Dear New York City

purple flowers and skyscrapers around green space

My passion for the outdoors, for the truth of nature, is matched by my love for a city where the truth of people is on full display, vivid and syncopated. I was disappointed to cancel my upcoming trip there, but it was a small sadness, an excuse to rebook for a longer visit another time. “The city will still be there,” I said to my travelling companion when we made the decision a month ago, “it’s not going anywhere.” I watch now in horror as the city contracts, pulls into itself, trying to hide from this deadly virus. This is my love letter to a place I’ve never lived where I feel completely at home.

I’m writing to you both: The people who live in New York and the city itself, you’re inseparable. I miss you. I’ve been there amid the chaos of Christmas preparations and on hot days doing nothing more than laying in the grass in Central Park. I’ve been caught in rain (often!) and surprise snowstorms. Even with all the serious ways our lives are disrupted by the pandemic, I struggle to accept the insignificant fact that this will be the first year in many that I’m not with you for Easter weekend.

I crumple in pain when I hear details about the nightmare you’re living. Fear and death fill your small spaces that were never meant to be your only living space. The city that was your living room, library, playground, and kitchen lies empty, coming alive with noise at 7 each evening to acknowledge your heroes. I cry for the healthcare workers everywhere facing unimaginable trauma while worrying about their own health and their families’. I want to hug the parents of small children in tiny apartments, losing their sanity from the noise, the emotions, the never-ending needs for entertainment, movement, reassurance, and food. I want to say, it’s going to be okay, somehow.

New York, you changed my life in so many ways, so many times. My travel journals are filled with personal revelations. There is such joy in being fully myself while surrounded by others expressing themselves in their own magical (bizarre, entertaining, scary, fabulous) ways. Your energy is contagious. Every trip I hit a wall of exhaustion and then find myself walking around for another few hours, each step powered by the architecture, chaos, art, music, and the people.  Thank you.

Where is all the energy now? What happens to the electricity in the air from performance art, or the hushed exhilaration in each luminous room in each stunning museum? The phone conversations and arguments filling the sidewalks, or the press of a crowd to get into a reading at a bookstore? Are men bellowing out catcalls into the echo chambers of their four walls? Who warms the green chairs in the park? Who can hear the music? Is the Rose Room truly silent now, no comforting shush of pages being turned?

When alone there, I am invigorated and brave in ways I carry with me through the rest of my life. The first time in the city on my own I went to a dance show in Brooklyn, disoriented and apprehensive because of minor confusions, and I saw a sign advertising the event as being for “Adventurous Audiences” which filled me with both pride and a bit more fear. I never once regretted the risks I took.

With others, I ran a race around Central Park (in a kilt, though a friend suggested the underwear run was more my speed), ate food and drinks in fancy restaurants and tiny diners, tourist traps and holes in the wall. It must be true love I feel for the city, because every memory brings a smile to my face. I have nothing but fondness for even the smelliest alleyway where I had a juicy kiss. The kisser is long gone from my life, but I could show you the alley in a heartbeat. I don’t have to tell you you’re special, New York, you know it well. I just thought you might want to hear how much you matter to others.

What have I learned from you about the nature of people? The value of community in facing adversity: You look out for your neighbours. That everyone has struggles, they’re just tucked away inside homes in other places while yours are played out in the subway cars and on the streets. Now that you’re tucked away inside, please don’t forget that you’re not alone, whatever you’re feeling. You also taught me that while we’re all imperfect, we can always grow and change in unexpected – sometimes adventurous – ways. Thank you for that too.

I am devastated for you and looking forward to when we will be together again. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the place. ❤️

van with sign saying Interesting Items
Seems legit.

2 thoughts on “Dear New York City

  1. This is a such beautiful tribute to New York and its people, Karen. Your fondness for both is so evident, as is your empathy for what they’re currently experiencing.

    1. Thanks, Julie. I’d buried my personal disappointment a bit, thinking it was so trivial compared to people there’s pain – I realized it’s all wrapped up together, the sadness for me and love for them and their city. (It didn’t help at all that I binged a tv show set there… kept wanting to see myself in the background, lol!)

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