I clutch the armrests of my seat with clammy hands as the plane takes off. This being my first flight, I tried to revert back to childhood and pretend I was simply on a rocket ship that was headed toward the moon.
My fellow passengers glanced around to see where the dragon-like heavy breathing was coming from, and smirking with amusement when they saw a wide-eyed, young girl who clearly was not used to being this far off the ground. “Just play it cool,” I thought to myself. “People do this every day.”
Before I knew it, the airplane landed and I began my grand adventure in New York City. At first, I was completely overwhelmed by the massive buildings, crowded streets, and lack of nature. I was appalled at the filth of the city, the non-existence of Southern manners, and the rat-like pigeons that flock the streets and stare at you as if they’re preparing to attack. I felt as if I was drowning in an asphalt sea, and on the first day, I was terrified of being swept away by the currents of people that seemed to be living their lives way too fast.
Guilt consumed me that night as I realized how deplorable my attitude was. I began the next day making a strong point to open my heart and mind as widely as I could to one of the most celebrated cities in the world. I prayed that God would open my eyes to the world-renowned beauty that I just could not see when I first became acquainted with New York.
During the second day of my trip, my friend and I were strolling through the hectic and spaghetti-scented streets of Little Italy, looking for a nice restaurant to relax, eat lunch and watch the World Cup. While I was glancing around at the different restaurants, searching for the right one, I finally found what I was looking for.
This colorful painting was the stunning face of a woman, with each piece of her fragmented visage a unique design of different colors and patterns. It was an extraordinarily striking work of art.
I realized in that moment that New York City is that woman.
Every single piece of this city—the joyful, the blue, the brown, the beautiful, and the ugly—were all necessary to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. By only focusing on the ugly pieces, I was missing the larger picture.
By the time my adventure in New York ended, I understood that people moved so expeditiously because they were zealously chasing the dreams that they refused to let escape them.
I learned to love all of the massive buildings, because they were a product of years of sweat, irreplaceable hard work, and inconceivable accomplishment.
I discovered Thoreau-worthy nature in the form of Central Park, a picturesque area that contained the lushest, greenest grass I have ever napped on in my life. The waters surrounding Lady Liberty, the globally recognized symbol of freedom, sparkled and proudly beamed like the stars on our flag.
I visited the deepest and darkest scar of the city, the 9/11 Memorial, and witnessed the inexorable patriotism of those who work to preserve the memories of the fallen. I will never forget the tears that came to my eyes as I tried to rationalize the pain and horror that occurred exactly where I was standing a little over a decade ago.
They are people that accomplish their wildest ambitions and contribute considerable amounts of productivity to the world. Because it challenged me daily to step beyond my comfort zone, I departed the city with a full dose of inspiration, thicker skin, and yearning to chase my dreams as fervently as they chase theirs.
I am so thankful to God for opening my eyes to this remarkable piece of His creation, and implore everyone to adopt the same mindset wherever they travel—discovering the beautiful pieces that make up the striking masterpieces there for us to learn from, grow from, and appreciate. Except the pigeons—I still hate those pigeons.