November 15, 2017 – Human Beauty in NYC

This is a *mosaic* in a New York City subway station.

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My Mama and I have just returned from four days in Brooklyn, New York City and New Jersey.  The catalyst was the opportunity to see Joseph Raffael’s art in- person at an exhibition in a gallery in Chelsea.  But the real heart of the visit was the chance to spend time with loved ones.  We spent the weekend with my niece Leigh and her partner Lena.  Then on Monday I went to Midtown to meet up with Randi, my former roommate from college – ours is my longest standing friendship.  After an evening in the City I stayed overnight at her place deep in the countryside of New Jersey.  (Yes there are parts of New Jersey that are very beautiful!)  It was a good trip.  And what is sticking with me is not anything we saw or did, but all the ways that I witnessed and participated in people being good to each other.

We saw the apartment Leigh and Lena share with two others in Brooklyn, we got to meet Lena’s mom, Lynn, over so-good butternut squash and kale pizza – every single thing we ate all weekend was delicious; we rode the subway every day and we walked in Central Park and Prospect Park near their place in Brooklyn.  We saw Joseph’s beautiful watercolors of flowers and some absolutely incredible mosaics in two new subway stations.  We watched skaters at two different rinks and wandered through a holiday market.  New York does itself up for the holidays like nowhere else.  It’s early in the season, so we got just a taste.  I went to the New York City Public Library for the first time.  The Rose Reading Room and its paintings of clouds on the ceiling are so beautiful!  There are certainly no libraries anything like it on the West Coast! Our time together was rich and full.

New York City and the surrounding area is a lot.  It’s busy, noisy, active, incredibly stimulating.  Most of what there is to see has been created by humans – buildings, bridges, vehicles – much of it devoid of color.  I said to my mom that there is no way I could find myself happy living there.  It overwhelms me.  All big cities are this way to a certain extent, but New York, with Times Square and Broadway and all the flashing lights and honking taxis seems even more big-city than any other I’ve been to.  Amidst all this big-city-ness I noticed something else for the first time this trip: the vast majority of people there deal with all the inconveniences and struggles and they treat each other pretty well.  I witnessed people helping a mother with a baby in a stroller navigating the stairs of a subway station.  I was offered assistance myself when I was trying to negotiate the turn-styles with my suitcase in the subway.  Leigh helped a woman who was flummoxed about trains not running because of repair work.  The reputation New Yorkers have for being brusque and un-caring wasn’t on display for me.

We took several Lyft rides and my mom asked each of them where they were from – some had accents, or wore head wraps, prompting the question.  The driver who picked us up early Saturday morning (we had taken the red-eye) from the AirTrain station was from the Ivory Coast.  I got to speak French with him and we discovered that we have the same birthday, one year apart!  This big black guy called me his sista!  One head-wrapped driver actually was born in Brooklyn, but his family was from Yemen.  Mama asked him if he experiences any anti-Muslim sentiment there.  He said New York is so diverse that people are used to people who look like him, so no, not really.  New York is diverse – there are twice as many people of color there than there are whites.  Forced by circumstance to live and make their way in the world with people who look nothing like them seems to be a good thing.  New York has not always been this way, I know.  But there seems to be something to learn from them as it is today.

My Beloved Brooklyn People – I love how dear they are with each other.

Part of this observation of mine stems from the fact that we see what we expect to see.  If we believe that we have to be on guard out in the world, then we see everyone as a threat.  These days I am making a conscious effort to see beauty everywhere I can.  And though I don’t find cities all that beautiful, I feel more at home surrounded by more nature, I found beauty in the people in New York.  I learned from Alison Armstrong that when I hear a voice inside complaining about the lack of something, to ask myself the question:  How is what I’m finding lacking actually there?  For example:  if I find New York lacking beauty, I ask myself the question:  How is New York beautiful?  It turns out it was there – in art and food and in my Beloved Brooklyn People – and in the way that people are good to each other.

With my love and in beauty,


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