I no longer drive in Manhattan. Not that my experience of driving, when the mid-town tunnel spewed my SUV onto the busy streets, became too much for me. I am an expert at handling a car in New York congestion. But, now I live here, I don’t need a car.
Instead, I travel by foot. And with it comes a different perspective of Manhattan.
I wrote a while ago about having sold our house in the leafy suburbs of Boston, having to let go and finding myself up in the air, waiting to see where we would land. Now my feet have hit the ground on the streets of New York City. And they’re dirty … real dirty.
Tourists spend more time looking up at the iconic skyline. I still do that, too, when I escape to the roof of our apartment building. It’s like coming up for air.
However, now I do more observing at street level. It’s where the people are.
The rooftop reminds me Jesus would take time out for himself, to recharge. Yet he spent most of his time with people, especially those whose lives were grubby and grimy.
You see plenty of lives in disarray on a city street.
I see the regulars as I walk to my workspace for writers: The man hobbling to take up his position outside Whole Foods. He stands motionless, staring straight ahead and leaning on a stick. It compensates for his matchstick legs. He holds out a mug, like you and I have in our kitchens.
I spot a face I know. My neighbor—her grey door across the corridor faces ours—sees me and says “hello.”
A young man sits cross-legged outside Starbucks. A square of white cardboard propped up in front of him. “Homeless…” it says. He strikes me as being different from most beggars. His head is bent over an open book laid against his crossed legs. They make a perfect table. Another closed book rests by his knee. He doesn’t notice the feet of people passing by. Is he escaping to a fictional world where he can forget about the reality of his non-fiction life? I wonder if I should bring him some books to read. A Bible, perhaps? I think better of it. Jesus never tended to a person’s needs with just words.
Today, he’s not there. I’m earlier than usual this morning, perhaps that’s why. Instead, a woman stands in his place. Her hand is immersed in a plastic bowl filled with salad. She’s tossing gooey mess onto the sidewalk.
When I think I’ve seen it all, I realize I haven’t. Jesus saw it all and nothing ever fazed him.
I slip into Starbucks. The line is around the corner. Thank goodness for the mobile app. I squeeze my way through the people dotted around the pick up area. The barista with the black-rimmed glasses sees me making my way across the room. She looks down and passes my coffee over the machine. I smile. Home is where the barista knows your order.
The woman is still there as I exit. Next to her a man shouts and points to the ground. “See, a shrimp,” he points to the pink object covered in dressing. I wonder if anyone will clean up the food. Perhaps a passing dog will snatch at it. What will my homeless, avid reader do when he arrives?
Paragraph, the Workspace for Writers is just across the street. The door is barely noticeable, invisible even, like Platform 9 3/4 in Harry Potter. Only writers know where to find it. I turn my key in the lock just below the pink and white sign which says Wigs and Plus. For some reason, I always think it says Wigs and Pious. The door slams behind me shutting out New York City noise. I climb forty-five steps to the third floor and punch in my code to enter. The writing room is cool in the morning—a sanctuary—the air conditioning able to do its job before too many bodies hunch over laptops.
Big cities are not for everyone, but I know they are for me.
This city is home now, kind of. A local tells me if you’ve lived in New York for more than a month, you can call yourself a New Yorker. I feel right at ease in this melting pot. I’m no longer a stranger with an accent. I start to feel accepted. Isn’t that what everybody wants? To have someone, anyone, see through the mess and the things that make us different and love us.
Jesus does just that, too. He’d fill the skinny man’s mug to overflowing. He’d speak God’s Word of grace to the bookworm. He’d help the woman searching through her salad find food that is worthwhile consuming.
Before Jesus left the earth he instructed us to go and make disciples of all nations so he could be everywhere at once. Do you think he meant literally or figuratively, or both?
The apostle Paul travelled from Jerusalem to big cities such as Athens, Ephesus, Philippi, and Rome to tell people about Jesus. He was able to go because of the roads and easy access to places within the Roman Empire. Today, people are flocking to live in cities. The majority of people across the globe live in urban areas and the percentage is expected to grow over the coming years. How does this phenomenon make the instruction to go to all nations different?
How can you go where you are living?