I just got home from a trip to New York City. This was not my first sojourn there, but NYC has never been my first choice for a vacation destination. I thought it crowded, noisy, dirty, and filled with rude people. I resented the way that all New Yorkers considered their city to be the center of the universe, when really this country alone is filled with beautiful, worthy cities.
Everything changed with this trip. Well, maybe not everything because I still don’t necessarily consider NYC the center of the universe. Mainly though, as I headed toward the airport and home and watched the Manhattan skyline fade through the fog, I was left with one question bouncing around in my head. How did I not love this city before?
Is it because this was the first time I stayed in the city for more than twelve hours? (J and I used to live in New Jersey and I visited several times for day trips.) Or is it because I never walked its streets at 4 a.m.?
Either way, I can finally say that I get it.
Sure, on the surface it’s noisy and dirty and dangerous. But if you look deeper, there’s poetry to its movement. The sirens that wail at all hours, the honking of the taxi horns, the multi-lingual chatter of its citizens – it all should be a cacophony.
But if you really stop and listen, there’s a rhythm to it all. Instead of noise, there’s harmony; there’s a heartbeat that stubbornly refuses to stop beating.
I wished I was a photographer so that I could capture its beauty, its vibrancy. I wished I could paint its colors: red brick buildings, grey subways, bright yellow taxis, the rainbow of colored flags that hung from the buildings in Little Italy, and the tanned skin of the smiling Indian man behind the café counter.
Every single second, there is something to look at, someone to watch. I ordered my eyes to see, my brain to remember. I wanted to hug this city to me, pack it in my bags and bring it home with me.
But, of course, this is ridiculous. You can’t take cities with you. Your eyes can’t see everything and the memories will slowly leak away over time. It is all so fleeting.
I will come back. Even knowing that, my departure was uneasy. Because I knew that when I return, I would not be the same person I am today. In the same fashion, the city will not be the same as it was this morning as I hailed the cab that would take me to the airport.
So today, as my flight prepared to depart with me on board, I wept. They were tears of gratitude that I was here and I saw and I smelled and I listened. And there were tears of grief that this was over and can never be repeated.
Already I miss it.
I miss the feeling of accomplishment at figuring out the subway system. I miss the smiling Italian waiters with the sexy accents in Little Italy and the calls of the vendors on Canal Street.
I miss the crunchy-chewy texture of the bagels. You just can’t get them that good anywhere else.
I miss the light and the electricity of Times Square. I miss the hum of life carried by a symphony of languages from other countries.
I know there is bad there. Crime, trash, homelessness, disease, and corruption all run rampant. After all, a valuable reward often comes at a high price. I know the bad things are there and that my experience of just three days isn’t sufficient to get a realistic view of the true city.
But maybe as an outsider, I see it more completely than someone that’s lived there for all of his or her life. There is a vibrant tenacity, a stubborn energy, that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.
New York, I love you.