The subway driver says, “You’ve arrived! 59th Street Columbus Circle. New York City!”
I exit the subway and am swept into a blur of people who don’t know I exist. I go to the park.
The woman sitting on the bench next to me says, “I’m 101 years old today. Can you imagine making it to 101?” She smiles, rolling her eyes.
I smile back and say, “That’s a big accomplishment. Congratulations.”
We both laugh, and her laugh is so pure that I would think she’s 17 if I didn’t know better. She leaves with her caretaker and I sit on the same bench, catching snapshots of conversations as people walk by. Sometimes they sit next to me and then leave as new people come and go in waves, and this one moment is just like the city itself: always reinventing.
Experiencing the city return to life gave me life again, too. I didn’t realize how emotional it would be. I’m trying to remember how this all feels so that if I have the privilege of making it to 101 someday, I can tell those stories that make young people roll their eyes. I can talk about how I lived through a global pandemic and saw life in the greatest city in the world come to a weird standstill. Then, I watched as it rose from the ashes like it always does.
Being in New York City feels like you’re part of history all the time. I notice that I live my life with a feeling of importance, as if I’m a character in a compelling story that will be told someday. I think it’s something you’re keenly aware of in New York City more than in other places — this sense of existing beyond yourself.
I’ve always been shy. I was nervous when I came here because I thought I would be lost in the shuffle and wouldn’t fit in. The best part about New York City is that it doesn’t ask you to fit in. All it asks of you is to be yourself so you can weave your own colors into its tapestry.
They say there are as many New Yorks as there are people in this city. I walk into a coffee shop or bodega on the corner, and the person behind the counter chats with me like it’s a small town. Then I walk outside and am reminded of how big this town is and how small I am.
The pressure is off. It’s enough to show up and be myself. New York teaches me how to do that, and I thank her for it every day. She thanks me back by showing me the brightest colors of humanity.
At Central Park, there are birds chirping and pecking around for food, kids playing ball and trees and buildings next to each other that point my eyes upward and remind me of everywhere else. They remind me I’ve never felt more at home anywhere else because everywhere else is right here.
People ask me all the time what it is about New York, and I can’t explain. But I think part of it is that it makes me aware of both my own humanity and the whole of humanity. It’s a microcosm of earth in which you feel simultaneously lost inside your own world and lost inside the world around you.
It feels like falling in love every time I look up at the tall buildings. I discover something about myself I never knew down every street. It makes me think I can do anything, and even if I’m wrong, there’s nowhere else I would rather be when I try.
The women sitting next to me now at the park greet every dog that walks by. There’s a band playing jazz, and the music underscores the city’s soliloquy of people and conversation and movement and revision. I turn off the music in my headphones and tune in to the song the city sings. It’s a hopeful and energizing mix, and I’m grateful to be part of the rhythm.
Never change, ever changing New York.