I am not a city person. I’ll take mountains and fresh air over skyscrapers and honking taxis any day of the week.
“You’ll hate it,” Brian said, when I told him that I wanted to visit New York City before launching off on our travels abroad. ”It’s crowded and the subways smell like piss and rat poisoning. There’s garbage piled everywhere on the streets.”
“How big are the rats?” I asked, only a little concerned.
“BIG,” he said, holding his hands chest-width apart to demonstrate.
No, it sure didn’t sound like a place I’d fall in love with. But still, I had to see it with my own eyes.
A piece of the Manhattan skyline
Here is my disclaimer about cities: I mostly don’t like them. In big cities, surrounded by millions of people, I always find myself wondering what the point is. Like, the big point. The point of our lives and why they matter.
When I am in the mountains and forests I feel connected to the primordial ooze of the universe. But in a huge city I just feel like a small fish in a very big pond. I’m overwhelmed by the commercialism and the rushing and the worship of the all-mighty dollar. I feel sad and defeated by it.
As expected, there were times that I felt this way in New York City.
Times Square is chaotic.
Yet, New York surprised me too.
I was inspired by the city: the artists, the talent, the culture, the diversity. There were creative people everywhere: singing in the subways, painting in the park, hunched over their notebooks writing in the coffee shops. We found a great New York hotel that made me feel like we were living in the middle of it all.
The energy in New York City is a living thing, it zings down the streets like a live wire, it’s impossible not to be zapped by it. New York seems filled with people buzzing in anticipation over their own potential. In this way, New York made me feel hopeful.
A sunny day in Central Park
On our third evening in town we used our New York CityPASS to go to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. A free audio tour was included with the CityPASS and I made my way out onto the deck for a view of the city from 86 stories in the air. I hit play on the audio tour and listened as the guide told me all about New York: the history of the 5 burrows and how the city was founded for business and not religious purposes.
But the major theme of the tour was people: the hundreds of languages spoken, the neighborhoods of the working class, the immigrants that have carved out their own piece of home in a new land: Little Italy and Chinatown and the diverse neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
New York City from the Empire State Building
Perched above the city, the lights twinkling like stars below me, the city looked beautiful. I knew there were people down there, winding their way through the streets and eating at restaurants and shopping and working and talking and sleeping. Millions of people, insignificant from up here. But like all tiny things, from my vantage point I could sense how we are most powerful in numbers. How together over hundreds of years we’d built this great city together and still today we come from all over the world and coexist on this tightly packed island.
I felt proud of us.
In this way New York City made me feel hopeful as well.
The Statue of Liberty
A view from Central Park
Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii at the MET
New York at night
A rose at the 9/11 Memorial