This post was supposed to be about New York but then I went to a concert and it got hijacked and is kind of about New York and kind of about God and kind of about beauty.
And now it’s been two weeks and I’ve left this post untouched because the amount of reading I have this semester is So Much and I barely have time to think, let alone blog, but I can’t stop thinking about beauty and truth and God and the privilege of being alive. So I’m trying this again, writing out this beginning instead of reading The Brothers Karamazov, a book I am so lucky to be reading, so lucky…
I went to New York at the end of the summer. Manhattan, specifically, though I spent a good two hours or so in Brooklyn. I just shrink from being that person that talks about New York and only means Manhattan.
Manhattan in the summer is like being in a rainforest where the trees are made of glass and stone. That’s not an original thought, but it’s a true one. When I went to Manhattan in March, it was freezing cold and dark and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it—I’d always loved it from a distance, like ~*~artsy~*~ kids who think they’ll end up on Broadway someday always do. (I’m not an artist. I’ll write a blog post about that some other day, but let’s just leave it right now with the caveat that my Broadway dreams died respectably early.) But I had mixed feelings and missed London. So be it.
In the summer it’s a different story. It’s hot and crowded and it smells like hot garbage but it’s alive, and this time I made sure to go places that I hadn’t gone before, that my friend who lives in Manhattan hadn’t gone before, that tourists don’t go, because I am—of course—anti-tourism, because I’m the kind of person who wants to make sure I don’t call Manhattan ‘New York’, that is to say, a pedant.
Anyway we got out of Manhattan one afternoon and wandered through this flea market in Brooklyn which was on the bank of the river and all of a sudden—a beach! Just ten feet of beach, randomly, underneath a huge bridge with the Manhattan skyline across from me. Magical magical beach, from nowhere, surrounded by rocks and crowds and a tiny park and it was actually a beach. This was the last place I had ever expected to find a beach.
I had so much joy in this beach. I normally hate the beach but it was summer and New York and here’s this beach and this water and it came from nowhere and it’s one of those moments where you’re so so lucky to be alive, with your feet in some probably pretty nasty sand but look at this, look with your eyes across the way and see this:
What else am I here to see but this?
Jump to this concert I went to with my friend Erin—we went to see Beach House, the coincidence of which is not lost on me. Anyone who knows Beach House knows they’re pretty dreamy and mellow, and Erin had never seen them so I was excited but in a tentative way because Social Anxiety means that I was very preoccupied with the idea that Erin might not have a good time or that the show would be boring to her, or even me. I have a hard time at concerts because I have these weird, disconnected out of body experiences (in a bad way) where I feel alien among these huge crowds of people, like I can’t get into the music and everyone else is just so involved and I’m ready for it to be over halfway through. I get way too much into my head at concerts.
But Beach House, oh, Beach House… They were transcendent. The entire concert was but a single moment. Some dude behind me yelled, “PLAY FOREVER” and I said “amen” to myself. God Himself was present at Beach House. There was beauty all around me and I felt it in the music that was swelling up through the soles of my feet that I could feel when I put my hands over my chest, pulsating out of me. The lights overwhelmed my vision and I kept my eyes shut and I felt like I was in some inbetween space between reality and pure ecstatic beauty. And I truly truly believe that whenever something is so good and so beautiful that God is in that. All goodness, all beauty comes from God; the Divine is present in the things that bring us joy. Awe in the face of beauty is prayer and I felt that so much when I studied abroad but I never realized I could feel it here, in my daily, mundane, boring life.
Three days ago I yelled to my roommate, “I don’t care that it’s taking me four hours to read ninety pages of The Brothers Karamazov! We are so lucky to read this! We are so lucky this book exists!” We live in the same world as The Brothers Karamazov, the greatest novel to ever be written. There is more truth in a tangential paragraph of that novel than in pretty much anything else combined. I am in awe of it.
I am surrounded by beauty, even in this kind of janky podunk town of my life. I complain because I have to spend hours of my life reading. I am so lucky!!!!!! So lucky!!!!
Once upon a time I used to quote Fitzgerald, who said exclamation marks were like laughing at your own jokes and I never used them, especially never more than one. But God! There is so much good in the world! So much! My roommates come home and I love them, my heart is so full, and there is joy everywhere and my own jokes are funny and deserve to be laughed at!
And God is everywhere! Everywhere! And I am so, so happy. Even when I am stressed, even when I forgot to turn in an assignment and life is not perfect but it is good. I look in the mirror and contemplate my self, and the idea of existing and I am in love with the world and everything in it. The last two years at college have been this uphill struggle of darkness, but something has happened, a switch has been flipped and even though my life is still not easy, I see the beautiful everywhere, all around me somehow, I am struck by it again and again and again, in the eyes of my friends, in my books, in my postcards, in music, in the trees on campus… And there is just this infinite possibility for beauty and the presence of God and they just keep appearing when I’m not really looking for them. I keep finding these unexpected beaches all over and Lord, Lord, I am grateful.
Also it occurs to me now that this blog has come full circle—when I started it I wanted to be ‘present and in awe.’ And I feel as though I am now.