Thursday, June 20, 2013

When in Rome

As I leave RMH, I stop and watch the people on 1st Avenue while I have my coffee.  It is warm outside, even in the shade of the tall buildings and large trees.  I wonder how the trees survive among this sea of concrete and humanity.  There are some tables outside and I happen to find a vacant one.  

I watch as New Yorkers go about their day.  While I am no fashionista, I look at their shoes, kind of a lot. They take their footwear pretty seriously here, especially when you consider how much they walk.  I remember seeing a billboard with Brent once, acknowledging as much "NYC: Tolerant of your beliefs.  Judgmental of your shoes."  Pretty accurate, on both counts.  I privately smile at the memory.

Dan texts me to say that he has a video of Brent to share.  Only 5 days post op, with no hip bone, he is standing without crutches, passing a weighted ball back and forth with the physical therapist.  This goes on for some time, and I am astounded at his endurance.  He has no pain.

I call to check in, and the boys are doing well.  They encourage me to enjoy the afternoon and take a walk.  Feeling indulgent, I do, especially as I have just been joined at my table by a couple with a folder of information about neurosurgery.  I think of our daughter Lauren, and remember how daunting the anticipation of that nightmare was for us, and I opt to give these folks some modicum of privacy, such that can be had here.  I leave them with a silent prayer.

I have always seen familiar faces on the street, but they are usually people who resemble friends from home.  I have begun to see familiar faces in the city...familiar from here I see one of our night nurses (wait, it is noon...what is she still doing here?) I know that the city is big, but maybe not quite big enough, or maybe we are just here too much and now know more people.

NY Presbyterian is across the street.  It is a monstrously big hospital by comparison, and Sloan-Kettering isn't exactly small.  I often look at it and smile, thinking of how someone once told me that as big as MSKCC is, it is all cancer, only cancer.  If you are in labor, you had best waddle your pregnant self across the street, because they wouldn't likely know what to do about it here.

I decide to walk around over there.  It is a beautiful building, abutting Cornell Medical School (or, I suspect, the other way around). I shake my head, thinking that Dan might mock me.  On my break from the hospital, I am touring another one.  But, because I have looked at it and wondered for so long, why not? 

After leaving the hospital, I walk past the Rockefeller University and am curious about the research going on there. I learn later that it was founded by JD Rockefeller in 1901, the first institution dedicated to biomedical research to understand disease.  They have a different way of organizing their labs, seeming to offer interaction between disciplines, uncommon at other institutions.

I think about my father for some reason, and it occurs to me that I am becoming more like him in many regards. I realize that I am pretty comfortable everywhere: here in the city, back in Ohio, talking about the theoretical and abstract ideas of research, living within the highly practical realities of family and children.  Plunk me down anywhere, I think I could be happy.

My father began as a truck driver, and later became an attorney.  He had season tickets to the Browns when they were at the old gritty stadium, as well as to the world class Cleveland Orchestra who perform at Severance Hall.  He found satisfaction in it all.  But while my father was generally introverted,  I am rather social. I am surprised with this recognition and am a little pleased with the similarity.  And the difference.

I often wonder what he would make of my life.

I take a footbridge to the NYC green space.  It is visually calming with the East River flowing and Roosevelt Island as a backdrop.  There are hedges of roses in bloom and people walking. But with cacophony of traffic on the FDR, it isn't quite as serene as it looks from a distance.  I am surprised how much noisier it is than it was outside the Rockefeller Institute, or anywhere in Cleveland's metro park system, dubbed the Emerald Necklace, which I recognize as a priceless gem, in all truth. 

There are pros and cons in every situation.  While the vast numbers of people here provide an energy, a creative synergy in all sorts of areas (medicine, science, art, music...) that same population can be oppressive, and make privacy or solitude quite elusive.  When space is of such a premium, strangers will join you at your table outside a coffee shop, which might offer an interesting conversation, but also makes a quiet moment rare.  

Sometimes, I think that the reputation that New Yorkers have for being rude is in part because they do not generally look at or engage with others in public. (The other part of this reputation I credit to the insane driving)  This avoidance of eye contact might result from an effort on their part to offer privacy to others, or perhaps to maintain their own privacy, avoiding even the connection found in sharing a gaze.  Here, human company is near constant, and the bustle relentless.  Our humanness, I think, calls for occasional moments of stillness, which is difficult to find in the city.  I find quiet moments in my mind as I walk, lost in these thoughts, even as others mill around me.  

I wonder now, if I bothered to look at those people around me, in my effort to be alone with my thoughts, or did I avert my gaze, creating that same New York zone of privacy.  Perhaps, I am not all that different, despite my Midwestern upbringing.

I wonder.

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