Twelve years ago New York City was an abstraction to me. I knew it was there, and I knew it from movies and television and books. It was just sort of there, but it wasn't personal to me. It was just an idea, a place my family had joked about going, never taking the thought seriously. New York City was always sort of "that place," that jumble of caricatures from jokes and popular culture, this combination of great city and hell on earth. It really was nothing more than an idea.
I never really had much motivation to see it otherwise, other than to acknowledge it was there. I'd never had the desire to visit. Washington was more the kind of big city that attracted me, anyway, and the city I was preparing to call home until a turn of events took me to Florida instead. New York never entered the equation; too big, too scary somehow.
So a dozen years ago today when New York was punched in the face, I could understand the horror, the massive loss of life. But I had no way to understand the ache, the sense of violation to this great and proud city. I'd never been there. It somehow wasn't personal to me; the city wasn't a part of me. It was still just this vague idea.
On a sunny day this June I emerged from a subway station in Manhattan. The great city was no longer an abstraction; instead, it was this great, living thing all around me. It was big. It was busy. Noisy. Crowded. Vivid. It was full sensory immersion. It was no longer this place on television, but something I was living.
I spent the better part of a day walking through the city, seeing various landmarks I'd long dreamt of. I couldn't believe I was actually there - that this girl from a tiny town in the country was actually there, in the big city. And although I saw plenty of hustle and bustle, I also saw so many unexpected quiet scenes amongst the tumult, and some little moments of grace.
And I couldn't help smiling when I saw this sign at the train platform. Those three words sum up so much just by still being there.
The more I walked around New York, the more I understood. The more I understood why people have the affection they do for the great city. Why it sparks such strong feelings. Why people are drawn to it. And, in spite of myself, I kind of fell a little in love with the great city, too. And I want to go back. Already planning to, in fact.
Now, having been there, I get it.