Six Years and a Bench: A journey with Stillness
Madison thought she'd never come back to New York City. Now, it's her touchstone for personal growth.
In life, so many forces tell us to go, go go - to push forward with the kind of relentless momentum that rips the bandaid from so many patient-begging processes.
We don’t seem to, anymore, take the time and just sit in our feelings - to take stock of the people we’ve aligned ourselves with, the paths we’ve started paving, the shoes we’ve laced up for the journey ahead. I tend to always think big-picture - I know where I want my jobs to lead me, the kind of love I want to feel, and after a period of pretty hard times, how to identify the glowiest, healthiest friendships. As proud as I am on a macro level, I’ve always wanted to learn to live in the moment more, too. To sit in the world and feel each second as it comes, defining our actions like our bones do skin...that, it seems, might just be the hardest thing of all.
I don’t need to mince what comes next. All of us, or at least the very honest majority, wake up with our phones. The staccato of our alarm clocks align with the breathing in our chests. We pluck our hands from beneath the covers to check Instagram as the sleep falls from our eyes. We seek dopamine not from a well-rested slumber, but a well-received post, text or email sent the night before. We plan in weekends, living for the moment we can turn off our brains and turn on our cellphones, headphones muting our stressors as we rush to the next thing, already wishing for bed. It’s a cycle of “in time,” “maybe later” and “snooze,” and although I can’t fake my subscription, addiction and commitment to all of it, I can claim one ritual for my own.
The thing is, when you’re in a place that really sets you free, you allow yourself to run free too. Your heart beats a little less frantically, your brow furrows a little less. Maybe it’s a mix of the people and the places, the possibilities too...but for me, New York has become less of a hostile playground and more of a pearl that shines more with each visit. My thoughts seem tangible, my movements supported. And, oddly enough...time seems sinewy, extending with the patience of a balletic limb that knows very well where it’s headed.
In 2013, I left New York city in the backseat of my parents car, wrapped in three big blankets and the hope that I’d never, ever come back. I was broken; the most I’d ever been in my life. My body was hurting and my heart was a steel cage, and I didn’t know what I could possibly offer the world beyond my face...a face that, at the moment, didn’t think it was worth much of anything. I remember riding the subway over those last few days with a felt kind of brokenness hovering around my person...I looked down almost all of the time, and I never said yes to any outings. I remember prefacing most of my statements with “sorry,” and in this fear changed the course of my life in two ways. When two men, both of whom could have (separately of course) marked the start of something really, unexpectedly beautiful, asked me to dinner, I said no. I didn’t decline because I was busy or uninterested; perhaps for the first time in my life I was both of the opposite. I said no because I thought I was a monster; someone who, at the moment, couldn’t fathom anyone taking up an interest in a woman like me.
Oh, what a fool I was. But the thing is, I still love that version of me. I ache with love for her.
Several days before I was to leave, I took a long walk alone, up to Central Park. I distinctly remember wearing a new ring on my middle finger; I’d bought it earlier in the week to remind myself of how far I’d come. In some strange way I was looking to gather up pieces of the city while swearing I’d never return to it; oh universe, how you do know best.
While walking, I found a bench in the most ideal spot of sun. I sat down, admiring it’s duetting views of grass and giggling children, playing baseball while their parents looked on. It struck me how little I’d been here, to this park, on this planet, this patch of grass. How could I despise a city that offered such beauty? It would be years before I realized that I’d just been despising myself.
Ever since, I’ve made sure to come back to this bench on my last day in New York. First found in 2013, it took me two and a half years to find my way back, but that time as a fashion editor; a position I could barely hold up at my 21 years of age. Later, I came back as an associate film producer; poised to make mistakes and learn, learn, learn. Next I returned as a graduate, heartbroken and sun-kissed and calm as ever. And this time, four days ago, I sat down as a small business owner, centered and grounded and tethered to nothing but the belief that I’d get to come back again soon. My story isn’t over yet, so I hope that bench is ready.
Now, my question to each of you. What tethers you along the way?