Prospect Park is a jungle. And I was lost in it as the sun was setting.
Where am I? I wondered, as I passed unfamiliar trees and meadows.
Where am I? is a question that often echoes through my mind as I wander through the halls of the high school or through the soul-less streets of midtown.
I walked down Park Slope towards the 7th avenue G train. Brooklyn is a borough that has so much inside of it. From the outside, it looks like the Brooklyn Bridge and Williamsburg, a gentrified graveyard of the Hipster (2008-2013, RIP). But, on the inside it contains, like Prospect Park, a jungle of life, urban and suburban labyrinths of neighborhoods, and a rich history. The subway map doesn't account for it well. Brooklyn curves so much more than the subway map. It is full of curves and hills and and lots of beautiful, old homes.
When you are riding the G train North (Queens-bound) from Prospect Park, you are riding underground, like a regular subway. And then, the subway pops up above the ground, it crests with the breaking waves of the skyscrapers on the cityscape.
And it is breathtaking. To be underground, then, without warning, above it.
It is magnificent. I hope I never forget to be delighted by flying out of the dank dark of underground tunnels into the luminous ink-blue of the night sky.
I forget that formation is something that is supposed to be uncomfortable. Formation reminds us that the ultimate goal is great, but there are many deaths to self and portals that we must go through first, before we reach our destination. I called New York City my novitiate last year. Mostly because I was being annoying, and I was jealous of my friend who got to go to the real novitiate in Colorado, on the side of a mountain. Why don't I get to be on a side of a mountain?
But I reminded myself that New York City was my novitiate the other day. Sometimes our past selves are our best teachers.
Because New York City is a place of formation.
Not because it is conducive to self-reflection and quiet meditation (it's not), but because it is a place of profound dissatisfaction and discomfort.
I do not feel at home here. I don't know why.
I love cities. I love London. I have always loved London, from the moment I set foot in it. I am enchanted by the sidewalks; I am charmed by the cobblestones; the alleys; the twisting, winding streets. I adore Paris. Paris is like knowing your way around a dream. I knew Paris' streets before I was born. I love Chicago. I love D.C. I love Rome. I love Krakow.
I have a deep fondness for these places. For Boston's Beacon Hill, for Chinatown in D.C., for the madness of the Chicago Loop.
But I do not love New York in the same way.
I don't know why.
I thought perhaps it was because God is difficult to find here in the chaos and the commotion.
He is. But He is not far.
He is in the face of the CFR sisters, and the abuelitas at morning mass, and the aggressive-looking woman on the subway, and the lonely bus driver late at night.
I thought perhaps it was because this city is so oppressive.
And it is. But it does not kill the human spirit.
There is beauty riding each C train, and speed-walking past you on streets, and sitting on stoops in your neighborhood.
You are surrounded by eight million images of God.
But I still don't love New York.
I love the sunrise over the bridge on the East river.
I love walking down Christopher street in the starlight.
I love my students. I love walking through East Harlem in the fall.
I love Riverside park in April. I love the Cloisters and Bushwick. I love the thrill of the subway breeze. I love SoHo in the sunshine. I love Washington Square Park in the rain. I love the shabby, haunted chic of Rivington Street. I love all of it.
But I'm always pushing against it. Pushing against something in it that is vitally askew.
I'm always fighting not to be sucked into it; swallowed by it.
And I'm always wrestling with that question.
Wrestling with that lack of love, for no reason.
For no other reason other than that submitting to New York would be like losing part of myself.
And I am not going to lose that part of myself.
Perhaps the reason for my discomfort is the mixture of island cramped conditions and suffocating urban sprawl.
Perhaps it's just part of the formation.
Perhaps the feeling of falling in love with the small pieces of beauty each day, but hating the lifeless concrete is part of the formation. Feeling ill-at-ease and out-of-sorts.
But landing in bed each night feeling like you are living the adventure you have always wanted to, and feeling right at home in it.
Perhaps that is a sort of novitiate.