A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face. -Jorge Luis Borges
All growth is a leap in the dark. -Henry Miller
I last wrote during what I thought would be a temporary stop in the USA for bereavement, which somehow managed to turn into a year in New York City. Specifically, after puttering around my parent’s house in California for a few months I moved on a whim into a tiny bedroom in Crown Heights, Brooklyn for a chance at an adventure in the big city with the bright lights. Thanks to a wonderful childhood friend I worked the first couple months at the front desk of a bougie gym in Midtown, and spent my free time visiting all the sights that good tourists are supposed to see while happily subsisting on bagels and greasy slices of pizza. Eventually, I was hired for a ten month contract position at a non-profit in East New York to work on implementing a new healthy food initiative, a position that will come to an end in only ten more days.
As my life in its current iteration wraps up I still am unable to put my finger on exactly what I’ve experienced, or to adequately explain my time here. Since moving I’ve often felt as if someone stuck a whisk in my brain and vigorously stirred. I came to realize this was a normal ‘new to the city’ feeling when, after finding out I’d lived here less than a year, people kept asking with a concerned tilt of their head “So, how are you?”. Frequently I wasn’t sure of my answer- there were days when I sung New York’s praises, and there were others when I cursed myself for ever stepping off the airplane. In a city of extreme highs and lows, the changing seasons mirrored my moods- I happily wore the soles off a new pair of boots crunching around Central Park during my first real autumn, and I suffered miserably through a historically terrible winter; I celebrated the triumph of new life with the blooming of the first daffodils, and I now swelter through summer, writing with an iced coffee as heat bounces off the concrete outside.
At the end of the day, New York is an incredible city- probably my favorite in the world. The abundance of amazing food and museums and parks and architecture aside, what consistently impresses me most remains the shared humanity. With over 8 million people residing here, the forced proximity shines a spotlight on human kindness and compassion. I’m convinced that the many small and often unnoticed daily gestures of grace throughout this city makes continued survival possible. Whether it’s the conductor holding the train doors for running morning commuters, the bodega owner throwing some extra bananas in your bag or a genuine smile from a passerby, these things matter. Once, while having a rough day, I wept in awe after finding a tired looking elderly man waiting outside my building, who had made the 90 minute journey from the Bronx to return a wallet with food stamps inside simply because he ‘knew how bad it hurts to lose something.’
Having regular opportunities to witness the essential good and selflessness of others is inspiring and tender and beautiful. While taught since childhood to ‘play nice,’ before living here I underestimated this lessons true importance- acts of kindness and generosity help you not only to go on with your day, but in a deeper sense, to carry on with life. When I think about it, the stories I tell about my past travels are rarely about the things I’ve seen, but rather the people I’ve met. I don’t talk about how nice the Iguazu Falls were in Argentina, but I definitely tell the story of the complete stranger who drove me an hour out of her way to help me get there. It is these fleeting, simple acts of compassion that make humanity worthy of continued hope.
As for me, I am not sure if I will stay in New York, but I am also not sure what can follow this all-encompassing vortex of a place. Starting in August I will visit France to attend a dear friend’s wedding, and after catching up with another long lost pal in Berlin, I begin walking as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago. While unsure as ever about the future, I am glad to be finishing this chapter full of gratitude and optimism.