Easter – April 5, 2015 – East Village, Harlem.
Today was easily Top 5 for days in New York, enough that it must be told in two parts:
Easter morning begins at church with friends Derek and Ashley, before we meet another friend, Kaitlyn, for brunch. With Derek working at a Momofuku bar nearby, we went to the Momofuku Ssam Bar restaurant (ssam=Korean dish typically using greens as a wrap for meat). I only knew the Ssam Bar as an asian-inspired restaurant in the East Village, but I later learned was actually on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List for five years. And it tastes like it!! (I got so hungry writing this and scouring pictures.)
Because of Derek’s connection, we’re greeted with a complimentary splash of champagne and an appetizer before we settle in to our meal, including a pork shoulder ssam bowl, seared beef brisket with tea brined egg, roasted duck over rice with crispy shallot. It was all so splendidly flavorful, unfussy, savory – and sitting here with people spanning the country and the decade and high school-college-adulthood life stages, it was a moment of deliciousness all-around.
Post-brunch, post-Trader Joe’s trip with Ashley (a “happy place” for us both, we learned) I amble my way from Union Square/14th street to the subway at 34th street. Google tells me it was something like 2 miles, which should take about 40 minutes. I take two hours.
Back home, I’d probably complain or at least be a bit bored by a walk like this. But right now, I’m amazed at how fun it is just to…wander. To walk and walk and just take it all in – it seems so simple, but it’s hard to describe just how enlivening and energizing it feels when you’re surrounded by so much everything. Having just finished Season 1 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt the day prior, I couldn’t help but relate to her excitement for New York: after living the past 15 years of her life in a bunker, she makes her way to the big city and comically finds everything dazzling, magical, wonderful.
Surprisingly, one of the experiences I find oddly full of wonder seems to be traveling on the subway. Which may sound a little odd, but consider: when driving somewhere, you witness every moment of the your journey from Point A to Point B, the transition is gradual and subtle as you see street after street after street until you arrive at your destination. There’s not really an element of surprise or mystery; you’re well aware of your progress on the journey as you make it.
But subway travel has a certain drama to it. One moment you’re living a regular life above ground, but then you descend the steps until you lose touch with that normal world; you enter this odd underground netherworld of the subway, where nothing you see looks like life above ground, all is dingy, stuffy, gray, drab. You board the train and you’re hurtled streets ahead to your stop. You walk off the train, still in the midst of all that’s gray and dim, you walk the steps, climbing up and up and up, closer and closer to the light above you, until you reach the top, and then, in an instant, you cross back over into a new world. You’re back to a place that’s new and fresh with its sun and sky, a world contrasting everything you just experienced. Transitioning back to life of sorts, you emerge with a small spike of adrenaline, and maybe your mouth can’t help but twist into a little smile: “hey world, nice to see you again.”
Riding the subway reminds me of the transitions in our life from dark to light, death to life, bleak to hopeful…and today, Easter, I can’t help but be a little excited about it. That morning, someone put it like this, that “the story of Easter tells us that hope rises from dead places. Impossible stones are rolled away. All the sad things are becoming undone. And may you be filled with that resurrection hope.”
And yes, to have hope that what is gray and bleak in our lives can somehow still become bright, fresh, new, redeemed…well, that seems like one of the most powerful beliefs one can hold. This past year, I’ve struggled at times to hold on to this hope as some very good things in life came to an end, creating voids I worry might stay unfilled for a long long long time. We all know life can feel uncomfortable sometimes, and on particularly low days I just start thinking the grayer parts of life just might stay that way. But today, Easter, I’m reminded that when we’re wandering around the subways of life, not sure when we’ll ever get out, that fresh air we hope for might only be a few more steps away.