To begin, magnificent words from George Saunders’ 2013 commencement address to Syracuse University:
“Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers… but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”
And to follow, magic words from J.M. Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan:
“Would you like an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first?”
My parents visited me in New York City this past weekend. They flew in to see me in my summer element – where I work, live, run, lay in the park, swim through tourists, etc. They came to adventure, and they came to indulge me with good company.
It’s funny how as we age, at least as I do, I delight more in the presence of my parents, and others’ parents. They’re the coolest people, because they know exactly who they are. We’re so lucky that they choose to identify themselves in such relation to us, our parents, when we so rarely first define ourselves as their children. But this is a beside.
Thursday evening we met for dinner in Midtown East Manhattan near Murray Hill. I was staying with them in their hotel, The Roger – turning their vacation into my stay-cation. I simply couldn’t pass up white hotel linens.
Friday morning I commuted back to Brooklyn for a half-day of work whilst the parents visited the moving 9/11 memorial and then traversed the East River to meet me in Dumbo. I walked them through literally shady Brooklyn Heights before taking them to figuratively shady Crown Heights and my little apartment. The rats on the street behaved and stayed out of sight from my mother. It’s the little victories.
We dined at Al Di La Trattoria in Park Slope – an amazing Italian restaurant with fantastic Rosesse wine that made my heart ache for Italy. We wandered back to my apartment via Prospect Park, wine sleepy, and bathed in Summer night breeze.
Saturday, I led Mom and Dad on a parade criss-crossing Manhattan: Soho, Lower East, East Village, Greenwich, West Village, Times Square, Midtown, Central Park, and back to the white linens of The Roger. Another fantastic Italian dinner and a few night caps of Bailey’s and we were done for.
But, to attend to those hanging quotes:
Adventuring has to be the spice. We walk Manhattan island because we want to SEE. We want to experience the new. We want to swim naked in the rivers, so to speak. Because the new is a shock to the system. In doing the new, we fire neural pathways yet un-synched. We create memory and experience and build ourselves new structures. In doing so, perhaps we hope to become something better or more understandable to ourselves. And, I think this is sublimely important.
Yet, in walking Brooklyn and Manhattan, playing tour guide and seeing new things myself all the while, I found some of my greatest joys of the weekend in the pauses. In the tea. The sedentary interaction, the familiar, the sipping of wine with my parents, the banter between dinner courses, the park benches, those blips in the adventure trajectory provided a different adventure: casual, intimate interaction. Human nicety.
As my mother bent down to compliment a lady in my neighborhood on her wide-eyed baby, I think this is why I want visitors here.
Street interactions mean so much to me in a place where I don’t have many established friendships. The simple effort of being nice enriches my day as much as it hopefully does the other person’s. Small comments, small gestures, the “teas” in the sea of adventures, can be just as, or more meaningful.
Peter Pan and George Saunders seem to agree that there is time for both: adventuring and tea, the grand and the ever-important subtle. Becoming nicer, focusing on the daily improvements in life, can aggrandize the adventures.
So I suppose my take away is this: drink up. The hot tea cools but will warm you, and the adventure waits.