New Yorkers are tough as nails. You have to be really tough to live in New York because everyone is a no one here. Billy on Street, my favorite little horse and pony show, is a perfect example. The whole premise of the TV show is that Billy runs around New York with a celebrity and they try to talk to people. The strangers HATE it! They automatically assume you are going to ask for money so they come at you with claws! I LOVE IT, it makes for great TV. When I run in Southern California you wave or acknowledge the strangers you pass. It’s as if you non-verbally say “Good morning stranger, another day in paradise! God’s speed.” When I first moved here I would wave at people or smile at runners when I passed them in Central Park. People would flinch as if I was going to attack them, flip me off, tell me to (insert cuss word here) off, or just see right through me! I love this city.
I went to my hometown last week and towards the end of the trip I thought to myself, “I am ready to go home.” New York is home. The second I moved here I felt like I had lived here my entire life. I love the people. I love going to work sitting or standing between an African American man and a woman in a hijab and across from a Hisidic Jew and an Asian man. There are different walks of life here and we all belong. I love running by the Statue of Liberty. I love walking everywhere. I love Central Park. I love Brooklyn!!!! I love the energy! I feel like everyone is trying to make something happen here. People fight for themselves. Even the glass half empty, chewed up, spit out, angry New Yorker will tell you they (insert favorite cuss word here) hate New York but they wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Life moves very quickly here. I love this place because most of the people I meet weren’t born here, they chose to move and continue to live here. Everything happens in public because you don’t really have a private life. The only time I am ever at my apartment is when I sleep. Everything happens in a park, on the street, at a bodega, at a restaurant, at a bar, in a cab, or on a bridge. There isn’t a sense of entitlement here because you quickly learn that the things you take for granted like empty streets, space, porches or patios, cheap food and drinks, silence, parking places, quick rides, and peace and quiet are hard to come by here. So we all share space. You fight in public, you endure in public, and you live in public.
Everyone in New York has unwritten rules. You either learn them inherently or we will yell them at you. Nothing brings a group of strangers together quite like 10 people yelling at someone for walking to slow. If I am on the subway and some poor man decides to heckle me, I get to teach him a thing or two about manners. And then every woman and man in the vicinity does the same. Otherwise it’s an unwritten rule that you don’t make eye contact or speak to anyone on the train. If you are in a hurry and someone is asking someone else for directions, you yell where to go as you walk by. When you are walking you don’t stop if the light is red, you stop if there is a car coming. And you walk quickly or you get stay of the way. You never go or take anyone near or around Time’s Square. We are opinionated and we will probably let you know what we think whether you want our opinion or not.
I work across the street from the Freedom Tower. Today is a very heavy day for our city. Going to work it’s impossible to forget the hugeness of today. In each subway station there are 5-10 extra police officers. In the lobby of my work there are 10 extra security guards. I can’t imagine what this day, week, or even month must feel like for all the people who lost someone or even a part of themselves. Two weeks ago I decided to run South 1 block instead of going North and I literally ran into the 9/11 memorial. I've lived here almost a year now and I never mustered the courage to visit. I put my hand on the names and I just can't stop thinking about their Mother's, Father's, Sister's, Brother's, Husband's, Wive's, and Friend's. You can see it on people’s faces, the gravity of the day. We all ask each other “how are you” and kind of hesitate and falter before saying, “Good.” I was only 11 years old on 9/11/2001. Yet being here today, 13 years later, the hugeness hasn’t dissipated. I now understand what this day means as a New Yorker.
New Yorkers are fierce. The dichotomy of this city is that despite the fact that you are never alone it can be an extremely lonely place to live. Yes it’s crowded and yes it moves really fast. For the most part a huge part of our city chose to live here. It’s not cheap and it’s not easy. But our sky line represents us. New Yorkers are intimidating and larger than life. You can be anyone and anything here. You just have to be brave enough to fight for it.
I want to share a piece from one of my favorite plays. The play is called The Guys by Anne Nelson and is about a journalist, Joan, who volunteered to help a FDNY Captain write eulogies for the firefighters he lost on 9/11. I found this monologue shortly after my brother passed and I used it for 3 years. It helped me put what I was going through into words and I was able to grew with it as my grief changed. Now being a New Yorker it has even greater meaning to me.
Joan: (addressing the audience) "Are you okay?" That was what we all kept asking each other the rest of September. What was the answer? The pebble's dropped in the water. The point of entry is you, yourself. Were you present at ground zero and wounded, suffocated, or covered in white ash? No? I guess you're okay.
The first ring around the pebble: "Is your family okay?" Did you lose someone in the towers or on the planes?
The next ripple -- friends. "Are your people okay?"
Next ripple: If someone died in the tower that you had dinner with once and thought was a really nice person, are you okay?
Next: If you look at a flyer of a missing person in the subway and you start to lose it, are you okay?
If all the flyers are gone one day. They're -- gone. Are you okay?
Is anyone okay?
That first week I bought a coffee at Starbucks on the way to work, and the guy at the counter handed me my cup and said, "Here's your change. God bless America." And I took a breath and said, "Are your people okay?" And he said, "Only two missing." Only two. And I said..."I hope you can find comfort."
Only people from Oklahoma talk to servers in coffee shops. But at least there you can say, "God bless." Here, you don't know if they have a God, or if you have a God -- or if anyone has a God, it's the same God. That wants the same things...
We all travel in our track: neighborhood, job, friends. Parents of your children's friends. No matter how big a city gets, the only way to live in it is to live in your village. You get to a certain age, the next person you meet has a logical connection to the ones that came before. Friend of a friend.
Nick and I weren't supposed to meet. You couldn't create another sequence for his life that leads to me. Or for my life that leads to him. After September eleventh, all over the city, people were jumping tracks.
Take a minute to find a way to honor the people who lost their lives today. Until tomorrow friends, #RunSelfieRepeat.