If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you’re probably pretty well-versed on my feelings about my current residency in New York City (Not caught up? You can read all about that here and here). It’s easy to get lost in the negatives of a place like this, but nothing is better for refocusing on the positives than playing tour guide for visitors.
One of my favorite parts about working for the National Park Service was the people. In the four years that I circulated in that world, I often found myself surrounded by warm, passionate people with whom I was able to form fast connections. I’ve spent a lot of time since I’ve come to New York reminiscing about those days as I’ve struggled to forge similar support systems here. But one of the best parts about Park Service people is that that the seasonal nature of the work means they’re used to long-distance friendships and many are good at keeping in touch. At the end of this summer, it will have been 2 years since I packed up my cabin inside Rocky Mountain National Park and headed east. Emily stills calls those lovely mountains home (that lucky girl!), and despite what must have been constant complaining on my end, she decided it was time for a big city visit. I didn’t argue with her. That’s how she wound up in New York City over Valentine’s Day weekend.
The following post might more appropriately be titled ‘Pictures of Emily in Front of Places.’ But I didn’t think you’d click on that, so here we are.
“Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with anybody,” I warned her as we headed out for our first frigid day. Despite the relatively mild winter, temperatures had dropped this weekend into the single digits. I was weary that this sudden change in weather didn’t bode well for this visit, and I didn’t want Emily’s Colorado manners to be taken advantage of in the big city. So it was with that one piece of advice that we layered up and began our whirl-wind sight-seeing weekend.
We made a lot of the major stops: Rockefeller Center, The Met, Times Square, Lincoln Center. We enjoyed a matinee performance of Fun Home (it was amazing, in case you’re wondering), took in some evening improv, and roasted marshmallows over an open flame inside of a speak-easy that fronted as a coffee shop. I gave her the short but sweet tour of my uptown neighborhood (including a stroll through Columbia’s main campus and a soul food stop in Harlem), which – to be clear – was short not because of lack of things to do, but because my hermit lifestyle left me unsure of where else to go. We spent hours upon hours as the lone hikers in a freezing but beautiful Central Park, we ate Shake Shack burgers and brunched our hearts out, we drank craft beers and carefully crafted cocktails – and by the end of it all I was left thinking that New York is actually a pretty cool place.
And as for my single warning, the one thing I asked Emily to do for me as a visitor to my city and a guest in my home? I’m pretty sure she completely ignored it.
I told Emily not to make eye contact with people because my experience was that it tended to invite interactions I found unpleasant – and even dangerous. But for whatever reason, on this weekend, the citizens of New York were delighted to greet Emily smile for smile. It was kind of amazing, actually. On our first day wandering midtown we came upon a pair of NYPD officers who offered to give us directions and even joked and smiled with us. “That was a fluke,” I told her, “don’t get used to it.”
But the pleasantries continued. Within minutes of entering Central Park a man ran up to us, gave us two roses, and asked for nothing in return before (literally) running away. The guy at the information kiosk at the Met was not only happy to field our unresearched questions, but also informed us that we had the prettiest smiles in the building. And we wound up unwittingly walking into the middle of not one, but two beautiful proposals. Our interactions felt totally different than the ones I encountered during my normal day-to-day. Dr. Oz even offered us VIP status and tickets to 2 tapings of his show (well, technically it wasn’t Dr. Oz himself, and we could only make it to one taping, but it was still pretty cool).
To be fair, I think the fact that it was Valentine’s Day weekend probably helped spur this sudden change in attitude – but I also think a lot of it came from us. For the first time in a long time, I was navigating New York with authentic excitement. Despite the horrendous cold, being with Emily brought me back to happier times, and I think that kind of joy is contagious. I’ve believed for a long time now that you tend to get what you put out into the world, but finding a way to practice that had grown difficult.
This weekend reminded this hermit girl that friendship is a powerful tool in life and attitude. We are hugely influenced by those around us, and especially for those of us who live in a crowded place, that influence can be inescapable. Now, there was never a doubt in my mind that Emily had a positive effect on my life and attitude – but this weekend made me realize my own role as influencer in my environment. I do still believe there are settings in which eye contact and a smile may not be appropriate. I’m not quite ready to run skipping through the streets just yet. But I do see now how much easier it is to be open to happy interactions. Joy finds joy. I had been to the Met a dozen times before. No one had ever complimented my smile because I hadn’t been smiling.
As an introvert, I place a high value on my alone time. But sometimes the right company is just what we need to come to a compromise with our environment.