I am the first to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with this city. There are sweet and sour parts of life here.
The sour notes mostly have to do with realities of living as one of EIGHT MILLION people sharing a very very small piece of real estate. The South Ferry is a little over 8 miles from my apartment, which is the same distance as the Waxhaw Post Office is from my parents house in North Carolina. I have a post office across the street from my apartment. Does that mean south Waxhaw would fit on my street? Imagine EIGHT MILLION people crammed between my parents house and the Waxhaw Post Office… and admist the ensuing mayhem, you’d get NYC.
First and sourest… the dirt. Actually its not dirt, its worse. It’s grime. And its all over everything. If I leave my windows open, within an afternoon I find a black coating over every inch of flooring and table space in my apartment, and I live six stories above street level. I breathe that floating smog every day, so its safe to assume that the same black coating that lines my floors also lines my lungs. Lets not even mention the coating that trickles down below street level into the subways–Too much to think about. I didn’t find the same kind of grime when I was in Chicago, and K and I were trying to think through why Chicago was so much cleaner than NY. Still inconclusive.
There’s also the noise of the city, and I don’t know whether to be happy or sad that my ears have become so accustomed to ambulance/police sirens blaring down the street at all hours of the day and night, that I hardly notice them. I don’t hear car horns anymore. There’s the rush, the involuntary anonymity, and people not having the time to stop and give a personal hello or ever remember your name, the lack of eye contact with anyone you pass by, the fear to smile at anyone you do manage to make eye contact with lest it be misinterpreted… There’s the exorbitant expense, for rent and for life. My bedroom alone costs me almost as much as my parents mortgage cost them for our house in MD. The reality of how much money I lose each month for the sake of having a comfortable apartment is really starting to set in. I could hole up in a tiny efficiency unit, and use the extra cash flow to satiate my desire to leave the city as often as possible…or to pay student loans. The travel option sounds increasingly appealing the more I think about it, but I also realize the reality of chronically having even more cramped quarters probably hasn’t set into my cost-benefit analysis.
The sweet notes are in a whole different category than the sour notes. They have to do with the richness of experiences here. I love the diversity of skin colors, nationalities, backgrounds, life stories, languages, food, and culture. You don’t see that kind of diversity once you leave the city. I think being around people from other countries somehow makes me feel more at home in my own, since all through growing up cross-cultural experience was part of being ‘home’. I also love that any hobbyist imaginable can find a community of people in NY who are interested in the same things: be it learning sign language, intramural sports, running, making pottery, doing T’ai Chi, being a SAHM, knitting, book clubs, karaoke, tennis, playing chamber music, or improv theater… and those are just ones I could think up off the top of my head. Meetup.com has a wealth of things to connect over, and NY has just about every kind of MeetUp group you can imagine.
There’s also truth in being exposed to the reality of how broken humankind is. Its almost difficult for me to list this as a sweet thing, but I guess knowing the truth is a good thing. This city is like a magnifying glasses, and humanity is exhibit A. I was having a conversation tonight with a friend about how quickly (and unfortunately) you become immune to crazy people in the street, immorality, vulgarity, creud language, shockingly rude behavior… you almost have to, or else be overwhelmed by what you’re perpetually exposed to, usually without your consent. Everything from the billboards to the conversation next to you on the subway… it’s like the city wears away at any sense of shame, and blinds people to any sense of moral duty or moral standards. ‘Anything goes’ in NY, and so you see the extremes. Gay pride, mockery of anything Christian or even conservative, humor centered around stuff that shouldn’t be conversation material. You see wealth and wastefulness beyond your wildest imaginations, walking aloofly next to poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and social exile to the point of invisibility even amidst the swarms of people. Lots of homeless people suffer from varying degrees of mental illness, and would struggle to make actual use of help, even if it is offered to them. And so they frequently fall through the cracks, as Wall Street Financiers making millions walk past them on the street.
The reason I write these in the ‘sweet’ category, is that for me it paints a fuller picture for me of how desperately we need a Savior, and what an enormous difference the gospel should make in how people live. What if NY was eight million Christians? How would it look different, both physically and socially? At times a Heavenly Kingdom seems like to far fetched a dream, but I suppose I should see it more as the goal we want to work towards, and as a motivator to be a part of social change.
The sweet things about NY wouldn’t be as full or varied in other places I could live. As much as I love going somewhere spacious and quiet in the country in North Carolina, I know that the people and experiences I would have out there aren’t nearly as diverse as they are here, and the MK in me loves the diverse. Reminding myself of these kinds of opportunities makes me more apt to be thankful for the sweet possibilities here in NY, and more tolerant of the sour.