Three Men on a Bench

Last weekend I went for a walk in Central Park and had a fascinating encounter with three men on a bench. When I lived on the Upper East Side I used to run in the park almost daily, but never carried a camera (or phone . . . or MetroCard . . . or ID . . . wherever I run . . . at whatever time of day . . .). I often wished that I did, though, because Central Park is just beautiful. I always forget, however, that everything looks different in the winter because you can see through the trees. That means noticing all sorts of things that weren’t visible before, like skyscrapers.

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Perhaps more compelling, however, was another human-made object: The sign in the picture below.

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At first I grinned but walked by, not really sure if I wanted to engage in any sort of discussion with strangers. I’ve been trying really hard to meet people lately, but that still takes effort and I was feeling pretty good on my own. So I walked on by.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about that sign. Anyone? Anything? Really?

I turned around and asked the three gentlemen (yes, I know there are two pictured above) for permission to take a photo of them with their sign. After graciously posing, they asked if I wanted to sit and talk.

When I first moved to New York, my best friend told me that the best advice she could give me was to say yes to things. So I did.

For about 15 minutes, I sat between Sean on the left (or maybe it’s Shawn – apologies for not asking!) and Jared and chatted. Steve did some audio recording during our conversation to conduct a sound test for the web series they’re working on. One thing I do love about New York is that people are always up to something interesting. I always have a lot of questions about what’s happening and why, and was glad for the chance to ask some of them.

Jared asked what was on my mind and I mentioned politics because I’d been listening to a Sam Harris podcast on my way through the park. We chatted about that for a while and then our conversation switched to the experiences they’d been having when trying to engage people in discussion. We talked about how reluctant many people are to having a face-to-face conversation. People are very vocal about anything and everything on social media but talking in person is much more difficult. There’s a real vulnerability in sharing yourself with others. Despite how important authenticity is to me, which is one of the reasons I try to be pretty open on this blog, I probably would have walked away after taking my photo had these guys not said, “Want to have a seat and talk to us?”. Connecting with people requires a deeper level of engagement and commitment than a Facebook post, blog post, or tweet. It requires looking into someone’s eyes and saying what’s on your mind. That can be hard.

After my chat with Sean/Shawn, Jared, and Steve, I continued my Central Park walk with a feeling of buoyancy and euphoria. I had just sat on a park bench between two men I had never met and we’d had a perfectly lovely conversation about politics, the news, and the importance of being able to talk. I was glad to find openness and receptivity, which seem like scarce commodities in the often isolating world of New York City. The more I open up to people, however, the more I find that they do the same in return. So maybe that isolation is a shield, or a defense, for many of us. Maybe there’s a real desire for connection that isn’t being met because vulnerability is scary. Maybe the aloofness of many New Yorkers is just a mask.

I told Sean/Shawn, Jared, and Steve that I keep a blog and asked if they wanted me to share any contact information for them. So here it is! They mentioned that they were hoping someone would have a seat on the bench and just spill their heart out. So, gentle readers, if any of you want to talk to someone willing to listen, I can recommend three men on a bench in Central Park. I’m glad they asked me to stop and chat and I’m glad I said yes.

Gentlemen, thanks for making my day.

 

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