St. Joseph's is the oldest Catholic church in Manhattan, low and square, with fieldstone walls, high white pillars, and a portico topped by a cross that stands out starkly against the sky. It is a kind of house blend of old and new, of city and country, of Catholic Europe and leatherstocking America.
--Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own
Do not be scared, Joey, that I love New York so much still. Do not be dismayed that it has seeped into my dreams, under my skin, leaving crisp, tarred lines on my back, and bright, bold dreams of subways in my head. This is how I love a place.
My two sycamores—or, more accurately, I am theirs—waved gently in the snowstorm this morning and swayed gently in the light of the full moon, to no wind but their own. I thought of their brilliant green leaves in August, and their fluttering foliage in autumn. I love the way the sun bounces off the green of the trees into my living room. And I hoped that this moody weather would cooperate to allow me to see once again the thrust and scatter of light across my kitchen table on a sunny morning. I already mourned leaving these trees behind, and losing their friendly light and color outside my window.
Isn't that silly?
But that is how I love places.
I already remember (even though it's not the past) with great fondness, reading in the mornings, the shapes of trees against the morning sun. Thinking, praying in the light of those trees in bright early fall-light. I wasn't even particularly happy then.
But I remember, with an unquenchable nostalgia, falling asleep in my little nook of a New York bed, staring up into the moonlight above the city and the apartment windows across the train tracks. I remember the sky-view from my little vantage nook. And I certainly wasn't happy then, new to the city, trembling and exposed like the brick of my bedroom. But those unhappinesses don't seem to dim my fondness for the places.
My mother cried: what will you do! Get every place you go tattooed upon your skin?! I think they already are, at least, upon my heart, if not my skin.
That is how I love places.
I passed the fence and the little grove of trees and I marveled that I pass that little glen so often now, which, for so long was one singular memory of kissing a fisherman under stars and blankets.
But the little grove became a playground; and it became ordinary—all these places become ordinary.
That is their magic.
The YMCA where O'Connor lived; Columbia where Merton was baptized, Perry Street, the Cloisters where they all walked, St. Joseph's in the Village, all these places are pilgrimage destinations, which become ordinary. Holy in their ordinariness. Ordinary in their holiness.
I love them for all the footprints that have walked over them. I love them for my past footprints, covered up by fresh footprints each day. I tread all over them, leaving behind the dust of the present.
I opened the window, and there were robins singing in the sycamores I love. They mark that spring will come, even though there are no buds on the branches—yet.
I will cry when I have to leave the sycamores behind. For the rest of my life, I will remember how happy I was living next to them. And the memories will be a little sad, because there's no going back to them or then. Nostalgia is a tribute to past beauty witnessed.
So do not be afraid, Joey. This is how I love places.