New York City: an eccentric hub densely inhabited by approximately 8.5 million people. Appropriately deemed “The Big Apple,” NYC’s core provides a home for a melting pot of people and cultures. Some people cannot see its appeal, and I can certainly understand that. When my parents dropped me off in this stimulant of a city roughly 6 years ago, I panicked and sobbed in the middle of the streets for a humiliating length of time, overwhelmed and unsure of myself. I was a 5’4, petite brunette, and I felt swallowed whole by the noise of it all.
But let’s fast forward a bit. They say time heals all, and it did. I grew a bit (not physically at all, I am actually convinced I am shrinking), but my skin thickened from the unparalleled experiences I had in the days, months, and years that followed. In that time I was spit on in the subway, had my wallet stolen twice, lived with completely unstable and borderline insane roommates, had my heart broken, and battled daily rejection due to the wonderfully subjective fine arts career path I chose for myself. I was an exquisite disaster through it all, and I still am. However, 6 years later, I stand in my strongest self and I owe that to a simple personal mantra: commitment to connections with others.
No matter who you are, where you live, or what your background may be, other individuals will be swiveling in and out of your life like a revolving door. I challenge you, when you are ready of course, to connect more fully and presently with these people.
The other day I sat in a Whole Foods eating lunch at one of their high top tables. My headphones, while not even playing anything, were intended to give off a “Don’t talk to me, I want to be alone” vibe. I was having one those days where I preferred to sit in self-doubt and loneliness rather then being productive before my workday began.
But then something magical happened, and his name was Donald.
Donald appeared to be about 70 years old. He was wearing a beat up jacket, faded khakis, and an old, light blue baseball hat. He came right up to the other end of my high top and asked if he could sit across from me. Initially extremely displeased due to the many empty table options he had to choose from around me, I managed to say, “Yes, of course.” He proceeded to strike up conversation with me as if we had arranged to meet here and chat like old buds. While alarmed at first by his eagerness, I did not feel uncomfortable or in danger in anyway. He asked about my life here, why I came to New York, who I was, and what I set out to achieve. As I shared my story, I found that his soup and my story compelled him simultaneously. He was completely and fully engaged with both acts, and I was astounded by how present one human could be in a given moment.
I came to find out that Donald was a Mariner and that he was saddened by the fact that it’s a dying industry. He shared a few stories from his youth and explained that trading goods all around the world was his life’s passion. I could see in his eyes how much he missed these ships and the thrill his past gave him. He went on to say how lucky he was to live in a time when that skill set was so essential to the economy and the overwhelming gratitude he felt to meet the people he came across on those boats.
He said that everyone he encountered seemed unafraid of anything and welcoming of everyone. He reflected on this period in his life in a state of inspiring euphoria.
Upon finishing his meal he left fairly abruptly and excused himself by saying, “Thank you for listening.”
I don’t remember what I said or did physically as a send off, but I know that it felt insane to me that he left feeling like the fortunate one. I had talked to this man for less than 30 minutes and felt my whole perspective of this city and its inhabitants had totally shifted. I was feeling empowered by a simple exchange of listening and sharing. It completely shifted the tone of my day.
Let’s be clear here, I am not telling you to crash a stranger’s lunch break and strike up a conversation, but what I am putting out into the world is this: why do we feel the need to put on our headphones when we feel discouraged? Why do we shut our doors when we feel upset? I challenge you to make more eye contact, listen harder, remember more names, go on that random blind date, meet up with those co-workers that you “seemingly hate” but don’t really know anything about, get dinner with that friend of a friend who is in town for the night, say yes to the themed party even if you have nothing to wear.
Say yes in general.
Sharing my story with Donald left me completely charged. It reminded me that I had one to contribute that was equally significant. We all do.
Connection is the key to living in a city of millions of people and not feeling miniscule. It is growth. It is literal, personal expansion. Don’t let yourself run away from a gift like that.