I haven’t been in New York long enough to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: there are things about this wonderful city that I really don’t enjoy. I’m not the first person to list off the trash on the streets, the smells in the air, or the fast-moving people. (Someone once yelled at me for wearing a beret.) But any person in New York City knows that all of these negatives are nearly canceled out by the positives — the public transportation, the culture, the food, the people.
The people! Not always nice, but always there. Streaming past you on any given day, in any given place. Sitting on a park bench, standing on a street corner, shopping by yourself in an East Village thrift shop. All people, all the time. If you like watching them, you’re in luck. If not, it might be a good idea to start. The people are great — not because they’re accommodating or polite or say “Ope” when they bump into you. They’re great because every corner you turn, every street you walk down, they are there. People who are different from you, the same, people you might never have interacted with if you could stay in your comfort zone; in the city, you interact with them anyway. You talk to them, sit next to them on the subway, stand in line for coffee with them. Your elbows brush in the street.
In some ways, it reminds me of college. I’ve made the comparison before, but here, it’s glaring. I’ve heard so often that college is the thing that bursts people’s bubbles, changes their worldview from the one surrounding their hometown to something a little bit bigger. It’s the place where they realize maybe everyone in the world doesn’t dress that way, doesn’t look that way, doesn’t think that way. Where you walk down the street and share the space and the air with a thousand people you don’t really know.
The city and the campus burst another bubble, too. The bubble in your chest; the one that is there whether you want to or not, when you’re trying to figure out the world. The one you’re scared of bursting — the fear of embarrassment or failure everyone has in some way.
Well, whether you’re in the East Village or Manchester Field, someday, that bubble’s going to pop. Sometime in life, you will fail. You will cry, something will go terribly wrong. You will feel like the world is on your shoulders, enough pressure to make all that built up air rush right out. It hurts, sure, but when you come out of it on the other side — well, when it finally passes, that space you were saving for bubbles is cleared out for something more solid.
These two things — these two needles in the soap bucket — are two things that the world can offer you, no matter where you are. You will learn that the earth is a bigger place than you expected, and you will feel smaller than you ever have before. Expansion and contraction, in one fell swoop. Popping the bubble around you and inside you. But is it to break you down? Not if you don’t let it. Maybe it makes you more humble. It helps you work. It tells you who your friends are.
It will happen again and again, your whole life. Everybody is ignorant, everybody is afraid to fail. That’s just human nature. And so the world will keep opening itself, slowly, like a pop-up book. Showing us new parts of it and ourselves, breaking us down and building us back up, again and again and again. It’ll happen anywhere, but I’ve found that cities and colleges like to do it with a glint in their eyes. So enjoy it while you’re here, of course. But don’t worry about missing out on it. Nobody does.
Cameron Gorman is an opinion columnist. Reach her at [email protected]