An Open Letter to New York City

Dear New York City,

Most days, I hate you.

I spend a great deal of time startled by your noise, crammed into your trains, waiting in your lines, trying to get around leisurely walkers on your streets and sidewalks, and stunned at your prices. Most days, frankly, you are anything but serene with your noise pollution, skyscrapers, and frenetic pace of existence. Stop and smell the roses doesn’t exist here, so much so that there aren’t even any roses.

But when I stop to think for a moment, you do continue to leave me in awe. How have you built skyscrapers so tall and so wedged together that they often eliminate the need for sunglasses? How have you constructed a mass transit system that allows me to go anywhere (except, regrettably, work) without the need of a vehicle? How have you managed to welcome people from all corners of the sky and unite them in the common desire of finding the best bagel or slice of pizza?

Your shops, subway notices, and countless agencies and organizations operate in languages I’ve never heard of and can’t recognize. You have a sense of style and flavor influenced by all those who dream of you, flock to you, gaze around in anticipation.

You have an energy that is unmatched. You are always ready for the next innovation, and not just because you’ve anticipated what it is. People write songs, poems, and stories about you. You are the cool kid on the playground, the teacher’s pet, the current big thing and the next big thing. You are, by millions, loved.

And like anything loved, you are often trying. You are an exhausting place to be at the end of the day when all I want is a carton of milk at the grocery store. You make it hard to manage a budget – so much to do and it all costs so much money! But you give a little, too. You build parks, organize parades, and sponsor cultural events. You know you’re expensive, and sometimes you apologize and provide a free night at a museum, knowing you’ll be forgiven.

As hard as I try to understand you, you remain a mystery. Your abundance of options and activities has me perpetually concerned that I’m missing something. As I cope with feeling left behind, I gravitate towards the places I’ve come to feel comfortable and at home. They know me at a coffee shop now. Isn’t that enough? Must I continue to seek out yet another? Goodness knows you have them! And that’s precisely the problem – you have everything and it’s left up to your residents to find it.

In a lot of ways, you’re a playground bully. You taunt and yell, urging more and faster. And then when someone looks up, you are contrite. You open a door to somewhere quiet. You wink and slip away for a while.

It’s been an adventure getting to know you. You’re like a best friend – present, patient,  accepting, full of adventure and excitement – and also like a worst enemy – loud, invasive, taunting, difficult to shake. Some days we get along pretty well. Other days, I want nothing to do with you and it seems like you want nothing to do with me. We have a love-hate relationship, you might say. Or, more accurately, a like-hate relationship.

Getting to know me as I relate to you has been a different adventure entirely, one that is very much a work in progress. You’ve brought out things in me I don’t like – a tendency to walk with my head down, a reluctance to speak to strangers, a sense of urgency even when I’m not going anywhere, a feeling of hopelessness, anxiety, isolation, and frustration at the poverty you’ve permitted, the children you’ve let down, and the inequality that you allow to persist.

But I have to thank you, too. You constantly remind me that there’s work to be done to improve the world. You force me out of my comfort zone every minute of every day. You’ve emboldened me to read, write, and think about the choices I’ve made and the choices I will make in the future. Whatever doesn’t kill me will, in the end, make me stronger.

You’re unlike any other, New York. And though there are many, many days when I want to give it all up, throw in the towel, and call it quits . . . I’m not quite through with you.

Love always,

Rebecca Michelle


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