love. week two.
city. new york city
Today is election day and I wanted to do something nice, so I picked up a gallon of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts and set up a table on the corner giving out free coffee.
Once the initial excitement subsided (and I realized that New Yorkers are way more suspicious of kindness than I thought), I settled into a gentle rhythm of rejection. Some people said thank you, others just ignored me, one guy even took a large cup, added like five sugars, a bunch of creamer, secured the lid, and then threw the whole thing like 15 feet in the air. Welcome to New York.
The nice thing is that you can’t really lose by being kind. Smiling at a guy who throws my coffee on the floor, or the one who just ignores me, is just as kind as smiling at the man who sips his coffee appreciatively. You can only lose when you start thinking about yourself (“But I wanted him to like it! How rude!”)
But then, like an hour in, I met Leonard. Leonard was a homeless guy who spends his days walking all around the city. He loves to go into clothing stores to see their leather jackets and winter boots. But he also loves to meet all sorts of new people and become their friend. I think I must have made half-a-dozen friends by just hanging out with Leonard for an hour.
Leonard told me that he doesn’t ask for money, he asks for jobs. But he also gives jobs. Sometimes, he pays other homeless people to clean up their neighborhood, so that we can all live in a nicer city. When we were together, he handed out some money to a few homeless men, even chasing after one with a dollar in his hand. (Unfortunately, this was right after I had just turned down the same people when they asked me for money. “I just gave you free coffee,” I thought. “I don’t also need to give money, right?” Learning how to give charity from a homeless man… what’s next?)
With Leonard, everyone was a friend, even those who considered him the enemy. He said that his favorite place in the city is the Trump Building on Columbus Circle. He told me not to look at the way people treat us, but think about the things that must have happened to them to make them treat us that way, and feel compassion.
Leonard told me that life is see-saw. It goes up and down, but it’s all part of the game.
Leonard told me that he gave his son a bike without any air in its tires. He wanted to teach him that life isn’t always about going somewhere new. Sometimes it’s about staying still.
With Leonard by my side, the coffee was quickly given away. Let me say that again. A man with nothing taught me how to give away everything.
Leonard wasn’t afraid of the city. He was amazed by it. He took care of it.
Can we, the citizens of New York, say that we’ve taken care of him? Have we even taken care of ourselves?
In his book, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm argues that at our psychological core, each person is suffering from an “unbearable feeling of isolation and separateness;” and while we have invented various forms of escape (sex, religion, war, art), “the full answer lies in the achievement of interpersonal union, of fusion with another person, in love.”
Okay, I can buy that. To be born is to be alone, and to be alone is to be afraid. By transcending our sense of alone-ness, we can escape the anxiety of existence.
But Fromm goes on to point out that western culture makes it extremely difficult to cultivate the art of loving. To drive this point home, he asks the reader to consider “how many truly loving persons he has known.” Oof. Who are our role models for love? If love is really as great as people say, why is it so rare to find? Fromm blames liberal capitalism and its focus on individualism, selfishness, and greed, but I doubt it’s really that simple.
In any case, I’m on the hunt for our lost icons of love.
Legend has it that there’s a stone in Jerusalem from which the rest of the world was created.
The legend is wrong. The center of the world is actually Washington Square Park.
From Washington Square Park, every possible flavor of humanity is gushed into the world, as if propelled out of the fountain at its center.
Stoners, loners, posers, mourners. Beggars, hookers, hippies, painters, pushers.
Crooks, cooks, goths, bankers. Musicians, metaphysicians, mathematicians, politicians.
Students, lovers, haters, skaters. Composers, destroyers, sojourners, conformers.
I spoke to my older sister for two hours tonight about romantic relationships (and my lack thereof). She thinks that I have to stop searching for the particular brand of love that I’ve decided I deserve, and instead open myself up to whatever kinds of love that life presents to me. Love is not a commodity, like some customizable accessory, but comes in all shapes and sizes. She thinks that love likes to surprise us, creeping up on us in ways in we’d least expect.
We decided that instead of discounting girls that “I’m just not that interested in,” I’ll go on more second and third dates in order to see what might reveal itself.
Let's see how that goes.