Growing up, falling in love with New York City, and falling in love with life—all of these fit together in my memory, like the stones of the great vaulted archways of St. John the Divine.
When, long ago, I haunted the places we visited this past weekend on our parish-cluster youth pilgrimage, I learned: Loving the city and loving life means loving the Lord, means receiving His love as the gift of every shaft of light, touching every brazen human artifact, that surrounds you at this moment. For instance, a Cuban sandwich, and big cup of coffee with milk, on a cold afternoon on Broadway in West Harlem.
(Been twenty years since I ate that sandwich and drank that coffee, and still it reminds me how much God loves me.)
To share some of this enchantment with our young people, in the sunshine on the steps of Mother Cabrini Shrine, or under the Times-Square lights on a Saturday night, or confessing our sins to a kindly Franciscan in a comfortingly dark wooden confessional in a church full of candles on 37th Street, or watching the sun set behind Lady Liberty from New York Harbor—this is the privilege of my now fatherly age and the blessed sacred duty the Lord has had the kindness to give me. Not to mention the unstinting generosity of the co-workers I have.
May the graces flow on!
We prayed. We saw the grandeur. The Lord holds the future. Love for the city and life will flower in the hearts of those who are young now, as He alone wills. It takes a whole lifetime, after all, to fall in love with life completely.
…If I might, a couple comments regarding new things for me in this visit to New York–perhaps something like my one-hundred twelfth, but my first in some years…
1. I found it crushingly painful to see the skyline of lower Manhattan with the new tower. Not that the building doesn’t have anything to offer as something architecturally interesting; it actually kinda does. And not that the memory of the human toll of 9/11 still oppresses me. To the contrary, as hopefully you know, I have found consolation in praying for the poor souls who perished ever since 9:59 am that morning.
No, the painful thing doesn’t have to do with 9/11. It has to do with the fact that the Age of the Twin Towers, as part of what New York looks like—that Age has now definitively ended. Soon, it will be altogether forgotten—except by old people like me.
Yet that Age, that picture of Manhattan towering over the world, my memories of seeing the towers with my mom and dad and brother, or seeing them from Washington Square with college chums, or from Brooklyn Promenade, or Tompkins Square Park after eating some dim sum, or the Jersey Turnpike—all those memories, so vivid in my mind, so bound-up with youth and romance and seeking adulthood—they all belong to someone whose youth is over now, and forgotten. Sad. But I’ll live.
2. The Lord always gives little bonuses to people who wake up early, no matter what. Yesterday morning I had the forty minutes of sunrise to myself, for a run, with our (blessedly inexpensive) LaGuardia hotel as a starting point.
Flying blind, so to speak, I found the meandering park that hugs Flushing Bay. I saw the Whitestone Bridge shining to the northeast, like the towers of Minas Tirith. And Citi Field waking up in the very spot where Tom Buchanan winked at Myrtle Wilson.
We, too, after breakfast in the lobby, made our way towards our East-River crossing, barreling, like Nick Carraway, towards…
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.