It does seem like forever, but the holidays have finally died down and life in our fair city has resumed a relatively normal pace, and that means it’s time for us to resume waxing gastronomic for your reading pleasure. The staff has run out of holiday excuses for not turning in their essays on time and those will soon be appearing here. As for me, I’ve had a few days to unwind from the seemingly incessant bus travels, meeting people in bus stations, eating bus station food, and also the few odd days of working when neither I nor the rest of the world was on vacation.

During these weeks of trying to keep to deadlines, juggling credit cards, and making sure everything was just right on the days when everything needed to be just right, I never had a chance to stop and notice that I had lost track of time, and therefore lost track of myself. It’s a familiar feeling in this eat-pizza-in-the-cab-on-the-way-to-a-meeting culture — that anxious bug that drives people to incessantly jab at elevator buttons or huff and puff when caught behind a slow-moving person on the subway stairs. In overscheduled times, we lose sight of the reasons why we’re here to begin with, and life becomes strikingly less pleasurable. But I was thankfully reminded during a few special, almost imperceptible moments.

One was Christmas Eve, when I took a break from my eight-hour wrapping marathon to bring some ice cream over to Rachael’s, whose family had abandoned her for the holiday. We passed into the morning hours grateful for the mid-winter quiet, the lull in the action, filled with creamy chocolate and strawberries.

The second was Christmas day, when none of us wanted to ruin our glorious post-unwrapping sloth by cooking so we ordered in Chinese food and watched Miracle on 34th Street a couple times while we played with our toys.

The last was on New Year’s Eve, when Darcy rejected the standard drunken ear-splitting nonsense for a night of movies, porterhouse steaks (grilled out on the deck, of course), mac and cheese, broccoli casserole, and a warming bottle of celebratory red. We stuffed ourselves and ignored the phones and knew that it would all pick up again in the morning, but for now it was quiet, and we were sleepy and content.

Somehow, after all these years, I still manage to learn new lessons about food every once in a while, and these past weeks I came to understand its unique restorative power. Though I felt lost amid the schedule-keeping, during those three occasions — with loved ones and a full belly — I was whole again.

My first thought upon coming back to reality this week was simple: gratitude. We live in a ridiculous city. It’s too big for itself. It’s too noisy. Its rhythms are often hard to predict. But it is and always has been a community — a real one with its own unique culture which all of us, regardless of where we’re from, are tenaciously proud of. In the week between my third Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas weekend, the city flared up in a blaze of shopping, then quickly slowed to the pace of the sleepy New England towns I partially grew up in. In the week leading up to New Year’s Day the streets were empty — most of us were away, the restaurants closed early, the bars hosted a handful of usuals, the lunch counters were sparsely populated at even the busiest times, and those of us still here huddled a bit closer, a bit more aware of each other. And then this week, everything exploded into the familiar cacophony once again.

I saw that this city breathes, just like every other city, town, and village in the world. We’re tied to one another, and we do keep a schedule. And the spots along all of the streets that make up the collective Main Street in our oversized Bedford Falls are our meeting places, our living rooms. In other words, New York offers us all many places and many different ways to gather around the fire after a long day at work and eat and tell our stories and laugh and be human once more. This is something I hope we can all appreciate in some way, at some point, during this next year.

And we’ll be right here if you ever need a gentle reminder.

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