I’ve lived in New York City for 25 years. I’ve seen some strange things in public -- things that would make you do a double take or make your skin crawl.
I promise not to detail the “skin crawl” ones here. I’ll keep it vague. Let’s just say I've witnessed things usually done in private -- sex, taking a bath, various states of undress, use of city streets as bathrooms. You get my drift.
Oh, and, then, there are the rats…the stories that I could tell you about rats.
I’m also keeping it vague, because I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about my beloved city. As bad as it gets, there’s always some sublime example of humanity that makes up for the amount of crawling skin that you endure in NYC.
Take my favorite park in the neighborhood. Many of my mom friends won’t go there, because of the shady “element” that frequents the park (Translation: homeless people sleeping on benches).
I like the park; it's beautiful canopy of trees on a tranquil block of the city. My feeling about the homeless people is that they are usually equally tranquil (sleeping). I think that they are like us without homes. I know some of them have mental health issues and/or drug problems. Again, they are like us without homes.
I do understand the wariness of the moms I know, though. Now that I have Claire, I wonder if I should be more careful. I wonder if I’m putting my daughter at risk by holding onto my idealistic notion that you should give all people a chance. I wonder if going to this park is worth it.
But there’s the sublime humanity in New York City…
The old lady is on the same park bench as always, her fingers nimbly knitting. Deep fissures line her face, but her alert blue eyes reveal a quick, ageless mind. It’s clear she’s not American. Old people who are American don’t look like her. She’s old, but timeless somehow....like she could have been sitting on that park bench and knitting that same sweater since 1940. Her outfits tend towards a haphazard quality. When we see her, she’s likely to have something like a smock over pants and tube socks peeking out of shoes that look like slippers. The babushka on her head looks contemplated though. I imagine her smoothing down her hair first, then, meticulously tying it under her chin, before she heads to the park with her bag of yarn and a sweater in different stages of completion. She smiles like she has a secret. I think it’s a good one, and she’s not telling.
One day, it started pouring unexpectedly. Claire, the old lady and I took refuge under the jungle gym like a secret hiding place to sit out the rain. Our companion continued knitting and smiling, as if she were thinking about her secret from 1940. We watched the rain together. Claire went up to her tentatively, curious about her endeavors. The woman leaned in to show Claire her expert handiwork. She spoke about the sweater in a far-off Eastern European dialect.
I think she is a gypsy.
Then, she started singing. The tune had the quality of a children’s song, yet the words were a mystery.
Maybe, the song held her secret. I’ll never know.
The rain and her singing drowned out the surrounding city and took us to a place outside of time. She kept on singing her secret, smiling and knitting. And Claire was absolutely transfixed.
My daughter is probably too young to remember this strange, wonderful experience. But I like to think it’s embedded in her soul somewhere. It certainly is in mine.
The sublime humanity in New York City is.
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Photo Source: Johntex, Wikipedia Commons
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