The nighttime view of New York from above is one of the most bittersweet sights I’ve ever witnessed. I’m absolutely in love with it — I ignored my heavy eyelids and the pull of sleep and forced myself to stay awake on the plane so that when we took off, I could see the city below me, the pinpoints of light undulating like something out of a storybook. I swear there’s something magic about that city, and seeing it from above makes the whole place look alive, like it is one living organism and everything within it is just atoms and cells, blood and bones. It’s breathtaking, beautiful, but so, so sad, because watching the lights from the plane window meant I had to say goodbye.
To say this trip has been perfect so far would be an overstatement. I had to duct tape my luggage together when it ripped right before my flight, only to have the bag completely break a few hours later. Then again, I’m lucky I even made the flight — security was so backed up that I made it on the plane mere minutes before takeoff. I spent the first day awake for 40 hours and hardly found the time to catch up on sleep after. It was an overwhelming beginning, but I realized very quickly how little those things mattered. Because, before I knew it, I was sucked into the swell of the city.
There’s a strange sort of magic about New York that I don’t know how to explain. Maybe it’s all the people. Growing up in Kansas, I was exposed to very little diversity, but New York is jam-packed full of it. Almost everyone you talk to has an interesting backstory or something quirky about them, and it’s all so compelling. The streets are filled with fascinating characters and fascinating places, and I think it starts to rub off on you a little. For a while, you feel like you’re part of it all.
Maybe that’s why every moment feels so charged. Just feeling like you’re part of the magic makes you feel like something about you is magic, too. And so you play in park fountains and dance on city streets and sing to bored bartenders even though you probably haven’t had enough drinks for it to feel socially acceptable yet. You explore quirky shops with one of your favorite friends and walk for miles and even though your feet hurt, you don’t really notice it. You know you’re exhausted — you have to be — but you don’t feel it. I guess it’s the adrenaline from being in a new place, a new world.
That’s what I love about traveling. There will always be stressful, overwhelming moments, but they always seem so insignificant in the long run. Because I did make it onto the plane and I managed to borrow a new suitcase. Everything worked out in the end. And maybe I was — and am — a little sleep deprived, but perhaps that’s the beauty of it. As my friend’s father said as he drove me to the airport, “You have time to sleep when you’re older.”
That’s the thing, isn’t it? I have time to worry about things later. Because right now I am 21 and I have the chance to explore new cities and meet new people, and I don’t know how many times I’ll have opportunities like this again. I am so incredibly lucky, but I am so afraid to let these moments go to waste. There’s no guarantee that this is the last time I’ll be able to travel like this, but just in case, I’m going to do exactly what I did on that plane ride out of New York: I’m going to fight to keep my eyes open so that I don’t miss a single thing.