Culture and Society

A City That Needs to Sleep

In December, my Mom and I flew to New York City. We stayed for four days. It was a trip imagined years ago in which we would be walking among the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan and breathing in the cosmopolitan air of the place.

We maneuvered our way through the NYC subway system to visit this entire list of attractions:

  • Times Square
  • The 9/11 Memorial (including the Oculos)
  • The Empire State Building
  • The NYC Public Library
  • Saks 5th Avenue
  • St. Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Chinatown
  • Battery Park
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Ellis Island
  • Central Park
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Neue Gallery

We kept up a fast pace each day to be able to get to all of these places. It was as if the daily frenetic rush of the city seized both our spirits and the blood in our veins.

Despite all of this, I gave myself quiet moments to reflect on the experience. This happened as I stood in a subway train on route to a distant stop, when I woke up late at night to the sound of loud honking from a car out in the street, or while I waited for our check after a meal at a restaurant.

New York City gave me a lot to think about.

It is a densely populated stretch of land that, for whatever reason, has a culture of constant movement, like the perpetual swelling waves of a restless ocean. During my brief stay, it felt all too overwhelming, but I have come to learn that humans are adaptive beings. In this case, it seems far easier to keep up a swift pace than to lag behind and get lost in the fray. Getting caught up in this swell also means surrendering one’s sense of personal space. One gets jostled about in the tide of humans running along to and fro, and in the cramped space of a subway train, strangers reluctantly oblige a necessary intimacy to accommodate oneself and each other.

Amid all of the noise, the tight squeezes, and the rushed movement everywhere, I found myself wishing for rest and space. My mind wandered toward my private residence deep in the woods of middle Tennessee. On any given day, you can hear the hushed movement of water along our creek and the songs of birds and insects through their daily chatter. There are no tight squeezes here, only trees whose branches and roots know no bounds.

Were we ever truly meant to live such claustrophobic and anxious lives? For that matter, were we ever meant to be able to fly?

Sure, I guess.

New York City feels like a prime example of how our human evolution has ensnared us into the pitfalls of our own ambition. To be fair, there are millions of people who have grown up there and love everything about it, and if I actually stayed longer than a measly four days, I might love it too.

Nonetheless, a city that never sleeps is a city that grows tired and weary with each passing day. That is how I felt as I walked among its gleaming towers and glowing lights. The place is imbued with a desire to get bigger and splashier than it was the day before.

Well, how big is too big? How much is too much? What good is all that growth and innovation when our lives become too anxious and rushed to bother slowing down to enjoy or appreciate any of it?

I live in a place in which everything feels like it is enough, and all things grow glacially and in their own time.

I left New York appreciating my home even more and all the ways by which it gives me fullness and joy. I live in a wilderness that probably sleeps more than it should. Only the trees tower among us, and mostly worms and ants burrow tunnels underground. There is open space and steady time.

This is all that I need and more than enough.

-Roqué

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