The city is huge. It reminded me of the North Carolina State Fair in many ways: the same amount of personal space and the same fried food meets body odor smells emanating from all directions. It was loud and busy, everywhere you turned. It was sprinkled with more F bombs than I had ever heard in public. There was constant activity and constant movement. Yet, there was more…
Surprising to this North Carolina beach girl, the big apple was filled with something I didn’t expect…humanity. In every nook and cranny of this overwhelming place, there were glimpses of people connecting and relating. In the middle of the large seating spaces off of Broadway were weary travelers sitting and chatting with old friends, catching up on life. Young girls giggling and talking at warp speed at 1am down the avenues. There were friends bumping into one another, needles in a haystack, on overcrowded city streets. Policemen offering directions to lost visitors. And perhaps my favorite glimpse of humanness, the old lady singing most off key to a Beatles tune in the middle of a subway. I thought she was crazy, but then at the end, I realized she was just trying to make a buck as a kind, tired soul next to me smiled ever so slightly and tossed a dollar in her bag.
I never thought a place like New York would have so many hints of people’s goodness and kindness. It gets so lost so often in the speed of life, yet here in one of the biggest cities in the world, there it was. Not as loud as the honking or the cussing at crazed drivers, but in the quiet moments scattered amongst the five boroughs. It reminded me that no matter where in the world people live, there is an underlying desire from us all to connect.
I saw New York as a microcosm of our culture. In many ways, it is the heartbeat of America. And while this yearning to know and be known stealthily peaked out from many unexpected places, there was also something else I saw in New Yorkers, in us. It hit me most on the 1am subway ride back from Serendipity, the home of the world famous frozen hot chocolate seen in the movie bearing the same name as the restaurant. There on that train was a complete cross section of life: students, elderly, young professionals trying to make it in the place where dreams are made of, blue collar workers just hoping to make ends meet. I sat there as we listened to the sounds of the old lady with a thick German accent singing Let it Be. I looked at the eyes of all the fellow subway riders that night, many heading to the farthest points of the line because that’s where life is more affordable. There was a weariness I had never seen before or perhaps, I just have never noticed. The eyes I saw were loaded and tired and dreading tomorrow when they would do it all again. Wake up. Get the kids off. Take the bus to the subway station. Hop on the subway. Walk 5 city blocks and a couple of avenues and do it all in the reverse just in time for bed. Maybe the rest of us aren’t in a metropolis like NYC, but I see it in my friends too, everyone is just plain tired. It’s too much this hustle, the rat race is completely running us down to the core. The hamster wheel has fatigued our little legs and we can’t seem to make it around anymore. So what do we do? Where do we go from here?
We’ve set our pace far too fast for far too long. Technology, smart phones, and information is supersonic. We can go, go, go well beyond what was ever intended. God’s natural rhythms: the sun rising as our beginning and setting as our day’s end, have been ignored and instead we go until our eyes can’t take any more of the glow of our screens and we pass out in response. So many of us are just empty. Nothing more to give because there is nothing left. And it doesn’t take us living in a place like New York City to get like this, everyone from stay at home moms in Wilmington, North Carolina to third shift workers in Ohio are feeling this drought of epic proportions. People are stressed and tired at levels we’ve never seen before.
Something has to give and it isn’t a move from a big city to suburbia or vice versa. It has to happen right where we are, no matter our season or life circumstance. New rhythms must be created and priorities shifted. We are doing far more at a pace exceedingly greater than our design.
There is a way to more peace and rest than we’ve ever known, a rhythm to life that ebbs and flows like we were meant to:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Jesus [Matthew 11:28-30 The Message]
Humanity is all around us, in the big cities to small, coastal communities. So many people are thirsting for connection and the opportunities abound if we can slow and steady our stride for but a moment to engage in it. What would our cities, our communities, our world look like if the small streaks of human kindness didn’t have to be noticed like Waldo hidden in a picture but instead were the focal point of our everyday? What would your world look like if you slowed down, if but for just a moment, to refill your glass so that you could pour out once again to the woman who crosses your path divinely or the child crying at your feet to be held for just a minute? I’m thinking that is the stuff worlds are changed by.
Here is to lessons from big cities and a slower pace for all!
Until next time,