An Open Letter to New York City: Part II

Dear New York City,

When it’s a sunny day and I’m sitting outside in a park, it’s hard to hate you. And the truth is, it’s hard to hate you at all now that I’ve been here long enough. You’ve taken me in and somehow made yourself a home in me. You’re in the feet that have traversed your streets, the legs that have climbed the stairs of your subways, the chest that has felt the vibrations of your buses, trains, and street music, the hands that have opened countless doors, the eyes that have seen people from all walks of life, and the mind that decided to give you a chance.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t know that we’re best friends. Some days, I think you’re shunning me altogether. Those are the days where I can’t find what I’m looking for, when I take a wrong turn, when I miss the early Metro-North train, when I have to go to three grocery stores and the streetcar man to find one item. Those are the days when no one looks up, no one smiles, and no one seems to care whether the people around them are there at all.

Those are the days, New York, when you tire me.

But more often, now that I’ve met you where you are, more often you’re a delight. Your sights, sounds, smells, and tastes tickle the senses in ways both good and bad but always alive. You’re demanding because your offers never end. There’s culture, food, and experience on literally every block. You’re always awake, always ready, always open to take in the next weary traveler. But you’re tough, too. You don’t give in without a fight and I’ve certainly never seen you give up.

New York people have stories and you feature prominently in all of them. New York people are here for a reason, hustling for a reason, and all attribute their actions to the energy, drive, and culture that you’ve cultivated. You create spaces for people who don’t have patience for you, waiting just outside until they peek out. For them, for me, you have quiet little cafés, parks and river paths, libraries and independent bookstores. You reserve places for the people who are afraid to find them on their own. And when they’re ready, you open the doors to everything else that is out there, the glitz, glamour, grittiness, and attitude of the greatest city in the world.

And of course, you have community neighborhoods that all feel different. That’s my favorite part about you – you take all these people, you watch as they split themselves into group after group, and you let them develop into a patchwork of lives, a quilt of everything that makes you who you are. You cross rivers. You encompass islands. You’re connected by bridges and tunnels, by the people who cross them and by the people whose lives are crossed by them. You’re a story of who we are and how we got here. You’re a story of the people who flock to you and will continue to come.

Without a doubt, you’ve changed me. You’ve made me more curious about people but less likely to voice my curiosity. You’ve made me warier but more willing to test the waters. Because of you, I’m more confident but much quieter. I’ve asked more questions, read more books, found more answers, wiped away more tears. You’ve forced me to embody resilience, to learn from experience, to solve problems I never expected to have. You’ve taught me to ask for help and to accept it when it comes. You showed me people who struggle and promised a path forward. I followed you and found it.

Once upon a time, you scared me a little. You were too big, too loud, and too fast. You were full of people who knew you and loved you. I didn’t know you. I didn’t love you. Some days, all I want is to love you. Other days, I catch myself doing just that. I’m ready to say goodbye to you only because you’ve left me wanting more. You’re not going anywhere and I’m sure I’ll be back one day. There’s no place like you, New York City, and I’m grateful I’ve had a chance to call you my home. See you soon.

Love always,

Rebecca Michelle

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PS You can read my first open letter to NYC here.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

This is our last week of school and it’s hard. Saying goodbye is difficult and it’s not something I’m good at. I hold on for too long. I reach out for too long. I grow nostalgic before it’s even time to say goodbye and I let myself feel all the things I’ll miss before it’s time to miss them.

I’ve said goodbye enough times to know which stories will stick, which memories will make me smile and which will strike a chord that hurts a little bit. I’m lucky to have taught students who ask real questions, seek out real answers, and report back what they’ve learned. I’m lucky to have worked with truly good people who welcomed me with open arms and saved me from my darkest thoughts. I will miss them all.

This year was my sixth year in the classroom and the first year I considered seeking out avenues outside the classroom to satisfy my need to make an impact on the world. I’ve got a few more things I want to do in the classroom and we’ll see after that.

This is also the first year I let myself entertain the possibility of all kinds of change because this is year that nothing went as planned.

So I’m saying goodbye to good people, a good place, and the path I was following when I co-signed a lease for a New York City apartment a year ago. I’m thinking about the life I want to live going forward so that I can be satisfied when I look back in 100 years or so. What will I have done? What will I be proud of? What will I wish I’d known?

As my therapist says, “What does your 95-year-old self say to your current self?”

I needed this year because I needed time alone to think, to take a step back, and to make the decisions that make the most sense to me rather than the decisions that I thought others wanted me to make. I needed this year to prove to myself that I am capable of making those decisions and don’t need to rely on the opinions of others. Being happy is okay. Making changes to be happy is also okay. Putting oneself first is okay, too.

My 95-year-old self wants to look around and know that she’s touched lives in positive ways. She wants to see family and friends who are global citizens, who believe in the possibility of improvement for all, who work to help those around them realize a better, more peaceful, sustainable world. She wants to have taught students who are good people, who help others, and who harness their interests and skills to have a positive, meaningful, lasting impact on the world around them. She wants the people around her to know that they are loved, supported, and affirmed as members of a community. She wants nature alive and well, ecosystems thriving. My 95-year-old self wants clean air and clean energy; she wants peace, prosperity, and good health for all.

So what does this mean for me as I am now?

It means that I will continue to learn, read, write, and communicate my aspirations and ideas. It means that I will continue to educate because I believe that the next generation of leaders needs more than they are getting in schools today and I want to give that to them. It means that I am looking to surround myself with people who believe that we can build a world that is better, more peaceful, and environmentally sustainable as compared with today’s world. I want to be around people who push me to ask questions, find answers, and be the best person that I can be.

Change does not happen overnight and it does not happen without allies. Change requires teams with a shared vision and I want to be part of a team making a real impact. That’s what I’m working towards.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” –Hamilton

I hope to live my story and I hope to find people who want to live it with me. If that’s you, post a comment below or send me a message through the contact page. I can’t wait to meet you.

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Visiting Roosevelt Island

Getting to Roosevelt Island requires nothing more than a MetroCard swipe. Just another New York neighborhood, right?

Wrong!

Roosevelt Island feels like a completely different world. It’s located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens and you can get there either by taking the F train or by taking the Roosevelt Island tram, which was a quick little ride. It’s a lot of fun to see New York’s streets from a couple hundred feet in the air.

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You can access the Roosevelt Island tramway from its only station on 59th and 2nd.

The first thing I noticed is that Roosevelt Island is quiet. You can see all of Manhattan’s traffic on FDR Drive but can’t hear any of it. Roosevelt Island is only two miles long and you can walk the entire thing without needing to stop for a car to pass. About 12,000 people live in this strange little city of its own, with the helpful amenities of Duane Reade, a fruitcart seller, three restaurants, and a library and school.

What Roosevelt Island also has in abundance, however, is a lot of outdoor recreation space. This also made it feel like a completely different world. Manhattan does an excellent job of creating these spaces, but the number of parks, athletic fields, playgrounds, and pools on the island was really surprising. It even has a community garden with separate plots so you can have your own garden within a garden!

 

Once on Roosevelt Island, my friend and I stopped first at The Octagon, a fancy apartment building that used to be the main entrance to the New York City Lunatic Asylum:

People were taking wedding photos in front of it, which I can understand because the stone is beautiful. But I couldn’t help but think of Shutter Island and the sorrow of that story. What lives were lived here? What lives were lost? What stories were never told, or told and disbelieved?

The spooky, eerie feeling of Roosevelt Island remained with me despite the heat and bright sunlight. Our conversation turned to other psychological thrillers and horror movies as we walked to the lighthouse at the northern tip of the island.

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There’s clearly a legacy of advocacy on Roosevelt Island. The island is currently home to a K-12 school for students with disabilities, as well, so it was nice to see activism as a continuing conversation. Likewise, it was disturbing to think that such a calm, quiet oasis had been used as a place to remove individuals from society. (Kind of like Australia’s history as a British penal colony.)

From the lighthouse, we walked south, passing by a modern art commentary on what Roosevelt Island and New York City often represent:

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Clever, right?

As we walked south, we also passed Blackwell House, which dates from 1796. It changed hands a number of times and often housed the administrators of several Roosevelt Island institutions. You can read about it (and about Roosevelt Island’s five other Landmark buildings) here.

On the southern tip of Roosevelt Island lies perhaps its most interesting attraction: an abandoned smallpox hospital! The building was protected by a fence but the shell that remained, slicing straight through the sky, gave me chills:

At one time, those rooms were full. The walls closed in on the patients and on themselves. The ivy covering the building, blowing gently in the light wind, gave it a lifelike quality that juxtaposed sharply with the empty tree branches. Something’s wrong here.

People were quiet as they approached, looked around, took photos, and continued walking south to the park, concert venue, and memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that occupies the remainder of the island. I won’t say that I believe in ghosts but if I did, I’d be certain that this island is haunted.

And that’s reason in itself to go visit! Happy exploring!

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Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place