This past Saturday afternoon I set out to find something every bit as likely to exist as the Fountain of Youth: a pair of boots that are both cute and comfortable for under $80. My search took me to one of my least favorite parts of Manhattan - 42nd St/Times Sq/34th St./Herald Square. This area is perpetually clogged with foreign tourists excited to shop in stores they can't normally go to, and American tourists excited to shop in stores they go to all the time at home (but Old Navy in New York City is just so much more exciting!) It wasn't long before, boots or no boots (in this case, no boots), I needed to leave.
When Kat asked me how I was adjusting to the city, I realized that most days I hardly even think about it. I've tried to keep my everyday life relatively small. I can walk to work from where I'm staying now, and I limited my search for a new place to a 2 mile radius of my office (although something called "winter" might put an end to my pedestrian habit soon). The grocery store and laundromat are just around the corner. It is manageable. I've started to recognize people, and this afternoon a group of older adults hanging out on the sidewalk who I walk by every afternoon talked to me for the first time.
But then there are moments in downtown Manhattan or while navigating a subway station at rush hour that I do get overwhelmed. Two kinds of overwhelmed, actually.
The first is what I felt on my boot search, a downright ecclesiastical sense of futility when surrounded by thousands of people working (if they're lucky) jobs they (usually) don't enjoy to earn money so they can buy stuff (lots of it) to impress each other, and then start the whole thing over the next day (to what end?). In those moments, everything is so meaningless it hurts.
On the other end of the spectrum are the occasional encounters with strangers that remind me that every person is indeed a human being with a story. Sitting on a bus one evening, I watched a child's curiosity about an architectural model the man next to her was carrying turn into a conversation about community art and the future of Prospect Park involving a third of the passengers. It might seem insignificant, but in a city where everyone is so close together all the time yet trying to avoid interacting, seeing strangers engage is something special. In those moments, everything is so meaningful it hurts.