In just two weeks, on September 15th, I'll be flying from Anchorage, Alaska to New York City. It was only three months ago that I began to seriously consider this adventure, and only one month ago that I began to seriously plan. Now, it is all coming together so quickly, too quickly.
In September 2002, I visited New York City for the first time, intentionally planning a trip to celebrate the one year anniversary of 9/11. I was drawn to experience this memorial in a city I'd never been to, surrounded by people I didn't know, but gathered and united with these strangers in their city, with the common goal of honoring the lives of those who died and remembering the tragic day when the dynamics of this city was immediately and forever shifted from its foundation. I was eager to be a part of something that was bigger than me.
Nearly ten years ago to the day, I boarded the Greyhound Bus in Edmonton, Alberta, waving goodbye to my Mom and to my brother Wade. I recall feeling excited, nervous, scared and anxious all at the same time, very similar to how I am feeling today, planning to return to New York City, but this time not for two weeks, but for just over three months, for ninetynine days to be exact.
My time in The Big Apple in 2002 was fantastic. I stayed at a hostel on Amsterdam Avenue, the same hostel that I stayed at the other two times I visited in later years. I sought out a coffee shop that quickly became my version of Cheers, the restaurant where people recognized me, greeted me and welcomed me. This coffee shop became a refuge for me when I was scared and overwhelmed by the chaos of the big city. I attended memorial events throughout the city, but spent most of my time exploring Battery Park and the area near the 9/11 memorial sight.
I found the New Yorkers I encountered to be very friendly and gracious, going out of their way to assist me with directions, suggestions and insight. Waiting for the ferry to Staten Island, a New Jersey couple befriended me and we spent the trip chatting. When we parted, they hugged me tight and wished me well and it was only later that evening when I found the $50 dollar bill they had so kindly tucked in to my jacket pocket. My time in New York City was filled with the kindness of strangers.
I haven't even left for New York yet, and I've already received many kindnesses from strangers who are quickly becoming friends by phone and email. I've met these people through local friends who have introduced us. While I am incredibly eager to experience the city, I also feel that familiar pang of longing for connection and fear of being alone... The last time I felt that fear was when I was planning my walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago last year.