NY. It's one of those cities that is glorified in people's minds as "the place to be." Most people visit at least once in their lifetime just to get the experience - the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, the night life of Times Square, Broadway, etc. There is no place quite like New York.
Well, now I too can check it off of my list of places to see. I spent the past 5 days in Midtown Manhattan. At 42nd St. and 3rd Avenue, I was only a few blocks from the well-known 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue, and Grand Central Station, the hub of Manhattan. However, my New York experience did not correspond with my elegant and ritzy location. I stayed at the YMCA; at $84 per night, my bare 6'x12' room was all I could expect.
At first, when I arrived, the thrill of being in New York outweighed the starkness of the room. My attitude changed, however, when I realized the actual state of the room. Amy and I didn't have our own bathroom, the beds were falling apart, and the sheets were not only dirty, but they smelled. I walked down the hall to take a shower and was even more disgusted. I started praying that God would make me grateful. For what? I didn't know.
So this was my experience of New York. During the day, Amy and I would walk the streets of Manhattan. The weather was beautiful and we walked for miles...literally. We walked 5th Avenue and Broadway and shopped. We headed Downtown to Chelsea and Greenwich Village and had tea, looked in an art gallery and an old bookstore. We braved Canal Street to bargain for cheap merchandise. We hit up Little Italy and ate the best lasagna at "Lunella." We ate in Soho at one of the trendiest little bar&grills that I've ever seen. We walked Central Park, ate hotdogs from the stands, and stopped at just about every Starbucks we found (mostly to use the restrooms :). And then at night we would return to our little hole of a hotel and climb into the sheets, choosing not to think about the state of our living conditions. Friday to Tuesday, this is how we lived.
Sunday morning, God was gracious to give me a grateful attitude. I didn't know why, then, but I felt truly thankful. Now I see why; my experience of New York was truly unique, and the Lord showed me something through it.
Let me explain. In all of my description of our activities above, most of the time we walked. There were many times, however, that we used the Subway system. The subways are the complete antithesis of the streets of New York. Manhattan is, in a way, sterilized - you only see sidewalks, streets, sides of buildings, shop windows, and advertisements. You see what the businesses and their owners want you to see - only the pretty things are visible. It's tantalizing and it catches your eye - all that glitters and shines. In a sense, it's all a facade. It's all fake; people are hiding what they don't want you to see, and creating an image that is better and more appealing in order to compete for your business and your affection.
The subway is dark and dirty. People urinate and defecate in the elevators. Rats crawl in the beams that support the tracks. Graffiti covers the cars and the walls. Homeless and vagrant people are everywhere. The crowds of people are no longer only wearing their crisp business suits. Here we have the poor, the dirty, the hungry. I don't know where they were on the streets, maybe the glitter of the streets blinded me to seeing them, but here in the subways, the impoverished of New York are found.
Everyone on the subways avoid eye contact and sit expressionless. It's almost as if no one wants to acknowledge the filth. No one wants to see it as it really is; they just want to rush back up to the streets where everything is pretty, and where they can forget about the filth beneath them. It's like me, going back to my hole, and not wanting to realize that the sheets I'm sleeping in are disgusting.
I realized that New York is hollow. Literally, because the subways are tunneled underneath. Figuratively, because the people are covering up their filth with all the glamour of the city. No one wants to realize that they are dirty, so they live in denial, behind fake walls with lights and signs flashing, saying, "I'm beautiful," and yet not believing it. Every time they ride the subway, every time they go home at night, they are faced with the truth that the streets are not real. And yet they wake up wanting to believe it, because down in the filth of the subway, there seems to be no hope. This is the state of the lost.
And yet, there is hope. This hope is seen in the unknown musicians and singers and songwriters who play for the audience found in the subways of New York. These artists prove that beauty does rise from the filth when you recognize that it's there and you choose to live despite it. I heard the most beautiful voice as I was waiting for the subway. It had hope. It chose not to ignore the dirty surroundings. It didn't embrace the filth either, but it rose above it, because in recognizing the true state of things, one can then have somewhere to proceed from.
When we recognize our filth as sinners, then we can make progress by turning to the Lord. But only then. When we live as a hollow image of what we would like to be, or think we are, then we have nowhere to go - all of our work is based on a facade of perfection that is not real.
Pray for New York. Pray that the people will open their eyes to the subways of their lives. Pray that they will listen to the voices of hope, echoing through the subway tunnels, calling out for the audience to open their eyes to see the truth, to see the state of the city, and more importantly, to see the state of their hearts. Pray that Jesus will fill the hollow void.