The Gift of the Present

There are many things I like, nay, love about New York.

I love the rebellion against the physical constructs of space; somehow managing to squeeze just one more person into what weaklings, quitters, and out-of-towners might describe as a full subway car.

I love the fact that last week, whilst taking a leisurely stroll through my new neighborhood, an unassuming man threw a banana at a passerby, which did not pique the attention of a single person, including the banana target.

I love that when I walk through the city’s streets, hair blowing, sunglasses on, with music in my ears, I can hear a movie trailer voice narrating, “This spring, join one girl as she takes on the big City…” (For the sake of writers’ integrity, I should probably disclose that at this point usually, I trip, bump into someone, or realize I have just walked three blocks in the wrong direction.)

But perhaps, one of the things I’ve come to love most in New York is something I’ve observed enough times to recognize as legitimate, (as opposed to the banana throwing incident, which was plainly bizarre) and noticed in enough contexts to appreciate as a great and inspiring lesson.

It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon when I decided to enter the Broadway lottery. I was shortly notified of my success in winning a ticket to the show ‘On Your Feet,’ that evening, where I would be seated in the second row (think eye contact with ensemble while they’re dancing kind of close) next to the other ticket winners.

Based on the life and music of Gloria Estefan, I was immediately enraptured by the music, reminiscent of morning drives with my dad to school in South Africa grooving together to ‘Dr. Beat’. Like all good musicals, the show culminated in a moving power ballad and then concluded with an upbeat feel good track. Taken by the performance, I was totally drinking their Kool-Aid and wanted to just burst out of my seat and bust a move!

But…I didn’t.

Instead, I sat in my seat clapped and moved my shoulders enthusiastic and appropriate amounts, avoiding the cast’s gestured invitations to, as the show’s name would suggest, get on my feet. Until I noticed a lady on the extreme end of my row, who was not only on her feet but dancing as if she had prepared a choreographed routine! Whilst she was absolutely going for it, what struck me the most was not her dancing (although she did have some fresh moves), but her infectious joy in having allowed herself to get lost in the power of the moment.

This is the trend I have identified and come to love the most about New York City, the ability to become entirely consumed and therefore fulfilled by the present.

I have, on numerous occasions, encountered people singing aloud and dancing along to the music in their ears, oblivious to the world around them and completely immersed in the reality of their moment. I recently sat opposite a man on the subway who was holding a harmonica. He was not busking, but almost magnetically drawn to his instrument in the instant, first playing a few humble notes and then building to a sweet and soulful tune.

There are countless moments in life, we fail to truly capture. Whether out of fear, embarrassment or perceived expectations, we are prone to witnessing, rather than experiencing the present and thus forgo the gift offered to us in these moments.

After seeing the lady to my left dancing, I decided not to be content with simply wanting to jump out of my chair and instead chose to join her. The choice is ours, to make daily – to either think about the moment or to be in it and unwrap the gift of the present.