The sky was syrup. It was 6:24 a.m. on a Friday morning, and for the first time, my sleepy, post-red-eye-flight eyes watched New York City unfold before me like the opening of a brand new book. I felt a rumbling in my heart as the city’s spine cracked in the harsh, sticky pink light. I was opening the greatest book of all time, the most mysterious, holy, mesmerizing book ever written by humans. And this time I was the one holding the book, I was to be the one to unlock its magic. The sun came up fast and with purpose, because really, it is a New Yorker too. As we cross over the Queensboro Bridge into the city, my eyes devour the first few words in this glorious book, words of skyscrapers and antiquity and emotion. My heart beats faster. I’m falling in love again, but quickly and intentionally, because this is, of course, New York City, and there is no other way to fall in love with it than that.
I found out about a month ago why there are hundreds upon hundreds of stories, books, songs, poems, and art created out of timeless love for New York City. I visited for the first time over Presidents’ Day weekend (and only now am getting the chance to blog about it), but I felt my heart being swept away by this unfamiliar, captivating waterfall of dirty city sacredness. Quoting the beautiful words of E.B. White: “The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose meaning will always remain elusive.” It’s true. New York is a poem, a romance compressed in a small space with music leaking between each building, it’s meaning never fully understood but belonging to you all the same.
I had a grand time in NYC. Despite the freezing (literally freezing) weather, I got to see so many wonderful things and had strange adventures on subways and exploring different stores. One of my favorite places was Strand bookstore, a hugeeee bookstore with new and used books that I know I could spend weeks in and never get bored. We also ate some of the best food I’ve ever had, like authentic pierogies, street vendor Halal food, and…get ready…an Elvis-style peanut butter sandwich with melted PB and bananas droozled with honey from the peanut butter restaurant. I’m still having dreams about it.
Being anonymous among vast, unfamiliar streets made me think again about the idea of belonging and home. There’s no doubt that the places I’ve been and lived have made me into who I am. Torrance, Highlands Ranch, Chadron, Granbury, Carlsbad, Lincoln, Amarillo…all of these towns are special to me because of the people who have made them feel like home. With only 74 days left until graduation, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “belong” somewhere. I don’t want to mess up my future. How do I know if I’m making the right college choice? Is that where I belong? I want to “belong” in New York because it feels so endless, but couldn’t I belong there as much as I belong in Chadron, Nebraska?
The truth is, I don’t. I don’t belong here, anywhere, in this world. I’m a pilgrim, journeying and resting in certain towns and cities for a little while, then moving on until I make it home. And home isn’t here. Home is somewhere with God, and I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I know that when I reach it, I’ll belong. My former youth minister, again, shared with me an inspiring passage by Thomas Merton that’s helped me with this uncertainty about belonging and choice: “In planning the course of our lives, we must remember the importance and dignity of our own freedom. A man who fears to settle his future by a good act of his own free will does not understand the love of God. For our freedom is a gift God has given us in order that He may be able to love us more perfectly, and be loved by us more perfectly in return.”
It is deeply refreshing to know that I am free to be a vagabond, that nothing is too permanent in this world. I can fall in love with as many towns as I am able without needing to belong there. Maybe I’ll make a temporary home out of New York City one day, or maybe there’s some other wild adventure for me in this life. I don’t know, but it’s kind of fun to not know.
I will never forget how this city, this captivating poem of excitement and blended dreams, made me feel. I’m in love with New York, like I’m in love with all the other towns I’ve known. I’m thankful that I got to tap into New York’s well of inspiration and drink deeply of the words that I felt fizzing in my heart. For you, New York. Until next time.
I’ll close with my journal entry from our second night there:
2/13 The twinkling lights of the building windows are white scars made by desperate fingernails. Fingernails desperate for New York, for anonymity, for new beginnings and busy people. The longing of all of us, making electric scars on the buildings from our hunger for them. They grow taller for us. More scratching. And then you’re up there, dancing over the crosswalk stripes in Times Square, and your heart is full of icy wonder at the possibilities awaiting you, you and only you. There is a vibrancy that spins in puffy breath and coils into the night lights. Your breath joins the frothy foam in the earl gray sky, and the skyscrapers sip it like tea. The city breathes and crystallizes until you feel like you’re gliding through a glowing, beautiful, fragile ice sculpture.
2/16 Today, the wetness watered the city garden of steel and skyscrapers. The urban rivers aren’t the ones Mary Oliver writes about, there were no chirping birds and lilies growing beside them. But there was a rose. She was lost and overwhelmed, but she absorbed the city with all her flowery cells. From Manhattan Beach to Manhattan Island, this rose has learned to grow and thrive where she’s been planted, and she can’t wait to see where she’ll take root next.
They tasted like a cookie and donut (even the gluten-free ones) all in one!
New York magic, my friends.
and every skyline was like a kiss upon the lips
and I was making you a wish.
—Florence and the Machine