It is weeks like this when the temperatures hover at figures that are more like shoe sizes than like habitable climates that so many New Yorkers curse the day they chose to stay. Perhaps it was last fall when they had a chance to move to California but were too hypnotized by autumn leaves and cool breezes to remember the particular brutality of the urban winter. It is also a time of gloating by our dear friends on the West Coast, their photographic dispatches of burritos on beaches in open cardigans mock us and are made worse by their screenshots of the current temperature. But having grown up in San Diego, I pity those that live paradise. Their warm days bleed into each other and make it impossible to detect how much life has passed before they even realize. We must prepare for the winter in the East with clothing and blankets and extra minutes on our commutes. It is these preparations that remind us that another year has gone by. That another year lies ahead. That we are getting older no matter hard how much the city tries to accommodate a perpetual adolescence. In the beginning, we brace ourselves to be forced indoors for long periods of time. Periods during which we must become better acquainted with ourselves so we aren’t driven mad by the early sunsets and the blackened snow drifts outside our overpriced dwellings. By the end, we have almost given up entirely on the promise of spring.
Today the city was blanketed in ice and as I stepped from the stairs at the train station to the sidewalk, I nearly slipped and fell. Three strangers instinctively dove to my rescue, a woman holding my arm as I regained my balance and a man behind me ensuring I did not fall backwards. These are humiliating experiences in the moment, close as we are to looking like the weak-kneed Bambi taking his first steps. But when I return to this thought, there is a profound sense that even in the blistering cold when people want to make have every reason way as quickly as possible from the train to the safety of home, they will stop and make sure a stranger doesn't fall. People who would not have to pay my medical bills or bear the sight of me with broken teeth care that the winter doesn't harm me. And though in my particular neighborhood, we do not often share a language, we share the knowledge that the simple task of getting home can feel unbearable in unforgiving conditions. And so from time to time, we help each other find safe passage home. What is remarkable is that I expected them to as I see other collections of strangers do every day the winter.
And so every day we gather strength to face the cold, to make the conscious decision to wrap ourselves in the armor of wool sweaters and down-filled coats and sit quietly with strangers trying to make their way in the world as we separately share the same spaces. It might be a city that never sleeps but it is one finds tranquility and even rest in the winter when we are forced to encounter the reality of our reliance on one another to endure the season.
I am grateful for the harsh winds and the icy tides that bring a chill to New York in the winter. They are forces that peel away the top layer of the city, revealing ever more living layers beneath it. They are forces that crack the skin and draw blood, the macabre and comforting evidence of human frailty. It is mortality made evident on the back of our hands. The winter looks miserable compared to sunny shores to the south and west of it. It is indeed a broken, bleeding city in the winter. The miracle of these broken, bloody people is not that they choose to stay here, but that though the cold beckons them home, they choose so often to heal each other on their way.