Where the Restless Come to Be

New York City is home to more devastated souls than are entire countries where people live in truly devastating conditions. Say what they may about people coming here to live their dreams and aspirations, the true essence of New York’s magic is that she allows us to be wholly fragmented, fractured, even broken, and does not, like so many places do, require us to mold into a version of ourselves that is comforting to others. We take solace in the affirming anonymity afforded by the City, where people are too caught up in trying to hold together pieces of their selves to notice each other’s perpetual unraveling. This is, perhaps, the greatest of New York’s many gifts: She doesn’t ask us to choose and settle on a fragment. She lets the restless be.

Nothing is ever enough for the New Yorker, and this isn’t at all a matter of greed. The insatiability is not that of a mercenary, but rather of a soul with many voids that call out to be filled, and of course, never can, notwithstanding all that the City has to offer.

The restlessness of the New Yorker is palpable. It’s in the way she begins to pace the platform seven seconds after arriving into the station, checking the MTA app to see exactly how many minutes away the train is—because it should have been there when she needed it three seconds ago. It’s in the way he swerves through throngs of tourists who stroll, jaws dropped in awe of the skyscrapers and neon lights, while New Yorkers swim against currents of life at its rawest, which we take for granted the way Londoners expect fog. It’s the restlessness of the cab drivers and hustlers, the vendors and toddlers, the bikers and the teenagers on skateboards, the veterans who shouldn’t be on the streets begging for mercy, and those who walk by too quickly to notice their extended hands. It’s in the way the Empire State keeps poking her crown into the clouds, the way a formidable tower surges up into the sky downtown, rooted in remains and resilience. It’s the expectation that the food will arrive quickly, that it will be exquisite, and accompanied by as little chatter from the server as possible. It’s in the comebacks, the quips, the wit, the sarcasm that is a City dialect deserving of its own leaf in the tree of languages. It’s in the staunch insistence on anonymity and privacy coupled with a relentless longing to be known, seen, and heard. Fortunately for the New Yorker, the City takes care to carve out nooks and crannies into which we can retreat or immerse ourselves, depending on the moment’s need, and almost always at a moment’s notice.

It isn’t true that the New Yorker isn’t kind, but rather that she doesn’t define kindness as a tray of homemade cookies delivered to the new neighbor’s home. We are kind to those who are kind to us, which isn’t that great a number of people. We’ll tell you the shortest way to get from Jackson Heights to the Bronx Zoo, where to find a bar that still allows smoking, and which Halal food cart in Midtown has the freshest meat. But we won’t do any of this, if you approach us in search of help while we clearly look like we have someplace to be, or someone to become by the end of the week. We might tell you where in the City or the world we’re from, but don’t ask unless we have invited an inquiry, which will happen on the rare occasion when we are not on the run from the part of ourselves that belongs someplace else. The New Yorker isn’t unkind, simply too earnest in her drive to survive all that is this City, and above all, her own self.

It’s alright to be angry in New York. It is alright to be discontent. The New Yorker will seek out the City’s growing opportunities for peace and contentment—her endless parks, meditation centers, Yoga classes, visiting gurus, mosques, churches, temples, happy hours, acupuncture, spas, and massage salons. We hunger for silence and stillness; these are, perhaps, the greatest longings of the New Yorker. But when attempts at calmness fail, she can roar. New York justifies anger. She forgives the emptiness we feel despite all that she gives us. This City accepts our restlessness. How could she not, when she is everything?

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