While walking through the Village yesterday, I tried to make a list in my head of all my favorite spots in NYC.
Washington Square Park
Norma’s in Ridgewood
Fifth Avenue between 8th and 20th Streets
The New York Public Library…..
I stopped before I got very far, realizing that my list was practically endless. There are so many places in New York that I love, and for a moment, I couldn’t quite figure out why. Sure, New York has a lot of great spots. But for me to have a deep connection with so many of them? How could it be?
And then it hit me—the secret that haunts the streets of New York, making it so enticing, so rewarding, so thrilling: New York City is not about places. It’s about moments.
The more I thought this over, the more true it became. The places I hold most dear are dear because of the moment I was there, not necessarily because of the places themselves. Things began to fall into place in my mind. There are streets, or buildings, that I am stupidly fond of that I have tried to share with others, but the moment has no longer been right. The weather is just a few degrees too warm, or someone has a blister, or a jackhammer starts to chatter, and the moment is ruined. In the fading light of the wrong moment, New York City is chipped paint on a wall, a cheap trick. But in the right moment, the city rears up on its hind legs and struts down the street, garish, enticing, and glorious.
I am convinced that people who live in New York City respond to it in one of two ways: they either become softer or harder. The city presses them in its vice-like embrace, pulling them this way and that, and each person comes out the other side with either a heart that has found its way into an understanding of humanity in all its shades and variances, or a heart that has closed up around itself. You can see it on the faces of those you meet. You can see it in the way they treat people, in the way they look at you on the subway. Everyone is so naked in New York City, breathing the same air and sharing the shame and dignity of being a human.
It’s recognizing moments, and then allowing them to roll over me, that has been the most life-giving aspect of living in this city. There is one street—Madison, between 42nd and 44th—where I swear I can feel my heart growing softer every time I walk down it. I don’t know what it is about this two block area, but I have learned to walk slow, watching those around me, opening my face to them. There’s a deep love song running up and down the pavement under those streets, and I don’t know who put it there. But I know that my feet and my heart can feel it.
For every good moment in NYC, there are ten bad ones. Moments when the train is delayed, or someone calls you a bitch, or you’re just straight up tired from walking too far. But I understand, now, why people love this city, and why they become addicted to living here. Living in New York is the greatest, most thrilling game of chance ever played. Much of the time it’s hard, and expensive, and complicated. But then the moment comes—the moment when you feel strong and free, when the jackhammer is silent and the temperature is just right. When the breeze touches you just enough to encourage you to look up into the eyes of the millions of strangers passing by, letting their hearts soften or harden up. Not knowing—until you open your mouth and speak—what your own heart has become.
- Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton
~ My Bright Abyss, Christian Wiman
~ The Man Who Was Thursday, GK Chesterton