According to the 2010 United States Census, New York City is the most populous city in the country with over eight million people. Furthermore, according to NYC’s official guide, over 40 million people visit this city annually. You might think after reading this that “it’s a small world” but by the end, I wonder if that’s the most appropriate phrase. I can’t help but think that my most recent trip to NYC over President’s Day weekend is some statistical anomaly.
What if I had flown in and out of some weird vortex?
After a visit to the 9/11 Memorial, my sister and I made our way to a late lunch at a pastry shop that she had just tried the other week, Financier Patisserie. We had a couple of detours and got there sometime in the mid-afternoon. I would find out later that we were at their first location on Stone Street, but there are 11 locations in New York. I mention this because this wasn’t the only Financier Patisserie we could have gone to and that we weren’t exactly there for the typical lunch hour either.
I sat enjoying my soup and sandwich when I noticed a familiar face walk in the door.
I already knew my friend Kimberly would be in New York City the same weekend I would be, but we had no plans to meet up or visit the same tourist spots together. If I had run into her at a tourist spot, perhaps the story for this particular day would even make some sense, but there we were in Financier Patisserie.
At first, I wasn’t sure it was her because she hadn’t heard me – too preoccupied by the desserts behind the glass. After confirming with my sister that this was my friend Kimberly and her significant other (via a Facebook photo) – that I wasn’t seeing things – I got up to order coffee. When she turned around, I waved.
Cue: Girl squeal and insta-hug.
To add to the strangeness, it turned out that we had both been at a NYC tourist destination, having gone through the 9/11 Memorial earlier in the day. But our timed tickets were differentiated by at least an hour, so odds were that we wouldn’t have met there either – let alone nearly half a mile away from the Memorial in a pastry shop.
Kimberly would later post a photo of us on Facebook where some friends suggested that we had planned meeting up. After finding out otherwise, they thought this incident was as crazy as we did. I wonder what they would say about the rest of my trip.
One of my favorite places in New York City is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first time I made a visit there years ago, I went there specifically to look at their permanent collection of armor (long story short: I used to be a fencer…as in epee, not stolen goods!). This second time through the museum I was able to go through what felt like Ancient Egypt transplanted, the American Wing of amazing Tiffany glass, and the collection of historic musical instruments from around the world. I had a glimpse of the musical instruments collection before my more thorough exploration that day; in this glimpse lies my second vortex story.
I left my sister in Ancient Egypt to go find a bathroom – and of course, didn’t take a museum map with me. Though we really weren’t in Ancient Egypt, my museum wanderings for a bathroom felt like I had traveled across time and space. I eventually found myself at a stairwell and thought that perhaps I could find a bathroom on the second floor. When I got to the second floor, I got distracted from my journey at the sight of glistening golden organ pipes.
As a church member of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles – home of one of the world’s largest church organs (based on the number of pipes) – I wasn’t surprised that the sight of this instrument made me detour on my mission. What I was surprised by was walking into this area for a closer look at the organ and finding Bryon, one of my church choral members, standing by it taking pictures.
“Hey – what are you doing here?”
“What are YOU doing here?”
Neither of us had known the other was in New York City, let alone expect that we would run into each other in front of the organ of a very large museum. It was fitting though, that of all people I would run into in front of an organ in New York City, it would be someone affiliated with my church. There are a few things that help diffuse the oddness of this incident – we were in a tourist spot, we both had a vested interest in organs, and we would later run into each other again in the museum.
Small world? Perhaps. Adding to the story from the day before? It’s beginning to look a lot like a vortex.
Oh, and a note: if you happen to be lost in the Metropolitan Museum of Art without a map and looking for a bathroom – just ask a museum employee. Though perhaps not as adventurous, it’s easier.
One of my favorite dessert places in NYC is Serendipity 3. Partly because I love the movie, but really because their frozen hot chocolate is worth the wait. I had made plans to go to lunch there – to meet up with my friend Sarah who I hadn’t seen in five years.
It would turn out that Serendipity 3 was a two-hour wait – so we ended up not going there for lunch, but perhaps we had already used up the serendipity of the day earlier.
We were both running late. There were text messages back-and-forth.
The train my sister and I were on stopped so that people could transfer to the other car. And apparently we were among the people that needed to transfer. So my sister and I headed to the train cars across the way, entering the one exactly parallel to the one we were in. Prior to leaving the train car, we joked about who I would run into next.
I told my sister, “Well, now that you said it, it’s probably not going to happen.”
The train car we had walked into was standing room only at that point, so my sister and I stood by the filled seats. It was then that I noticed a familiar face, seated right between where my sister and I were standing.
She looked up from her phone and though we hadn’t seen each other in five years, neither of us had changed much. It was definitely Sarah.
Was this serendipity? Maybe.
Was it my strange New York Vortex? Probably.
This part of the story extends beyond New York City limits, but I was still in New York City when it happened.
Although I was on vacation, I needed to complete a class observation for my teaching course. As my doctorate program works with both face-to-face and online instruction, I was able to ask my friend Virginia who teaches in Virginia if I could observe her online course. Unfortunately for my vacation, the class met on Mondays and didn’t observe Presidents Day. But the day had been busy with dim sum and ice cream in Chinatown and wandering around The Strand – one of my favorite bookstores – so it was actually nice to just settle down in Columbia’s International Affairs Building to do an online class observation.
At this point, after everything that had happened the last few days, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the vortex struck again. Maybe I would find out I had a friend at Columbia that I didn’t know about . Or perhaps I might see this person walk into the International Affairs Building while I was sitting on the main floor.
This did not happen.
This is what happened: I logged into Virginia’s class as a “guest” – not wanting to be too distracting to the class, but of course she introduced me anyway. After a few brief questions about my background, one of her students wrote “I love your poems.”
It turns out that one of Virginia’s students was a friend of Private Danny Chen and she had read my An Invisible Handshake poem that I had written after reading about his story in New York Magazine. This poem is incredibly special to me because of the sad situation that inspired it, but also after I had shared the poem on my tumblr, one of Pvt. Chen’s cousin had contacted me directly stating how much she appreciated the poem. So hearing similar sentiments echoed again from a friend of his speaks a lot to me as a writer and a human being given the topic of my poem.
I can’t even really begin to express how this moment alone is astounding and crazy and touching, let alone adding it into the sequence of events of my New York vacation. And the numbers I have on hand only add to how odd this is. I don’t know exactly how many people have read this poem, but according to my site statistics, less than 100 people have visited the specific page where this poem was written. Even if that number gets doubled for anyone who might have reblogged the poem on tumblr or seen it in passing, the fact that one student – in a class of almost 30 people, taught by a friend of mine in another state – knew this poem is mind boggling….
…and it’s also special. So I will leave it at that.
Perhaps all of this vortex is related to my lost sense of time given time zone shifts and lack of sleep during travels. I woke at 5:30 am to take the Subway and then AirTrain to a 9:00am flight at JFK. By the time I got on this airplane, I was pretty exhausted from the specific adventure of getting to the airport and from my crazy whirlwind trip. Needless to say I fell asleep for the first hour of my flight – I hardly remembering our take off into the air.
I woke up having to decide between homework and a book. I had packed my heavier books (I went a little crazy at The Strand) in my overhead bin carry-on, but I had kept a lighter paperback in my purse to read. The book was called On Love by Alain de Botton. Though an international bestseller first published in 1996 and again in 2003, I hadn’t heard of it until I found it on a table at The Strand. The beginning looked promising enough and I loved how the reviews focused on Botton’s great sentences (Literature Nerd Note: Sometimes there’s nothing that can compare to a great sentence.).
But by the time I got to Page 15, I realized that my “not knowing” the book wasn’t entirely true. In the evening as I was packing, hours after I had already purchased this book, someone I followed on tumblr had posted a quote from Page 15 of this very book. I remember this quote not because of the author (which was mentioned) or the title of the book (which wasn’t mentioned) but because I didn’t necessarily agree with it:
Every fall into love involves [to adapt Oscar Wilde] the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping that we will not find in the other what we know is in ourselves – all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise and brute stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one, and decide that everything that lies within it will somehow be free of our faults and hence lovable. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through union with the beloved, hope somehow to maintain [against evidence of all self-knowledge] a precarious faith in the species.
-Alain de Botton (via kateopolis)
Perhaps it’s ironic that I close with a quote that I don’t agree with (primarily because I think our flaws should be embraced because they make us who we are). But in talking about a vortex where all these crazy events happened, I think this story requires lending oneself to “hope over self-knowledge,” not for the sake of falling in love with a person, but falling in love with the possibilities of life.
Maybe there wasn’t a vortex and the weekend was just filled with coincidences. Honestly, I don’t know. I just know that life seems to always ask me to lend myself to magic – and I’d rather believe in a little magic than none at all.