Central Park, Looking South
Even though I’ve lived in New York City for nearly eighteen years, I still get those moments when something about the City reveals itself to me as if I’ve seen or felt it—both moment and City—for the first time. One of these happened last Sunday. It was nine o’clock and I’d just completed the four-mile Run for the Parks
in Central Park. The weather was blustery and cool, but that didn’t seem to chill the spirits of the nearly six thousand other runners and their supporters who were inhaling the sunshine, the forsythia in full blossom, and the first blooms on the magnolia trees. As I made my way south alongside the Literary Walk
, the dogs were messing around in the unofficial dog-run, while their human companions talked and sipped coffee, and the kids skated on Wollman Rink
Arriving on Sixth Avenue, the air still fresh and the streets washed clean from the rainstorm of the previous day, I looked up at the buildings abutting the park, and suddenly had one of those epiphanies
that James Joyce liked to shape his stories around. It was as if I finally grasped the extraordinary picturesque
created by Olmstead and Vaux
; the Essex House hotel
; the sheen of the streets after a Saturday rainstorm; even the ruts in the roa—all struck me as exemplifications of the possibility of the urban community as a beautiful and deliberate balance of human creativity with the vibrancy of the natural world.
As I returned home and helped my neighbor tidy up the community garden
that lies atop the entrance to the subway station (a mini version of Olmstead and Vaux's vision) fifty feet from my front garden, I realized that the pleasures of the day so far had revolved around the simplest and least technological of experiences: running, sweeping, and enjoying being outdoors. Surrounded by body types of all shapes and sizes, people of all nationalities, young and old, male and female, all of us runners had been enjoying the pleasures of motion on a beautiful morning in the Spring. And that applied to the dogs and the kids as well.
And I thought to myself: Why does our search for meaning, or gauge of what it means to be happy, have to be any more complicated than this—putting one foot or paw in front of the other and just launching oneself forward until one cannot do it anymore? I would go home to email, the Internet, and various gizmos and gadgets that might put me in touch with the world of knowledge and distraction (might even allow me to write this blog). Their pleasures might be similarly momentary and engaging as a morning run in the park, perhaps even as enhancing or invigorating. But somehow, I doubt, they would be as pure or simple—even if that purity or simplicity came about because of the enormously sophisticated artifice and expenditure of effort and revenue that produced a great city.