I had some time off this week, and I’m traveling next week, so I decided to make the most out of this week without leaving New York.
I spent most of my week itching for isolation. A spot I could call my own, not surrounded by chatter or other people and what they bring with them.
A spot I could pull out my book or stare off into space without feeling like was taking up room or not noticing something I should.
I started my search with the library. I figured, in middle of the day, how busy could the library be?
It was packed.
There were so many people, it was hard enough to find a seat, let alone find a private spot to curl up.
I chose a seat, as away as possible, with my randomly chosen book.
The book was about Nigeria, a young man who had grown up there, left and returned. It was a look into a life I have never given any thought. Into a culture I have never been face to face with.
I finished the entire thing in one sitting.
I hadn’t looked up or spoke to any of my table mates, but as I left I felt a kinship with the people I just had spent a couple of hours near.
The next day, I headed out again, on my own.
This time to an area I knew would be wildly populated. But I needed to go shopping, so I spent my day in a mall. Alone, but again surrounded by so many. So many that I exchanged a smile or two with, but nothing more.
I wandered around the city afterward and ended up at the 9/11 memorial. I read the names of hundreds in my head, imagining the family behind the name, the real-life human who had been cut out of their story.
Today, I got on the subway with no destination. I took out my book as I got on, and only got off when my book no longer kept me enthralled.
As I stepped onto the street, I found myself slightly disappointed. I have never gotten off at this stop, but I’d barely know it. It looked the same as every block in Manhattan. Starbucks on one corner, CVS on another, skyscrapers towering, and crowds of annoyed people. I set off down one block, searching for anything that caught my interest. Eventually, I ended up at Barnes and Noble’s, slightly defeated. My day of exploration could not have been less adventurous.
I chose a book, sat myself down and got to work – once again, trying to be alone in a room full of people. Without even noticing, I began to eavesdrop on the phone conversation behind me – a tutor was discussing math problems with his student. They began talking about college, and as the tutor would pose a question and then fall silent, I imagined the little person inside the phone, maybe sitting on their bed, maybe at their kitchen table, filled with dreams of their future. A human that I could not see nor hear, yet was now a part of my life in this tiny tiny way.
As I turned back to my book, I heard three little girls begin to sing a song together. Their moms, suddenly distracted from their coffee and conversation, startled by their daughter’s loud reminder that they were still there, quickly tried to shush them. The girls laughed and sang louder, running around the quiet readers. I smiled at their enthusiasm, I smiled at the mother’s desperate attempt to get them to stop singing their sweet song.
The tutor left, the girls left, and pretty soon I was bored of reading a book I had no intention of buying, so I headed out.
I figured before I called it a day, I should just walk a few more blocks.
And there it was.
I finally chanced upon a place that was empty.
A New York City location empty of any tourist, residents, anyone.
There was only one other human, far enough away to not count.
I sat down, blissful.
I was finally alone.
The spot I had found was filled with all kinds of weird sculptures and things that I analyzed as I sat there, in the sweet silence.
I suddenly found myself wondering about the person who had designed these, created these and placed them. Did he wonder why his little park was empty? Was he thrilled that this was a place someone could find isolation in the busiest city, or did he envision children running around, families spread out?
After a good half hour, I finally stood up, ready to not be alone anymore.
Humans. They are the most complex creatures of the universe. The little girls in Barnes and Nobles. The Nigerians in my book. That one other guy in the park. The tutor, and the person he was tutoring. All the people on the subway rides I ignored. The artist.
In all my attempts to run away from people, I kept running into them.
I spoke to so few people during my field trips, yet I had learned so much about them.
I’ll never stop being fascinated by people, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about them.
It was a good week. I learned about myself, I learned about NYC, I learned that there are very few places in New York that you can be all alone.
But I also learned that if you live in NYC, it’s best that you learn how to be alone while surrounded by people, and that sometimes, that’s the best kind of alone you can be.
Blog Post 20/52 (20! that feels like a milestone!)
Featured Photo by Christopher Burns via Unsplash.