For someone who is spending the next year trying to live simply, the sheer fact that I am living in New York can be a little overwhelming sometimes. What is simple about a city of over 8 million people, each one of them moving and working towards their own goals, riding the subway together, navigating the streets with and around one another?
The school where I teach holds a summer camp for its students every year. This past summer, the theme for camp was “Find Grace in the Smallest Things.” It is posted on the wall in our assembly room and I read it every morning. I’ve started to think that this might be one of the best ways to go about experiencing life in NYC. Instead of focusing on the big things that I encounter in the city, like huge buildings, monuments, parks, crowds, smells (the list could go on and on), I’ve started to keep an eye out for the little things that are unique to this city.
Around New York, there are hundreds of little parks, hidden around the city. While Central Park and Prospect Park are grand and beautiful (and full of little moments of grace themselves), I’ve started noticing the smaller parks and stopping to explore and appreciate them.
As a volunteer and a teacher of students in low-income situations, some of the big things about New York that are hard to ignore are the social injustices of poverty, homelessness and racial discrimination. Instead of focusing on the big problems and how overwhelming and unsolvable they seem, if I focus on problems I can fix (or at least feel like I can influence, even in very small ways), like helping one of my students understand the themes of the book we’re reading or patronizing a locally-owned bodega instead of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for a cup of coffee, I can find better focus when it comes to my service of others and perspective of New York and its social situation.
New York takes my breath away on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s because of something big: the view of the Manhattan skyline I glimpse from the train on my way to work or the explosion of light, sound and humans that is Times Square. More often, though, it is because of little things: the beauty in a work of graffiti, a statue tucked-away in a corner of the park. What really amazes me and makes me smile is that, in a city so unimaginable “big,” every person is unique, living their own little unique life, and none of them are really more important than any of the rest of us, and we (New Yorkers) for the most part understand that, and it becomes part of us.