ones adult self within the perspective of ones childhood. It was as though I was meeting myself on a road,  two travelers headed in the same direction, suddenly striking up a friendship, recognizing ourselves in one another, one and the same. I walked the halls of my past this morning and right through the door to myself.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


  1. Anonymous3/29/2010

    This is such a lovely post, Emma. What a good memory you have!

    I saw a documentary on Milton Glaser this weekend that you might enjoy. "To Inform and Delight." It seems relevant.

  2. Wow...that was nice...thanks.

  3. That last line was killer. I discovered your blog through Mark McVeigh's, and you captured me with each of these essay-like posts. I shall follow.

  4. Emma, I also discovered your blog through reading Mr. McVeigh's posts.
    Your last sentence;
    "I walked the halls of my past this morning..."
    sent shivers down my spine. It's a great 'image creator'....I've read it several times already and each time I have a different picture in my mind. Profound. Thank you and Mr.McVeigh both.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Thanks so much for your kind words and for following along on this blog journey!