The Bronx is Up and The Battery’s Down

I took the train into the city today. New York City. It’s the same route I took for 2 years everyday when I worked in Harlem.  It will probably be the last time I’ll take it for a while, since I’m lacking the funds to pay the $14.50 round trip fee. Ouch.

I’ll always be fascinated by New York City.  It gives off the illusion that it has everything you could ever want.  It has the Museum of Television and Radio where you can scroll through their archives and watch 30 minute episodes of old TV shows.  You can watch “Alf”, “Fraggle Rock”, and even “Mork and Mindy” for pete’s sake.

The city will exhaust you for sure, but you CANNOT exhaust it.  It will always be lit up by flashing colors, crawling with subways of endless transportation, it will always be moving and morphing.  New advertisements will be featured at the bus stops and in Times Square, and the yellow taxis just centimeters away from ramming into you.  The city- a giant creature stretching and groaning.  Lately I’ve been corresponding with a young actor in Maine who’s curious about the “theater scene” in Manhattan.  I sent her my clumsily compiled list of reasons why New York City has become less and less appealing to me- the fast-paced/numb living that breeds there, the lack of good community, a cut-throat mentality (especially in the acting world), not much greenery (besides the beautiful Central Park), not to mention the bedbug problems.

But now I see those are secondary to this one main idea that had been eluding me:

“We all influence one another. We are a part of each other’s reality. There is no such thing as passing someone and not acknowledging your moment of connection, not letting others know their effect on you and seeing yours on them…here we pass each other with our lights out as ships in the night.” Rachel Naomi Remen’s “Kitchen Table Wisdom” (142).

By “here” Remen refers to the United States. But I have especially experienced that rejection of connection first-hand in New York City.  The streets reject it, building barricades around each passerby.  Several years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who lived in the city for several years and firmly decided that he hated it.  To him, it was hell on earth. I was outraged at his harsh assessment of the city that since a child, I called my own.  After the sting of that attack (which felt personal at the time, though it probably wasn’t) I see the pieces of truth in his assessment.  New York deserves some of his hatred arrows, but surely not the whole quiver-full.  Every place on this earth has its own type of brokenness.  But the question is will we, the people, reach out to each other in our brokenness or will we retreat into ourselves?

I want to be in a place where people dare you to keep your lights on. To be ships that slow down, pull up alongside one another and simply “be” for a while.  To grab coffee together and sit in a park for a couple hours to watch the business people navigate through the pigeons.  I bet there are a few of those ships in New York City’s harbor…you just have to look harder to find them.

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5 thoughts on “The Bronx is Up and The Battery’s Down

  1. Lisbeth, this could be a NY Times editorial. As an English teacher, I can’t help but remark on your vivid verbs and personification. You make me proud!

    In response, I’ll share a poem I wrote in 2007. This is obviously more than a comment, but I resonate much with what you have observed.

    The Nature of New York
    A poem in free verse
    [Inspired by drinking coffee on an empty stomach….]
    October 4, 2007

    Maybe I’m learning to love this city. This city

    With her unabashedly open arms.
    The way she judges not, lest she be judged.
    She accepts all of me.
    From the sequined blouse and water-shoes
    To the St. Genesius medal clinging ‘round my neck
    For all to see.
    All of me.
    She’ll accept willingly. This city

    Whose theme song tonight is sung by the saxophone
    The night bird of our Village
    Singing free of charge.
    (There is no hat resting on the ground). This city

    With her brazen extravagance.
    She boasts the plumpest squirrels you ever did see.
    From the Mercedes on display in Grand Central
    To the “Farewell, lover!” movie kisses
    For all to see. This city

    Small enough for me to recognize strangers.
    Big enough for me to not smile. This city

    With her outrageous rent we’re all dying to pay.
    The first of every month. This city

    That gyrates
    Captivates
    Stimulates
    While I take it all in
    Straining to hear the night bird
    Over the constant hummmmmm
    mmmmmmmmmmmm. This city

    With her loneliness.
    A man in a three-piece-suit guarding a door
    We all pass by. We never stop because
    We’re on our way
    Calculating the shortest route possible
    Rushing past the beggars with their
    Cardboard and block lettering,
    TELL ME OFF FOR $1, it reads,
    For all to see. This city

    Wait.
    Stop right there.
    The coffee wants to speak:

    Never mind bad ethics,
    Never mind degradation.
    Something can be done about that:
    One man telling another man off
    For a buck.
    Something can be done about that, I say.
    An exchange
    For all to see. But in this city

    With all of our walking past,
    All of our not hearing—
    Not seeing—
    Not stopping—
    Not waiting—
    (All of which she accepts so willingly)
    That is what is killing us.

    So, maybe the thing I love about this city
    Is the same thing I hate about this city.

  2. What a fascinating picture of New York City. I remember it with affection but at times with disgust. It may be a microcosm of the world itself.

  3. Such beautiful writers are the Castelli daughters.
    Thank you for sharing. Your writings capture the wonder and also the emptiness of the city.

    I’ve always said myself that NYC is a place I will always enjoy visiting, but I would not want to live. The hustle and bustle can tire the soul when it is constant. The atmosphere is the complete opposite of how God tells us to “be still.”

    However, like you my dear Lisbeth, I am proud of this city too, it’s the city! When you grow up less than 50 mi from New York, New York and it’s as normal to go in for the day as it is to brush your teeth..you’re proud of that place..especially when you go away to college and people look at you like it’s an amazing thing that you lived so close to NYC! Then your pride for the city grows and expands into deeper gratitude for having been able to be so close to the most well known city in the world (and for having parents who took you there of course)! The place most Americans want to visit at least once in their life time and that foreigners can’t wait to see!

    Sigh..I feel blessed to know both sides of this city..the pros and the cons..AND am challenged to look harder to find those ships with the lights on.

    Although I am over 1,000 mi away from the city this year and will not be able to see the tree at Rockefeller, I hope do find some ships with their lights on down here in South FL. South FL, such an interesting and empty place as well. Busy and empty and oh so commercialized. Sigh. Both atmospheres represent the emptiness of the world. People who are work-a-holics, people who don’t want to work at all, people who hold up signs because they don’t have work, these people represent the hollow hearts in America. And being here(FL) and there (NYC) remind us and push us to keep following hard after Christ and to be a light for Him wherever we go in this dark world. By just “being.”

    Sometimes we complicate our lives, but it’s quite simple really. Jesus conquered death for us and took away our sins, we give him our hearts and lives, then all we need to do is listen to him and do and go where He wants. We have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit guiding us each step of the way through life. So even if it’s just a cup of coffee at a shop, God might just want us to be there at that exact time to be a light for him, we may never know it until we enter heaven’s gates. All we need to do is live for His purpose and obey.

  4. This post has prompted such powerful responses! Thank you!! My heart delights in the creativity and joy that I experience in NYC, and breaks for those who are walking in darkness or who are being abused by those in the dark. I pray for His justice and righteousness… and how I can somehow make a difference?

  5. Wow.
    I am FLOORED by these responses. I wish they weren’t in the “comment” section but that they could have somehow been included in the original post. Each comment, so challenging, honest, and specific to you whom I love!

    -Lauren: girl, you’ve got to get blogging again. Or get published. I mean seriously, you were meant to be a writer for our age.
    -Pop pop: well said! I think you’re exactly right. NY is a microcosm of the world.
    -Rach: I love hearing more about your relationship with New York. I totally resonate with feeling special at college once people found out I was from there. And to hear your views on Florida too…in this world, there is a universal emptiness (and fortunately a universal hope, as well!!!)
    -Momma: I love your call and boldness to ask how we can make a difference. I wasn’t brave enough to ask myself that, but I’m glad you were. Let’s muse on this together.

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