It’s been over a week since my return from a trip to New York City for the first time. I’m still processing what was a wonderful trip with my 12 year old daughter, hosted by a dear friend who loves New York City and his East Village address only slightly less than living in Hawaii. We were in capable hands and saw a good many sights and neighborhoods. Once upon a time I didn’t have the desire to visit so large a city for my thought was I would be afraid for my safety in so crowded and urban an environment. I understand now why I would have been in a state of fear had I ever been expected to visit New York City before now. My Sense of Self was not developed enough so I couldn’t feel safe to express myself or explore new territory.
We all have some sense of who we are but the question is where does it come from? What is it based on? Who are we trying to please?
For decades, I have heard that New York was an exciting place to visit, a city that never sleeps, that offers everything for the resident and visitor, and a place that is rich with art, culture, food, music, theater, and more. I wanted none of it, till this year. Previously, about twenty years ago, I visited a friend and her family in upstate New York and loved it for its rolling naturalness. The small town of Rome was walkable and lovely and quaint and safe. The rural New York I imagined living in, tucked away “safely” in a town where I would attend school to get a masters degree in Creative Writing, set up myself to be an editor and write for myself as well. Nice pipe dream, yes it was.
But today in reflecting how I felt about finally going to New York City itself and tackling the subway system, braving the crowded streets, and coping with the summer swelter, I am compassionately laughing at my ridiculous former self; the immature, uncertain and frightened of crowds me that occupied the me I am for 46 years. Somewhere long ago I developed the idea and belief that I wasn’t enough to make it in a big city. I dreaded how it would swallow me up, take advantage of me, leave me fearing for my safety as the sky grew dark.
I didn’t take that kind of attitude to New York with me. I took a strong and curious and enthusiastic person (two of us actually) to New York City and I enjoyed every part of the ride. I enjoyed the occasional racing for the subway, the endless walking, the dodging of oncoming human traffic on sidewalks as well as cabs charging through crosswalks. I enjoyed crowded museums and even a busy urban promenade known as the Highline that were each in their ways an Oasis and Respite from the humming and thrumming city. I appreciated the mixed atmosphere at the 911 Memorial Site honoring the 2900 plus who perished in 2001 and had a chat with the Survivor Tree, “the Callery Pear” that for the last two years has been on site again and had small pears growing in her shimmering branches. I was convinced I could feel heat coming off her as she held the memories of all the lost ones from 2011.
I got a clear message at that site visit that “Life is Precious” and we each deserve to be a full expression of our Selves. Without a Healthy Sense of Self, we don’t live a fully expressed life. We live a life that is for someone else. As the Creator of this theory says without a Sense of Self our own life skips us by. And so I realize being in New York for the first time that I lived for decades without a full natural sense of self. I saw that my daughter of twelve is in touch with her Natural Sense of Self though that I have encouraged as her mother all her days, AND it really showed up while we were in New York. She was downright fearless most of the time.
She took on understanding the subway system and understood what to watch for within a day. She walked ten feet in front of Nate and I when we were touring neighborhoods and only hung back as the crowds of Time Square got overwhelming for she didn’t want to get separated and lost in the crowd. She enjoyed the buzz and vitality and the never ending activity.
We saw a bus drive by advertising a New York College for Film and TV Acting and she said, “I want to go there!”
I did a double take. “You want to go to school in New York City?”
“Sure, why not?” she said without a moment of hesitation.
“Well then let’s see what that would take,” I replied neutrally.
And on she walked as though she was unstoppable. I felt like crying but I smiled instead. Here was evidence that she was getting to be her own Self and that I was not expecting her to live for me. Or so I chose to interpret this moment.
What being in a big city offered me was a chance to see how much I have restored or discovered my Sense of Self. I am comfortable in my own skin, FINALLY, and so I can be comfortable wherever I am. I need not limit my experiences and I can enjoy myself for the pure sake of it. My young Self was not able to imagine surviving in such a bustling place with so much of everything. My evolved Self saw it as adventure and enjoyable despite the crowds, the heat and the way that natives can disregard you on the sidewalk (smile). In truth, there were plenty of helpful and friendly people and I took it to be a reflection of how I was feeling inside. They were friendly because I was. They were comfortable with me because I was comfortable with me.
I didn’t go to New York with a great list of expectations but I did go with a bucket list of sights to see and experience. The surprise I found waiting for me was how much freedom to be I felt while there: Enjoying all of it with a confidence and Sense of Self that looks forward to returning.