New York

I read an article called Look At Me, I'm Crying the other week in the New York Times. I thought the author perfectly described some of the more nuanced ways in which New Yorkers survive in this crazy city. I wanted to share some of her words because I believe they are completely true. Above is a picture I took recently from the N train while crossing the Manhattan Bridge.

"We each glanced around the subway car at the other passengers, their heads bobbing in unison, the eyes of the man across from us doing a creepy back-and-forth twitch as he watched a train whizzing by in the opposite direction behind us. Some people read, or pushed buttons on their smart phones, but most just stared without expression at the floor or the garish overhead posters for Dr. Zizmor’s cosmetic dermatology. My mother (who is, notably, a psychotherapist) leaned into my shoulder and whispered, 'Everyone on this train looks depressed.'

I snorted, whispering back: 'No, Mom, they just have their train-faces on.' In a place where we are so rarely alone, we find privacy in public. We all have our masks, behind which we are free to be, yes, depressed, or any other emotional state we may not want to share with 30 fellow passengers.

On that same visit, my mother commented on how fast people walk here. I had, at the moment she spoke, been furious at the tourists in front of us for strolling so lackadaisically, despite our not being in a hurry to get anywhere. I began with the usual explanation, about how busy everyone here is. But mid-sentence, I realized that that wasn’t the whole story; movement was part of the mask.

Although I see plenty of stony-faced striders on the sidewalks of New York, the faster people are moving, the more they tend to reveal. . . . Perhaps this law of motion is part of why it’s so startling to see people trip. It’s bound to happen millions of times a day here, but still, seeing someone stumble instantly provokes a deep cringe. Like crying, it’s a glimpse of pure, involuntary vulnerability, and yet there’s something different about it; it’s more disturbing than sweet. We feel a greater demand to lend a hand or show concern because we know, more clearly, that it could happen to us — we like to think we have less control over our bodies than we do over our emotions. We all can feel the stumbler’s flush of embarrassment. So we grimace, surge with silent sympathy, and reach out.

Even though as any stumbler knows, the worst part, after detaching a heel from the subway grating, is someone asking 'Are you O.K.?'"


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