A couple weeks ago I stayed in New York City. I tried to write a blog about it immediately after I left, but there was too much to process. So after chewing on it a while, here’s a bit about my time in NY with my good friend, Jason, and his wife, Katie:
There is no way to ease yourself into New York City. Immediately after crossing the Washington Bridge I found myself in a swiftly flowing river of cars. It’s also like this when walking on the sidewalks. If you ever visit New York, by the way, bring some good walking shoes; you’re going to walk a lot!
While on the subway, headed to Times Square, Jason was describing to me the sort of community he feels in NY. He said, “We’re all in this together—one big community of eight million people trying to survive together on this island.” He spoke of the absurd rush hour situations on the train when people are so packed in, their faces are close enough to kiss. He described how friendly people are, contrary to the stigma of the angry New Yorker. His testaments and what I would experience the following days would change my image of New York.
There have been a lot of moments on this tour when I’ve found that things are different from the images in my head. New York is the perfect example of this; it was radiant, the streets well maintained; people were friendly. That’s not exactly the image I had of The Big Apple. My idea of New York was stylized the way movies, books, magazines do so well.
But somewhere between walking through Central Park as the leaves were changing (and thinking of all the movie clips I had seen there), trying to realize the enormous gravity of the Harlem Renaissance while strolling down Lennox Ave., and starring in the face of an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Metropolitan Museum, a consciousness awakened in me that these things and what they represented were actually real. They weren’t just ideas in my head. Ancient Egypt wasn’t just a story in my middle school History book; and Langston Hughes actually moved the souls of those who heard his mournful poems.
Moments like those are ones in which the specters of history seem less like ghosts and more like the person next to you. These moments offer such clarity that the rest of life feels as distant as the memory of a childhood dream.
I was reminded of a college lecture in my Postmodern Marxism class; it was about society’s lack of “historicity”; the theory was that we can’t fully understand the past because society and culture have associated certain images and ideas with them. We learn history second-hand, after it’s been tainted with the opinions of those before us, unless we were eye-witnesses.
I think today that the haze preventing us from fully understanding the past also keeps us from effectively engaging the present. The noise of the TV screen, the business of work, the torrent of useless information (buzzfeed much?) all distort what is actually going on in front of our faces. We’re asleep, in a way, until a moment of clarity, of making a connection wakes us up to see reality as it is: beautiful, meaningful, intriguing...like New York.