Last Friday I read an article in the New York Times that captivated me. I'm one of those New Yorkers who still has the zeal of the converted. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and had dreams that formed when I was about twelve years old of someday living in the Big Apple.
Even though I've now lived here longer than anyplace else, I still get a thrill when I walk into Grand Central and look up at that ceiling I get the same thrill I got when I first arrived here at age 19. (And yes, I do know that one of the secrets of Grand Central is that the ceiling--which depicts the stars in the heavens--is backwards. Or, perhaps more accurately, it is upside down. That is, it was painted as if the viewer is looking down on the stars--like God's view--rather than up at them.)
I was just passing through New York then, on my way to school in Europe for a year, and was whiling away three days before the ocean liner on which I would journey to Europe embarked. And New York was the first excitement of that trip and I have come to associate it with all things adventurous, ever-changing, mysterious, exciting. I know there is still much to learn about my adopted home.
So I was fascinated to read the article in last Friday's New York Times about a group of young people who decided--upon moving to New York--that they would systematically explore a section of the City a weekend at a time. They formed a group that agreed to spend the day together on this kind of expedition on foot, and they would leave their blackberries and cell phones at home. They called it giving their gadgets a "secular Sabbath".
There would usually be about six of them and they would start with breakfast together at some place in that day's to-be-explored section of the City, and travel afoot from there. One day it would be Red Hook, another Harlem, another Chinatown.
What I love most about the article, written by a co-founder of the group, Anand Giridharadas are his words about conversation. Specifically these:
"It is, you could argue, a golden age for talk--or perhaps for chatter. More people have more ways to say more things than ever before. But for many of us our communicative lives have become lives of chaos, fragmentation, addiction, alienation, guilt. What we discovered when we turned off our machines and spent whole days together was how desperately we all wanted to talk."
Wow! Conversation while walking the streets of New York. Getting to know others while you learn the city as only one who explores it by foot can do.
My kind of guy, this Anand Giridharadas. I hope his "I am here" days expand to a movement.