I'm waging an eternal war with the city where I live.
Grey skies weren't so forgiving in London.
Making ends meet isn't so forgiving here.
"New York, I love you but you're bringing me down," coos James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
On the subway train, I'm reading Rosecran Baldwin's "Paris, I love you but you're bring me down." And I've been gently letting go of the image in my head of what life on the Left Bank would look like. Despite the Hemingway-esque image I have of filling in pages of a novel from the comfort of an outdoor terrace, being lost in translation doesn't always make for the easiest of days.
Admittedly, I'm guilty of romanticism. Each one of us can imagine a life somewhere else in all its grandeur. It would be easier, if only I lived here. My problems would go away, if only I lived there.
I've grown to really love this city, but in the moments when anxiety is at its height (as it often is when I think of coming bills and the so-far-dependable-but-not-so-guaranteed career choice I've made in freelancing), there are times I think whisking off to somewhere else is the only remedy to my apprehension.
But as Charles Bukowski once said, "You begin saving the world one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics."
So, my thoughts lead me here- past the romantic and into reality.
Places will always bring you down; Baldwin and Murphy have so kindly pointed that out. Of course, it's easy to hold on to a glistening image of what could be. It hovers somewhere off in the distance, just out of reach.
Imagining a different reality is sometimes easier than confronting your own. But if you ground yourself just long enough to ask, Who is the one man I am saving? Maybe, the rest doesn't matter.
I've been saved by song lyrics. I've been saved by words written in a novel. I've been saved by the touch of someone I love. I've been saved by a look of compassion. People have always saved me.
In the LCD Soundsystem song, Murphy goes on to say, "You're still the one pool/ Where I'd happily drown," of New York City.
In a way, I understand his sentiment, but all the same, I'm not sure that a city is where I'd like to happily drown... be it London, New York or Paris with all their luster and allure. Instead, I find myself relating more to another lyric these days, one from Fleetwood Mac's "Sara."
"Drowning in a sea of love, where everyone would love to drown."
If I'm going to be completely overwhelmed—drown in a sense—by something that overtakes me, I'd far prefer to be taken by love or human compassion, than to simply be lost in the sea of a city.
I will end with an anecdote, that to me illustrates this point.
There was a moment on the train recently which filled me with hope. A women started, just like they always do, with her initial pleas to be heard, to be seen. In a city as engulfing as New York, such a plea is not uncommon.
"I come in peace," she said. "I'm here today because I have nothing. And I'm going to sing to you in hopes of receiving money, water or food. I hope you're never in a position where you will have to do this. Pray for me. I will pray for you."
I could hear her through my headphones, but, as discretely as possible, I turned up the volume a few notches and trained my eyes on the text of the book in front of me. It somehow felt more polite if I made it seem as though I couldn't hear her, hadn't noticed her presence. Eye contact seemed a waste of her time when I had nothing to offer.
Her voice rang out beautifully, and it startled me. Her spoken voice was soft, but her singing voice was strong.
Being brought down to tough times in New York does not render you silent.
I handed her a peach I'd brought for my lunch. She took it in one hand, and grabbed my hand with the other. She looked at me with genuine gratitude as she received my 35¢ piece of fruit.
You begin saving the world one man at a time.
I didn't save her of course, but maybe, in a way, she saved me that day.
Life will inevitably bring us down, but I've found it is people, rather than places, that pull us back up again.
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Enjoying and learning from this chapter as the pages turn