How My Chinatown Escape Gave Me A New Perspective On Self-Care
With so much on my plate, I know I have to leave.
My brain barks instructions at me, left and right, telling me to do this and that, fearful that there’s not enough time. That’s my cue to exit stage left, to get into a subway car and leave it all behind.
I look up the nearest art gallery, in Chinatown, Lower East Side. I write the directions down, in case my phone dies, which it almost always does.
My mind swirls as I sit in the subway, praying for peace to enter my brain. Self-indulgent adventures often do the trick, but today, I’m not so sure it will.
“Why all the heaviness?” I ask myself. “What is weighing me down?”
The subway shakes back and forth, the passengers look wordlessly, emotionless, into each others’ eyes, and I wait unnerved for the magic to settle in.
I arrive at the subway stop, and begin to walk. I consult my directions as well as my phone, and the journey begins.
Running into street performers trying- just a little too forcefully- to extract money from people, my heart lifts just a little as five random participants awkwardly lean over while a tall, athletic man in bright red jumps over all of them. The onlookers laugh, applaud, and move away quickly, so as not to not receive the wrath of the money-hungry performers.
I continue on. I consult my phone for verification. It has gone black, and none of the street names are matching up.
I walked into a Kinkos, a new, unexpected stop on the adventure. The familiar brightness cheers me. “Where is Elizabeth?” I ask.
A man with a red beard unloading supplies generously takes me outside, looks on his working cellphone and points me in the right direction: “Go down Broadway, turn on this street with a W, then go until…”
“Got it,” I say, half forgetting already, and I begin to walk again.
I pass a street starting with a “W.” Was that the right street?
The air starts to feel warmer. I look at the backs of passerbys, trying to guess who they are and what they are up to.
I keep on walking. I release my expectations to find the art gallery. If it happens, it happens.
Unfiltered time and fresh air opens up my brain, and the destination begins to feel superfluous.
“Elizabeth?” I question a security guard, whose gender keeps me guessing.
“Almost there,” he agrees, and I continue on.
Suddenly, the streets begin to line up with my scrawled, handwritten directions. Yes, Mulberry Street! Yes, Bayard! And then, finally- Elizabeth. There it is.
The address has no big sign out front, just the name of the gallery and the words, second floor on the mailbox.
I walk up the stairs and stare at the heavy, closed door. I knock. I knock again. No answer.
I go back down to look for a doorbell on the street. There’s no doorbell.
I walk back up again, my white shoes clunking on the stairs.
“When I get home,“ I resolve to myself, “I’m throwing these shoes away. I can’t stand them.”
The door stays shut, no sounds escape under it.
I feel no sadness or regret. Instead, I reenter Chinatown, its colors, small shops, and unusual smells overtake all of my senses so that I have no space to think of anything else. I run down the stairs towards the subway tracks, as the clock ticks loudly, warning me of being late.
I wait on the tracks wondering, “Were all of those feelings of depression because I was trying to carry too much of the world with me? Perhaps I should understand that I’m not responsible for making everyone’s life better. ”
“Yes,” I agree with myself. “All you can do is shine out your own light.”
“But then,” I question myself minutes later, no longer satisfied, “Isn’t it a Jew’s job to help repair the world? How can I not feel the burden of another, or help them when they fall?”
I mull this over. I sit down in my subway seat. The other passengers smile with me, dreamily looking off into the distance.
“You need to be in the flow, in order to help people,” the thought then comes to me, as I sit with it. “If you try to help people just from pure, brute, forced strength, despite how you feel or need, it will break your back. But if you feel strong, if you take care of yourself and build yourself up, you will help from a place of connection, a place of flow, and it will feel like nothing at all, just a privilege. You will help others because you will be able to fully listen to them, and be able to choose wisely the best response, from a place of desire and joy, rather than a heavy yoke.”
I smile to myself as I ride the escalator back up to ground level, a sense of accomplishment pervading me, though I had not found what I set out for.
An afternoon spent lost in Chinatown. There, in the wandering, I discovered myself again.
January 30, 2019
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