We arrived in New York City earlier in the week, and Kevin spent his days in business meetings while I explored. For the weekend, we moved out of the business hotel reserved for us in mid-town Manhattan and traveled uptown to an Airbnb apartment.
As we turned onto the street in East Harlem where we would be staying our last three days in New York, consternation filled me. This neighborhood looked sketchy. Towers of public housing units surrounded us. I wondered if we would be safe. The situation wasn’t made better by the fact that instead of hailing a cab, we had hired a town car (they are more reliable and cost the same as a taxi). However, the car company sent a stretch limousine rather than a normal black car; not a little awkward. It felt weird as the driver parked the ridiculous stretch limousine in front of public housing units. As I climbed out of the car, pretending to be invisible, I saw children racing home from school, moms holding their little ones’ hands as they hurried towards shelter. As we climbed the worn steps to our fifth floor apartment, I reminded myself this apartment received great reviews. And, indeed, we had a delightfully cold stay in East Harlem. I loved being in a real neighborhood with real families.
This was our first foray into East Harlem, and I confess I chose this location because The Corner Bookstore is just blocks away on the Upper East Side. I like to get away from sameness. I like new things. New places. New people. One of my favorite things is to attend different churches in different cities. In New York this was easy, because many churches have services every day. I was excited to attend a Noon service at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Cathedral in mid-town Manhattan. It was beautiful and my feet especially enjoyed the break from New York’s concrete jungle.
This was my favorite experience with NYC. In year’s past I would never have stayed in East Harlem. I would have taken one look at the street and said, “Take me to the nearest Marriott.” But a few years ago I decided to live a brave life. And I discovered once we let go of fear, the doors to adventure and beauty and friendship, and all manner of new things, are flung open.
Life is precious and fleeting. I want to embrace it. I don’t want to live a "Groundhog Day” life, every day a rerun of the last. When we do things that make us uncomfortable, we often find waiting for us, joy and satisfaction. I am the boss of my life. I want to look back and say, “It was good."
About a dozen times Saturday, as we walked those eight frigid miles through East Harlem and Columbia University and the Upper East Side and Central Park, I said to Kevin, "What a good day." We watched a hockey game outdoors in Central Park, and strolled down St. Nicholas Avenue discovering architecture we’d never before seen in Baptist Church buildings.
We made one last stop at The Corner Bookstore, and the shopkeeper laughed out loud when we entered wearing our face masks, hats, scarves, gloves and long coats.
On our last night I stood looking out the window. It was negative degrees and people were bundled and rushing to escape the cold. Cars were streaming down the hill from the Upper East Side. The wind was blowing through the the cracks in the windows of the old apartment building. I wondered in amazement that this is my life. I could have stayed home and Kevin would have flown to New York, conducted his business meetings and caught the first plane home. Instead, we had an adventure. We went where we had not been. We saw what we had not seen. We brought home new memories.
And it was good.