When in New York, do as the New Yorkers do.
And the New Yorkers, I knew, went to plays. So, I went to one people seemed to like.
It had been well-reviewed: “soulful, eye-opening.” The playwright had a Pulitzer Prize: “one of America’s most distinguished playwrights.”
I put on my favorite orange shirt. Memorized the subway route to the play. And headed off, determined to belong in this city.
The lobby was filled with beautiful people in black who knew other beautiful people in black. Whelan, I thought as I went to my seat, welcome to the big city. If you can make it here with all the beautiful people in black, you’ll really be something.
We all watched the soulful, eye-opening play together. Though, actually, the beautiful people in black watched the play. And I watched them.
Two acts later, the play by one of America’s most distinguished playwrights ended. Two days later, when a friend asked what I thought of the play, I said it was soulful, eye-opening.
Two months later, maybe three, I still didn’t feel like I belonged in the city. And it would stay like that as long as I ignored this: We make our way in the big city by making our way. Not the way of others.
I would have to risk not belonging to figure out what I believed, what I loved, what I would fight for. I would have to step outside my fear of being lonely to find what was authentic for me, what was true for me.
We can learn, gain, gather from others. But we can’t walk down their paths. We have our own to walk. Our own self to discover – sometimes with a bang, sometimes with a whisper – again and again.
I don’t take my path all the time. I still watch the beautiful people in black. I still want their love. But in my bigger moments, I know that where we belong, where we will always belong, is on our own unworn path.
And that, more than big cities with their beautiful people, is really something.