The Sweet Taste of Humble Pie

Burrowed amongst the cozy interior of my new favorite coffee shop, sits an older man with a daily newspaper. I hadn’t noticed him at first, and probably wouldn’t have, if he hadn’t politely stopped me one day, pointed to the word, ‘repercussions’ and asked me if I knew what it meant. I offered him an explanation and tried to further clarify the word’s meaning within the article’s context. He attentively listened and then jotted down my description above the word.

Now, when grabbing a coffee my heart is regularly warmed by seeing him work his way through the daily paper. With no qualms or reservations, he will occasionally raise his eyes to gently ask a passerby to assist him with a word. His determination is inspiring. His perseverance, admirable. But it is his profuse humility that resounds most powerfully.

Often mistakenly posed in conflict with confidence, humility is a complex trait misunderstood and therefore, undervalued. Humility is not the denigration of our abilities, nor is it a pathetic resignation to our lack thereof. When we recognize our inherent shortcomings, not with embarrassment or shame, but with an eagerness to learn and grow we transcend the bounds of the individual’s limitations, as modelled by my coffee shop companion.

My arrival in New York City has demanded the utmost humility from me. Not necessarily the noble kind, but the compulsory kind. When I don’t know which way is uptown or downtown, what I’ll be doing on the weekend or how I’ll find a job in one of the most competitive cities in the world – I am humbled. I have been forced into what was, until recently, foreign to me; a reality where I am left with no choice but to seek and depend on the support and assistance of others.

Since this is the internet, a place where all secrets are contained and kept, I’ll take this opportunity to let you in on one… A short two months ago I would have conclusively told you there was nothing I hated more than asking for or accepting favors. An aversion centered around an undetectable shyness and fear of inconveniencing people. What I didn’t realize when I chose to come to New York was that I would have to rid myself of this trait if I planned on surviving here for even a day.

I have now come to feast regularly on humble-pie, a taste which is sweeter than I could have ever imagined. In humbling myself to my surrounds, I have in turn been humbled by the outpouring of kindness and consideration with which I have been met. Momentary meetings have led to kind invitations to some of the coolest events, the most wonderful weekends and delicious meals. The most tenuous contacts have facilitated helpful meetings, career mentorship and a growing pool of connections. By voicing a need for help and even just accepting someone’s thoughtful offer, I have been astonished by the inundation of generosity that has ensued.

I have come to recognize humility as the precursor to advancement and collaboration, capable of enriching our lives if we so choose. We ought to feel no embarrassment in asking a question or seeking assistance, for the true cause of embarrassment is if our pride or reservations inhibit us from doing so.

So serve me up a big slice of humble pie I say. Oh and if you don’t mind my asking, what’s the recipe, I’ve never made pie and would love to learn?

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.

When It’s Cold Outside

As a palette of gray hues conquered the sky, my phone began to ring. Having touched down in New York less than a week prior, it seemed my initiation into The City would come in the form of a cold front, foreign to my native Australian climate. Family and friends from across the globe warned of the imminent snow storm. Lovingly they inquired into the quality of heating in my new apartment, the robustness of my shoe’s soles and the effectiveness of my coat’s insulation.

With a string of solemn promises to keep myself safe, I assured those who cautioned me, that I had traded in my Sydney sandals for snow boots and vowed to send some snowy snaps, as only a newcomer would.

The streets, serene and the snow, sublime. I peered down from my apartment window and felt as though I should speak in a whisper for it seemed ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ had quietly dozed off beneath the cover of white. Rugged up and well equipped, as I ventured beyond my apartment’s trusted temperature, I found myself astounded, not by the chill in the air but the warmth that ensued.

Moments that are ordinarily shared insignificantly with others, became sacred spaces for cordial exchange. An elevator ride offered murmurs of, “you look like you’re ready for the snow,” or the peek of an empathetic smile beneath a scarf’s edge. A quick trip to the store concluded with the cashier’s greeting to, “stay warm out there,” followed by an audible assortment of thankful expressions to those shoveling the sidewalks.

Conversation quickly traversed from weather to other things. In an encounter at the building’s garbage compactor, I met Chrissy who was nursing a cold and welcomed my wishes for her quick recovery. At the supermarket, the lady serving me explained she bemoaned the cold because fewer people visited the store. She enjoys being busy because she simply loves what she does. Countless conversations turned to inquiries about my life in Australia, as chitchat effortlessly extended a few moments longer than it regularly would.

With extreme weather came an overt commonality that united even perfect strangers in a shared experience. Merely being, meant partaking in a mutual reality, as comrades who, albeit involuntarily, were made to tackle treacherous temperatures together. The temperature’s drop brought about a decrease in the degrees of separation felt between people and broke the ice to allow for connection.

The weather is often berated as the most impersonal topic of conversation, however, I recently learned that therein lies its beauty. When even a commonality as basic as the weather is established between people, a foundation for communication is laid, upon which a palace of human connectivity can be built to extend far beyond the weather.

Well, where do I begin?

As I sat at the airport gate awaiting my departure to New York, I seized the opportunity to pen my first update. With much to say and many to say it to, I took to the magical interweb to broadcast my message. The responses were warm and encouragement plentiful, conjuring up a thought that every mildly coherent 20-something-year-old has when they travel – I should write a blog!

And so here it is, a small space I have carved out for myself on the internet, amidst the cat videos, selfies, and humanity-hope-extinguishing-black-holes, formally known as the ‘comments’ section. With tremendous gratitude for having this opportunity, I look forward to reporting on some of the trip’s gems here. Whilst my past journal keeping history is about as reliable as the subway is clean (hint: not very), I’m going to give this regular blog thing a bash.

As the great Julie Andrews once said, “let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.” Perhaps I should formally explain that a short two weeks ago, I tearfully waved farewell to my family as I bid the shores of Sydney goodbye, with my sights set on the Big Apple (whilst fully aware that no New Yorkers actually use the term ‘Big Apple,’ I feel as though my accent allows me to get away with it).

The technical lowdown is as follows:

  • I am on a J-1 Visa, which is a cultural exchange visa for recent university graduates that enables you to work and travel in the US.
  • In case you missed it, I will be based in a small town, you’ve probably heard of it – New York.

Whilst my first few days have been largely marvelous, I do of course fear the inevitable moments that will metaphorically feel as though I am being hit by a yellow cab, smacked in the face with a bagel or trampled by a queue of Hamilton ticket winners. I am, however, excited for the road ahead and whilst I personally cannot make any promises, I know New York City can, which is why I am excited to share with you, a piece of The Big City, through some of my small ideas.

Stay posted and keep reading.

Sending much love,

Dani