A Runner's Parting Reflections

Posted September 1, 2009 in New York, Tanzania

Last night I ran my final run in Central Park. Toward the end, I was struck by a sudden urge to sprint to the northern tip of the reservoir and revel in the midtown skyline.

I have stared at the skyline many times before, of course, but final occasions afford some unexpected ruminations. I peered at the skyline, the reflection of the skyline, and my memories of my last big departure: Dar es Salaam.

I had declared the city of Dar es Salaam—the city itself—somewhat unpleasant: flat, hot, dirty, stressful, and sometimes dangerous. My departure last year was painful exclusively because of the people I was leaving: it had nothing to do with the city itself.

New York, paradoxically, produced the same emotion. The skyline is inspiring and beautiful: Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and countless other edifices stand guard over their remarkable siblings, obscuring from view but still hinting at a vibrant, never-asleep city encompassing vagrants, aloof businesspeople, quintessential weeknight revellers, and millions of families and roommates and lovers and loners, all living their unique lives. Yet as astonishing as the city itself may be, it is lifeless in comparison to its shimmering reflection.

In the skyline, the Empire State Building is a feat of architecture; in the reflection, I see the friends and family who accompanied me to the top. In the skyline, the Chrysler Building towers impressively; in the reflection, I notice it from downtown on Broadway while walking to the subway after work with a colleague or two, at least one of us never failing to complain about the freezing-cold air conditioners, pedestrian-traffic-inducing male models, and revolting smells wafting out of a department store.

“We should hire models to stand outside our office.”

“Let's buy the scent, too.”

The millions of households are different in the reflection: they are millions of abstract sketches of the families I joined here: they hold their own dramas, their own video game championships, their own morning schedules, their own parties, their own life lessons, and, with New York flair, their own neighbours of undignified proximity.

Above the water, New York is a mosaic of cultures. In the reflection on the reservoir, the only culture is my own: the amalgamation of all of the above, it encompasses barely-understood experiences and half-unexplored relationships. Millions of others' worlds dance around mine like stars, all begging to be investigated.

And in this personal sense, my New York departure is strikingly similar to my Tanzania one. In spite of how objectively fantastic New York may be, the skyline is meaningless without the people who make it my New York.

Friends and family constantly ask me why I want to leave. Am I running from something? Am I running toward something else? I look into this reflection of my past year, and I see myself the year before and the year before that one: departures cyclically transforming into arrivals, two reflective experiences I would be self-depriving to forgo.

I am running for the sake of running, loving every minute of it.