If I were in Philadelphia, I couldn’t have been paid to be lured outdoors on a frigid winter weekend, with temperatures barely above 20 degrees and snow a constant threat in the forecast, to traipse around the city.
I have little love for the season to begin with, but the harshness of this winter has practically made my home a hermitage, with countless hatched plans never making it out of my head.
Yet on this particular weekend, I am in New York City, where I have been walking for hours, though my fingertips are frozen and my face is so cold, I am beginning to slur my speech. Flurries swirl around me and the gray skies offer no hope of sunlight, but I am having a wonderful time.
I am there with my mom, and we are both laughing at the intrepid explorers the city seems to have unleashed. Midtown Manhattan, with all its flashy dissonance and unremitting furor, always gives me a rush, and it doesn’t disappoint, even in the grips of an arctic blast.
My mom and I arrive by train for a matinee of “The Bridges of Madison County” on Broadway. After checking into our hotel, we decide to walk to the theater. It’s not far, only about 13 blocks, though we make our first stop a cafe, where, fortified by lattes, we find the warmth to soldier on. We’re in search of a Jamaican restaurant we visited once before, where we stop for a lunch of hearty soup and get asked for the second time that day, much to our bafflement, whether we are twins.
By the time we get to the theater, the line to get in is at least three blocks long, though it seems to keep growing the farther back we walk, as we occasionally ask “Is this the line for ‘Bridges’?” to ensure we won’t be ushered to “The Glass Menagerie,” instead. It is snowing, but I am so excited, I don’t care. A dear friend had suggested this bittersweet love story, based on Robert James Waller’s novel, may not be the best thing for my mom and I to see given our last few years of loss, but we have always loved this tale of idyllic yet impossible romance, so I got us tickets for Christmas.
Once it is over, though we both cried, rather than feeling glum, I am exhilarated. I am on Broadway, after all, which, to me, has always been one of the most magical places in New York, and Steven Pasquale and Kelli O’Hara, whom I haven’t seen onstage since my mom and I caught “The Light in the Piazza” almost 10 years ago, have given us a sublime Robert and Francesa.
For dinner, we head to a French bistro, where I have my first cassoulet and my mom the duck. We are so impressed with our meals, we promise the owner, who periodically checks in with all the diners, we will return again someday. Then, we’re off to shop as I also pop into every bakery I see, determined to find a gluten-free cupcake, before we march our frosty limbs back to our hotel and settle in for the night.
In the morning, there is brunch and more shopping — and a very funny episode where I temporarily become a shoe model for a European man flustered by a request from his sister back home for a wedged bootie — and more outrageous cold.
Yet my mom and I keep walking, chatting all the while and still chuckling at a daring we would never embrace at home.
For years, given my career as a writer, many have suggested I would do well to move to New York. I’ve never been able to envision myself living there, nor do I want to, but I flirt with the idea every time I visit.
A week after my mom and I knock around Midtown, I am back in the city with some girlfriends for an event in the Village. The tree-lined, smaller streets and slower pace, the less-imposing buildings with their elegant architecture, the quaint, more spacious sprawl of restaurants and shops and the relaxed charms of Washington Square make life here seem more manageable. But something about New York still pulses with a dizzying amplitude that makes me think my intoxication with the place will always be fleeting. A weekend or even a few days here and there may be all I ever need.
But what New York gives me in those back-to-back visits is precious nonetheless. For in those moments with my mom and my girlfriends, I am completely present — to our togetherness and our environment, to the conversations we’re having and the laughter we share and to a satisfaction that is almost a surprise.
Though I am grieving the loss of a relationship I only recently let go, the contentment I feel doing so much I love with these women I adore is both electric and soothing.
It reminds me I will be OK, that life is good and my capacity for joy unlimited. The awareness of how I immersed myself so fully in the experience of where I was and what I was doing is a gift I carry home. But it’s not about needing elaborate adventure or entertainment to distract me from my pain.
It’s about learning to cultivate such mindfulness every day, rather than indulging in thoughts and feelings about a past I cannot change or focusing my hopes on a future beyond my control. I resolve to be in the now as much as possible, knowing it is where I will find the peace and openness to truly move forward in life.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times