Thursday, January 22, 2015

not 'til the sky

We found love right where we are.
--Ed Sheeran

Last Friday Night (yeah we danced on table tops. JK, we absolutely did not. Katy Perry, look at your life, look at your choices), I was complaining about New York to my friend's friend. And we just went to town; venting every frustration that had been boiling up inside us. 

 For my entire life, I've been hearing: "Renée, you will LOVE New York." This is entirely due to the fact that I am a theatre and travel lover, and am a semi-intelligent/sort-of-worldly human who likes the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' culture sections.
These opinions do not take into account the following facts: I abhor people taking advantage of one another; I would prefer my sidewalks free of dog shit; I can't live without trees; and I like being alone so that I can think out loud; and I really dislike not being able to see the sky. I hate the crush of endless city all around me, it makes my soul ache for the sky. The skyscrapers encroach on my beloved horizon, blocking me in. One night when I was driving on the highway back home, I realized how much vast expanse of sky was above my head, and how soon I would be back in the prison on the asphalt jungle or concrete jungle or what have you, and I began to weep. 
I'll miss you, oh dear, dear sky, I cried. 

(Then sighed a little wistful sigh of extreme satisfaction, as I roared down the highway in the sexy family mini-van. There is nothing so satisfactory as indulging in a little melodrama, every once in a while. You feel like the heroine of a Edwardian novel--or perhaps of a Fitzgerald short-story-- and there's something so lovely in just saying: "proportions be damned!" in a devil-may-care manner. You feel like a plucky, reckless bastard; and nothing washes down a shot of emotional aggrandization like a chaser of flippancy. It's very soothing, if but momentarily.)

Most of my prayers, come November, sounded like this:
Dear Lord, I hate New York. Let me just wallow in the fact that it is SO hateful and here's a laundry list of reasons why. I just love the sound of my voice, so I'm just going to keep talking and talking.
P.S. New York sucks. Everyone here likes the Yankees. I am clearly in an alternate universe.

The thrill of exploration wearing thin, the city's imperfections were more readily apparent than its beauties. Each time someone would ask me about New York, I would compare it to Kolkata, and that comparison would sting my conscience like a nettle.

For each time I compared the two cities, I thought of one of my first hot, sweaty, miserable weeks in Kolkata, and, in a black mood of resentment, I stood behind my friend as she unlocked the front gate of the hostel (always a process). Her shirt had emblazoned on the back the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Each time I complained about the inhumanity of the 6 train or the depressing sight of business men rushing past people with nothing, my memory would pinch me, saying: Hey, moron! Remember how "hate does not drive out hate"? Remember that? Still want to complain about the harshness of the bleak city-scape, you self-pitying hypocrite? Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the circumstances), I am excellent at ignoring the voice of criticism and persisting stubbornly on my course.

Until, one day, on such a cold day, such an undeniably, awful, January-cold day, the conjunction of two events conspired to drive a lesson home to my willful head.
Firstly, I had two lines of an Ed Sheeran song stuck in my head from the moment I woke up, and could not stop singing them the entire day. I was making myself sick, as well as everybody else around me.
Secondly, a man by the subway, on this cold, cold day, the stinging cold sparking tears in his eyes, accepted my loose change with the graciousness of a queen. How could your contribution be not enough; when you are giving it from a desire to help?

As I walked away, my momentary shame lifted by his generous and kind words, the line of the song flashed through my brain once more.
All of a sudden, that night, that street corner, that moment in time--a frozen image, accompanied by the soft lights of the Starbucks on the corner, the green globes of the subway entrances, the serene darkness of the park, the rush of traffic on the busy cross-street, the comforting, overwhelming presence of the church, with mothers and their babies rushing by along with the stoic commuters, and the harsh wind whipping down the hillside--became irreversibly blessed.

It was not the biting cold that brought forth tears in my eyes then; but the sense that I had, instead of refusing to encounter someone in the cold, finally accepted his invitation. That moment of love seemed to signal to a deeper love, deeper than all the easy hatred, that pulled me underneath the surface into a mystery that only that man, on that corner, in that desolate city could provide.

How could it be that such an exquisite love exists?
And yet, it must, or else I think my existence, by now, would have evaporated into waves of hate; if left unchecked by this particular, personal, wild brand of love.

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