Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self-care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work to firstname.lastname@example.org
I believe living in a city teaches you countless life lessons. Among them, cities teach you to appreciate the beauty in blending in. Rather than life in a suburban town where “everyone knows everyone,” the 8.4 million residents of New York City couldn’t care less about how your day is going or what you did last night. That isn’t to say we are not compassionate; on the contrary, this city is built on a framework of pure acts of kindness. Rather, my point is simply, little retains shock value. On any given day, the streets of New York City may offer you an array of visuals from grown adults in rat costumes to rats the size of grown adults. You can fight your way through crowds of tourists stopped in awe all the while accidentally walking through a movie set. From celebrities to your nameless neighbors, each street corner offers you endless possibilities. Some say you are not a true New Yorker until you’ve cried in public, contributing to the madness of this beautiful twisted place. Now, I’m not sure that’s a fair requirement to uphold, but if you saw me crying in McCarren Park yesterday, no you didn’t.
For almost two years, I have been speaking to you about what I believe in. I have shared my experiences with love and loss, mental health, vulnerability, and my relationship with self-care. Throughout the years, I have connected with many of you, speaking on our young lives and common experiences. Through this all, I have learned that the pieces most powerful are born from deeply emotional and pivotal moments. While I am incredibly honest and open through my writing, I have not always been able to articulate my weaknesses in person. I struggle to show my vulnerabilities, to express my remorse, or to admit when I am wrong. So, doesn’t it feel ironic that I am able to pour my heart out on these pages, these pages where strangers, acquaintances, close friends, and family members can read about my darkness and deepest fears, yet, I am unable to let myself cry in front of others?
All I can say is, I’m working on it.
For the first time in my life, yesterday, I sat down on the streets of New York City (in good jeans nevertheless), and sobbed. I let tears run down my very sunburnt face as I made eye contact with total strangers, passing by to go about their own days in the gorgeous Brooklyn sun. I let myself tear up on a Manhattan-bound A train. I smeared mascara across my face at the McCarren dog run. I inhaled the fresh springtime air that sparks joy in this city as I composed my emotions on a bench. I laughed as my puppy licked the tears away, as I locked eyes with a stranger who stopped walking, and tipped his hat, nodding, as if to say “I’ve been there.” Maybe that’s all I needed; a stranger to grant me the compassionate permission to express my emotions. While he won’t remember the interaction, for me, it was a lesson learned in the most unexpected way.
I’ve always marveled at the way residents of a city can blend into one harmonious melody. We may be socially-trained to believe our notes are the loudest, yet, from far away, we are just a single part of something so much bigger, not to be too existential. It’s probable I’ve been too concerned with what others think of me as I navigate life. It’s probable I should lighten up and open myself to life in the same way I do with my words. It’s probable I could benefit from embracing the sadness in the same way I embrace the silliness and magical moments.
As for the reason for the waterworks yesterday? For now, I’ll keep that between the bench and those who sat on it. For this week, I’ll keep it short and sweet. Let yourself cry. No one will care, because next week it could be us on that street, that train, that dog run, or that bench with our waterlogged eyes searching for reassurance. Do I feel like a “true” New Yorker now? No way. I certainly have more to learn about myself from this city and those who also call her home. I’m really looking forward to it.
Here’s to the sense of promise slowly drifting into the air. Here’s to a springtime filled with rebirth. Here’s to a freaking good cry.