I have considered myself a "city mouse" for some time now. Unlike my "country mouse" friends, I revel in the noise and hustle-bustle of urban life. I like being within walking distance of stores, restaurants, coffee shops and movies. I enjoy seeing my neighbors out walking, sharing a coffee or a cocktail on a street-side patio, strolling leisurely on a warm summer evening. Music, car horns, shouts and laughter are everyday sounds that are comfortingly familiar and welcomed.
On the evening of Sunday, May 31st I discovered that I am a country bumpkin. At approximately 9:30PM that evening my wife and I stepped out of a cab on 46th and Broadway in Times Square.
We did what any self-disrespecting tourist would do - we made a bee-line for the familiar: Applebee's. I know. Laugh if you must. It was just like home, except for the seventy-percent mark-up. We even got stuck in the revolving door as we tried to escape our first panhandler. Pathetic. As we sat in the restaurant that would become the butt of jokes later that week, we gazed out like Hansel and Gretel at a house made of gingerbread and frosting, knowing that it was wonderful but not knowing where to bite first. The hour we spent there staring silently out the window, barely touching our slightly edible fast food, gave us the begonias to venture out, to bravely go where several million have gone before, at least in the last few days.
We lived it up: the David Letterman Show (where the opening act made fun of tourists to NYC visiting Applebee's...we laughed condescendingly and hid our shame well), two Broadway shows, visits to the Four Seasons, Sardi's, Feinstein's at the Regency, a cruise to Ellis Island and Lady Liberty, jaunts to Chinatown (officially renamed by me as DollarStoreTown), Little Italy, NYU, the Met, Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral (both the old AND the new) and too many other adventures to mention. By Friday afternoon my wife and I were so exhausted we watched Law and Order for three hours in our hotel room. It was almost like being there.
Seven days later, we have returned to the city of Buffalo, our little country outpost in the hinterlands of New York State, with, not surprisingly, a new perspective.
As I thought about my changed understanding of the word "city" on our flight home I considered other assumptions, presuppositions, and perspectives I have that are limited by my parochial understanding of life. Sometimes these limitations can bring us to judgmentalism and prejudice when our understanding of "the way things ought to be" clashes with those around us. It is an exhausting and lonely place to be.
New York City is a loud, obnoxious place. It can be cold and lonely. It has money on it's mind, as the old Garfunkel song goes. There are desperately poor people and broken dreams abound. But beneath all that is a pervasive sense of hope and optimism that I have not felt in a long, long time. It can be felt in the circus atmosphere of Times Square and in the determined and studious air of Washington Square. It is on the face of the musicians in the subway, the waiters as they serve, and the performers on the Great White Way. It is in the midst of school children touring Central Park and on the faces of immigrants working in servile jobs all over Manhattan. They all have hope; sure, a cynical hope that expects suffering and difficulties, but hope nonetheless. And their hope manifests itself with a hustle-bustle the likes I have never seen before!
Concerning hope, we Christians need to take a look at ourselves. We have every reason to be a hopeful people. God loves us and wants us to be with Him always! That hope should find us busy with the work of God, serving our neighbor. Sure, there will be suffering. No doubt. There will be obstacles and difficulties. A given. But our hope in eternal joy and union with God should lift us beyond cynicism and impel us to love. Not quite that easy? You're not alone.
Many of our brothers, sisters, neighbors, and co-workers do not know the hope of Christ Jesus. Do they see it in us? Do they see it in me?
New York is a wonderful, terrible place. It's "in-your-face", all the way. And it's in mine.