Recently, I returned from my first trip to New York City. Originally, I had planned to take this adventure with the man I thought I was going to be with indefinitely, perhaps even marry. I dreamed of the romantic walks up 5th Avenue, carriage rides in Central Park, and fancy dinners for two among flickering candles. But things change, and I decided that I couldn’t wait for a new Mr. Right to come along to be my chaperone, so I went anyway, leaving the fantasies of what could have been a winsome, starry-eyed trip and instead charging ahead on my own—and it was amazing.
Leading up to my trip, I’ll admit I was pretty nervous about experiencing Manhattan solo. I’m not sure why; I conquered Shanghai alone, albeit with nervous reservations. Why should New York be any scarier than a city where I don’t speak the language? It’s just that newness that grabs at your throat, makes you catch your breath while you contemplate the unknown. That was the feeling I had with New York. I knew I needed this. The unexpected can be terrifying, but also exciting. To challenge one’s self in new ways is essential to live a fulfilling life, but taking that first step sure can be scary.
New York really is different from anywhere else on earth. I was exhilarated by the exigent, no-nonsense attitude of the people there. It was a breath of fresh air, seeing people of all walks of life strolling past me in Midtown, Greenwich Village, Harlem, Little Italy, the Upper East Side, and places in between, just doing their thing, and doing it with purpose. I was struck by the difference between the feel of this place and everywhere else I’ve ever been. With a high density population and only so many subway seats to go around, the residents of NYC don’t have time for hesitation; they have somewhere to be and they are going to get there even if they have to push you out of the way to do it. Okay, that might have come off as a little melodramatic. No one yelled at me to hurry through the subway turnstile, take my bag faster from the cashier, or huffed at me in exasperation because I didn’t know what something was on the breakfast menu in the corner bodega (although they were most certainly laughing behind my back). No, the push I am referring to is more metaphorical than that. It was literally a sensation of aliveness that came over me, much like the feeling I got when I was in the Redwood Forest a few years back. In that post, I commented how the Redwoods seemed to have a personality—a peaceful, bear-hug protector type; a welcoming, long-lost relative who invites you to stay for dinner after you stopped in for a quick tea. In New York’s case, it was a You’ve got this! Go get em, girl! type of character. Even though I went to the city without much of an agenda, each day when I got up, I knew what my purpose was: to truly experience the bones of the city. I wanted to see what made this place so special, why everyone was so entranced by it. There are ballads sung about New York, poems written, love letters in all forms, all about a place. I needed to know why.
I figured it out. I found my groove in New York. Normally, I love to people-watch, but it was different—instead of combing the crowds for the odd duck to watch (and trust me, there were plenty), I took in the buildings, the artistry, the scents, the jumble of colors, loud noises and the amazing history that was evident every time I turned a corner. I walked a lot. I walked everywhere. The city made me feel different. I noticed things I don’t normally notice, my walk was different, and my whole demeanor changed. I felt inspired.
Does who we are hinge on where we are? Are the idiosyncrasies of a place so intertwined with our being that we literally morph at a molecular level when we enter a different city? I certainly felt that way in New York. I felt it enter my being and stay there. It was a little like falling in love, when you feel like you and another person are truly becoming one. And now I get it. I get why people write love letters to this place. I understand why people take such risks to move there with nothing but a suitcase and a dream. I learned that taking a leap into the unknown is totally worth it, no matter how scary. I can’t wait to experience my next adventure and see what else the universe is holding for me. My journey might not take a traditional path, but it’s all mine, and I’ll follow it with faith that it’s taking me where I’m supposed to be.
One last note: while much of this trip was spent alone, I did have some wonderful companions for part of the way. I want to thank Mandy, Ben, and Ruth for their time and friendship. It would not have been nearly as amazing without your presence.