I’ve lived in New York for three years now. Once upon a time, around the time when most movies I watched started with “once upon a time,” that would have seemed like an eternity. Now, while much has changed and developed in those years, the speed with which they flew by, and my awareness of a year’s exponential increase in pace, makes it seem so finite — such a snippet in the stream of a lifetime. That being said, it has been enough time — enough time to get to know this city and to fall in love with it.
I still have a long list of places I want to explore, get to know, fall in love with, and I plan to do that. But New York stole my heart, and for that, I am grateful — it was an act of thievery I benefit from every day, though probably one that wasn’t necessary. I would have given my heart to this city of my own accord. It’s hard to pinpoint sometimes, what it is exactly about this place that makes it so incredible. But, as it often does, sitting on my rooftop somehow afforded me the opportunity to find some clarity on that. In that moment, I knew what made New York so vibrant, so utterly exhausting, and so special to me. I knew what I had to thank it for. Here goes…
New York forces you to give up a tempo for a pulse; it won’t let you become content in monotony. It makes you trade in star-gazing for soul-searching. You find the city and realize there’s so much still to be found in yourself — much like the stars, there but out of sight, distracted by skyscrapers’ never tiring seduction. The city’s so littered with lights, it’s impossible not to see yourself. It’s the only place you could stay forever and still get a taste of the world. It’s the only place that simultaneously inspires in me a desire to see everything the world has to offer, but also makes me feel as if I never want to leave. It’s always one step ahead, but it always looks back, doesn’t leave it to intrigue — lets you know you should keep on trying to keep up.
It’s relentless in its pace. It reshapes time’s parameters — makes minutes and moments and even years move unfathomably faster than they seem they should. At a certain point, you realize that longevity can’t compete with speed — a century is nothing if it flies by in a second. It makes you realize it’s not the fountain of youth we need, but an hourglass — some control over time’s movement. It’s not that growing old is scary. It’s not even its inevitability that is daunting. It’s the fear that inevitability will become a vision of the past before we know it — that what we know will come, will show up at our doorstep while we’re only just starting to get ready for its arrival. We expected it to come, but not just yet. The city brazenly puts your relationship to time in the open; it casts it out before your eyes so that it is unmistakable and undeniable and unrelenting, and so it makes you not want to spend even a millisecond being someone other than exactly who you are. It’s the ultimate motivator to shed a facade, to trade pretending in all its perceived perfection for something much more flawed and authentic.
It’s so gritty — at first, it makes your skin a little raw, then tough — maybe calloused — but ultimately the effect is that of sandpaper: you become smoother, more flush in the texture of your existence. It’s as if your very skin becomes wiser; having experienced more it acquire scars, but it is somehow more refined as a result.
It epitomizes the idea of a fresh start — there is nearly tangible possibility in every single day. That’s the perk of unpredictability. Every time I enter the subway, I may encounter a love of my life. Every corner I turn, I might stumble upon a revelation. Any person I interact with could hold the key to the next chapter in my journey. When so much is unknown, and there is so much to see, you can’t help but feel like your next exhilaration is always waiting for you a moment away. And when discovery can descend at a moment’s notice, there is a certain contentment that nestles into your daily existence.
The city is loud and alive and buzzing all the time. So when you need noise and life and adrenaline, it’s at your fingertips, ready to infiltrate your pores, saturate and appease at your whim. But when your desire for endless adventure is sated, it will leave you seeking and stumbling into moments of serenity, and you will never appreciate it as much as you will in the context of constant chaos. New York is bedlam littered with treasures and oases and secret havens and all the simple things you might not have appreciated if you didn’t have to discover them unexpectedly and less often than you would if they were in plain sight. New York is appreciation — it’s when the wind finally blows on a densely hot summer day — the type of summer day that latches on to your clothing — and you feel alive and you want to breathe in the entire gust and hold on to its energy and cooling state forever. It’s when summer first cools to fall, when winter first thaws to spring — it’s transition and triumph and perseverance. It’s becoming utterly aware of your existence in a place, in a moment, in the context of your life.
The city is dynamic, it’s amorphous, it’s ever-evolving and changing. It makes you want to be dynamic yourself — to be open to your own evolution and change. To remain stagnant in an environment in such a state of flux becomes an impossibility — growth, therefore, becomes inevitable, but only after it is embraced.
It’s only as challenging as it is rewarding. It’s the type of place that won’t just give — it will expect more of you, it will ask that you earn. It will make you appreciate expectations — it will grow your own preference for earning your way. It will teach you to see your sweat as a sign of progress. It will make you realize there is nothing more powerful, more unique, more compelling than a story — and then you will look around, and realize you’re surrounded by millions of stories. And the world will feel magical.
The city is prideful and stubborn and always in a rush, but it is always tapped into the current of humanity. It’s compassionate, engaged, and knows what warrants a halt in its stride. It knows when it ought to turn around and offer help.
It’s a sum of its parts — it’s humbling and ego-boosting. It will knock you down sometimes, infuriate you, make your blood boil up to the limits of your restraint, and then it will peel back a curtain, reveal where it’s been leading you, and leave you mind-blown and forgiving. It will make you want to promise that no matter how long you wait in a smoldering subway station for a train that’s twenty minutes late, with bag straps branding your shoulders, sweat trickling down your back, visions of smashing every subway in the land vivid in your brain, you will still always love this insane place, you will always know it never takes more than it gives.
This city embraces a spectrum — a diversity of people and experiences. It will open your mind and expand your perspective — it will make you less patient but more tolerant. It will harden you, and increase your capacity for compassion. It makes you elaborate and complex and intricate, so that every day is a rediscovery of yourself.
It is the sum of its buildings, its streets, its sewers, its taxis, its cobblestones, and signs and parks and bodegas and liquor stores and boutiques and delis and subway stations and rooftops and walkups and skyline and rivers and bridges and infinitely skyscraper eclipsed sunsets — but mostly, it is a sum of its people, and for that New York is always personal. It’s always yours, and always mine.