There’s something about those few days before Christmas. The city has a softer haze, time slows and moments are savoured more than the preceding 50 weeks of the year.
For many it can be a strange time of year. Mixed feelings. Transition.
You may find yourself away from what you know or those you love: the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘family’ may feel untethered, far away, or even lost. A quiet melancholy.
There’s something about those few days before Christmas.
Early on the 23rd I felt a little low as I made the walk to the cafe on 21st Street. Cold, grey, alone, walking into the wind.
I was meeting with a good friend who’s also become a coaching client. The cold feeling lingered, yet as soon as I took those first few moments to allow myself to be present, everything changed.
As we talked, a couple of big ‘aha’ moments appeared. I was rapidly sketching out imagery and metaphors to help frame ideas and next steps – ideas free-formed, space emerged. Success.
Walking down 2nd Avenue I had a spring in my step; my creativity was activated, the sun was shining, the streets were spacious. The wind was at my back.
I’ve come to learn these creative times can be fleeting, fragile. And so instead of going home, I made a beeline to Third Rail.
Third Rail is my local coffee shop, on the corner of 10th St and 2nd Avenue in New York’s East Village.
It’s one of a few places that feel so visceral for me in NYC – those that have sculpted my experience and remind me of high times and low ebbs.
Third Rail was the spot in the early days when I had no work permit, few connections, and was trying to make sense of it all. It’s where I went to conjure up connections, communicate my ideas in writing, speak to the family. Morning session, home for lunch, back for an afternoon push. Propped up against the cold glass of the front window. Wondering when it would all start to come together.
Here at Christmas time 2 years later I felt light and lithe.
I ordered a flat white and a muffin. Carefully crafted by the barista wearing the Mets cap.
As I went to set up shop and unpack my post-its, notepad, headphones, and laptop I noticed the book.
Without thinking I blurted out a question to its owner.
He laughed – I was the second person that morning to ask him about the book.
An hour and a half later and we were both still there, taking a pause as if to take in the expanse of conversation we’d had: from the gentrification of Lower Manhattan to the virtues of Scandinavia; ancient meditation to the new iPhone; the signs of a talented jazz trombone player to how best to build confidence as a student; going on the road with musical legends, to growing older, learning, unlearning, and relearning. It was maybe the kind of conversation you can have in the East Village.
What struck me most was perhaps the amount of eye contact we had.
We looked each other in the eye, sat side by side.
Two strangers, with 30 years age difference, sat up close next to each other sharing thoughts, opinions and feelings with little to no filter. In a public place.
It felt awkward, strange, unnatural.
But of course, it’s the opposite. Surely it’s the most natural thing in the world. Surely it’s what coffee shops, coffee houses, are for.
Connection, stories, wonder, laughs, perspective, shared experience.
Afterwards I went to another of those memorable NYC places – the Strand bookstore with its 18 miles of books.
Unlike the coffee shop, it was packed, with books disappearing off the shelves at a rate of knots. But there it was, third table in from the door, just as he told me. One copy left.
Two days later I finished it.
It was my last book of the decade. It was also the most apt and meaningful.
It’s a book on humans, society, anxiety, depression, and our need for connection: why connecting with values, work, nature, humans, and art can provide solutions to so many of the problems we face today.
I’m so grateful I made the human connection with Art.
The book is Lost Connections by Johann Hari.