Tag Archives: New York City

Finding a Secret

It’s been a while since I’ve gone hiking. It was last year, in fact, when I visited friends in Southern California over December break. I love hiking and exploring nature and breathing clear air, so I immediately said yes when a coworker suggested a walk through Silver Lake Preserve in Westchester County last week. We had a heat wave, too, so it really was summer for about three days, which is as good a time as any to seek shade and relief from humidity by wandering through trails and trees.

The vast majority of the trail was deserted and I’m not sure many people actually know Silver Lake Preserve exists. It’s beautiful, so I’m not quite sure why that is, though parking was a challenge so maybe that’s a deterrent.

Every so often, however, we came across signs that others had been there. And we felt strangely like we were documenting our own version of the The Blair Witch Project.

We did our best to follow the Heritage Trail around the lake but were not very successful following the trail markers, which also contributed to an uncanny Blair Witch sensation. We were pretty sure we wanted the blue trail, but saw an equal number of yellow, red, and white squares and groupings of circles painted on trees. But we must have done something right because here I am telling you about it!

It is not an exaggeration to say that we couldn’t hear or see any cars or any signs of civilization for most of our time in the woods. I felt a sense of peace and quiet that surprised me; I didn’t realize how much I missed places like Mendon Ponds Park back home in Rochester. I felt light and free and enjoyed myself without thinking too hard about it, jumping on rocks and logs and smiling at the sound of mud squishing underfoot. My new Tevas did not disappoint!

And then, of course, there was the lake itself. Water is my happy place. No doubt about it. I love the way it looks, sounds, and smells. I love throwing my head back and opening my whole body to absorb as much of its energy as I can. It makes me feel alive, each and every time.

I’ve been remiss in not really venturing anywhere in Westchester County aside from school. I’m glad to know that places like Silver Lake Preserve exist, especially when I spend so much time in the noise, crowds, and concrete of the city. The good company and very welcome change of scenery left me with a feeling of relaxation that carried me through the rest of the week. I’ve learned that there are other parks in Westchester and I’m looking forward to exploring them, too!

In nature nothing exists alone. – Rachel Carson

On Being You

Heard:

Teenage girl screaming.

Seen:

Boy holding girl’s backpack over the railing protecting pedestrians from the East River. Boy has a backpack of his own.

Heard:

-Stop, stop it! Stop!
Crying.
-Say you’re sorry. Say you’re sorry!
Screaming.
-I’m sorry! I’M SORRY!

Seen:

Boy dangles backpack closer to the water.

Heard:

Screaming.
-I’M SORRY!!!


A conversation. Student begins:

-I think I’m going to make you a card at the end of the school year.
-Thank you, but that’s completely unnecessary.
-I know, but I think I will. Doing things to make people happy makes me happy!


Seen:

Man holding woman against a brick wall, yelling, hands waving.
Woman trying to move away.
Man blocking woman with his body.

Heard:

A slap.

A conversation. Young woman begins:

-Should we call the police?
-Shit, he grabbed her bag again.
-Call. We’re definitely calling.
-Calling.


A conversation. Student begins:

-How’s your day going?
-Oh it’s great, thanks, how’s yours?
-Mine’s good. I’m glad yours is good. As long as you’re smiling!


Seen:

Teenage boy and girl in a headlock. Both are spinning around, out of breath.
Passerby slows down, offers a long look.
Boy lets go of girl and girl responds in turn. Both laughing.
“She’s looking at us!”
Both run off, still laughing.


Some of these interactions are months old, burned into my memory like a muscle that grows stiff in the rain. Unwelcome. Uncomfortable. Troubling.

Others are newer, fresher, still turning over in my mind. Still trying to process what I’ve seen and heard, said or done.

“Doing things to make people happy makes me happy!” I smiled. I waved goodbye. Wished him a good afternoon. Realized my heart rate had gone up. Realized I was afraid.

Because such a sincere statement delivered with such obvious joy had brought me right back to the boy threatening to drop the girl’s backpack into the water, months earlier. I’m sure everything was in that backpack. Her schoolwork, her wallet, likely her phone. Would he have done it? In a moment of raging hormones, a crying girl, and feeling a surge of power . . . would he have done it?

And, just as pressing, how would the girl have responded? How did she respond to the threat once her bag was safely recovered? Did she walk away, never to speak to him again? Did she express her anger that he’d take advantage of her trust? Or did she let him back into her good graces because being with someone is better than no one?

The man yelling at the woman tell us that no, someone is not always better than no one.

The teenagers laughing as they play-wrestled tell us that affection can come in many forms.

But the fight between the man and woman tell us that affection, or what we perceive as affection, can sometimes be dangerous and even deadly.

Seeking first to make others happy sometimes comes at the expense of oneself and one’s own best interests. For this reason, I’m concerned about the student described above. He’s what we label “vulnerable”, which can have many meanings. He does fine academically but remains on the periphery of his grade’s social circles. He relates better to adults than to his peers, usually staying after class to chat, often walking down the hallway in conversation with an adult. He doesn’t seem to mind being alone and often spends recess indoors when everyone else is outside.

His comments remind me of myself in a lot of ways. Doing for others is a salient part of my identity, but I also know that it’s okay to say no. Over time, I’ve learned that sometimes putting others first can be detrimental to personal happiness and growth if engaging with others’ interests comes before acknowledging my own hopes, dreams, and desires. Coming to that realization has been a bumpy road and while a little bruising is okay, I’d like to spare my student (and anyone else) some of the scars that have resulted along the way.

Not too long ago, in a dark time of self-doubt and uncertainty, a friend reassured me that I was doing fine. “You do the best you that you’re capable of and if you make a mistake, you learn.” That message has played on loop in the back of my mind for months now. It has become a mental rallying cry, a checkpoint before making decisions, responding to others, or trying to challenge the status quo.

And that’s what I want that man and woman, those teenagers, and all of my students to know. That’s what I would have liked to say. Do the best you that you’re capable of and learn from your mistakes. Keep track of who you are and who you want to become. Everyone else can wait.

(Dis)connection

I’ve been at a loss for words lately. I’ve been doing a lot of writing but abandoning drafts half formed, a lot of thinking but letting the thoughts go before uncovering them, playing with them, sharing them. I finished three (or was it four?) books this week, hoping their words would color the ideas I can’t seem to articulate.

A total sense of detachment from my own thoughts is strange. It’s like I’m watching myself try to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it, staring out the windows of this café, half-noticing the people walking across the street. My own thoughts float lazily back to me, reminders that they’re there if I want to find them, introduce them to each other, engage with whatever is tugging at the back of my mind.

I’m an observer to my own mind. I’m lucid dreaming while awake.

On the surface, I’m preoccupied with a field trip, modified school schedules, papers to grade, end-of-year projects to implement. I can’t stop reading about healthcare and I can’t shake a deep sense of insecurity that I can’t quite place.

Oddly, however, discounting the healthcare travesty for the moment, it’s been a truly wonderful week. School was busy and productive and I laughed a lot. There was also a lot of socializing, which, while typical of my life in general, has not been typical of my life in New York. As usual when things happen, everything is happening all at once.

And that leaves me nostalgic.

I’m moving again over the summer (details on that after three more pieces of paper are finalized and signed) and that means starting over. When I know I’m about to say goodbye, I grow reluctant to do it. I grow more forgiving of the irritations and inconveniences I encounter, and begin to see them as endearing idiosyncrasies rather than sources of frustrations. I become aware of opportunities I haven’t taken, people I haven’t truly gotten to know, foods I haven’t tried, neighborhoods I haven’t explored, music I haven’t heard, sights I haven’t seen. As I make preparations to move for the fourth time in as many years, I begin to drag my feet, making mental (and sometimes physical) notes of what I’ll miss.

It’s never easy to leave.

And sometimes, it’s equally difficult to go.

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between leaving and going. The former means packing a life into boxes, hugging the people who have gone from being strangers to being friends, leaving the keys on the table, and waving goodbye. It’s a deliberate decision to stop turning back. It’s an exhale, a sigh, a conclusion. The latter is the first step forward, checking the time and setting the GPS, or handing over a passport to gate agents. It’s about deciding to take a chance, a gamble, a deep inhale. In going somewhere new, you’re supposed to be ready for anything. Otherwise, why go?

I didn’t do any of that when I moved to New York. I turned around in Singapore’s Changi Airport one more time after clearing passport control, and that was when I knew I was heading down a road leading to a very different future than the one I hadn’t admitted I was hoping for.

My mind has been spinning at night, which is apparent when I wake up before my alarm, when I look at my watch at the end of a run, when my dreams are fragments of conversations not had. I’m floating in between a life I might have had and a life I hope to have. Maybe you just weren’t ready, a friend suggested yesterday. I think she’s right.

What if I’m never ready? What if, now that I know what I’m looking for (including, not limited to, and largely involving authentic connection and collaboration with those around me) and what I want to do (change the world), none of it ever comes to fruition?

That’s the big step forward I mentioned earlier. It’s admitting what I’m looking for and want to do and committing to that. It’s dedicating my actions, relationships, and career to those things rather than trying to figure out what those things are. And it’s daunting because failure, readjustment, modification, and heartbreak are all likely along the road ahead.

But so are success, achievement, happiness, and love.

Because that’s what living means. As it has been. As it will be.

There’s no stopping in place because places don’t stop. There’s no turning back time because time can’t turn. There are no crystal balls, nothing foretold, foreknown, or predetermined. There are roads, as Dante and Frost said, and some roads are less traveled.

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