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The fifth time I came to New York City was the first time I saw the Manhattan skyline.
I remember it was five in the morning and I was flying out of Laguardia at 8am. I was in a taxi (I don’t remember how I afforded a taxi – this was before the age of Uber and smack-dab in the middle of a time when I was perpetually broke) and I looked over the Empire State Building shining over the East River and thought ‘I am going to live here someday.’
It was a nice, very quintessential moment – akin to looking at someone you’ve been dating for a while and thinking, ‘I could be in love with this person. I could see a future with them in it.’
Fast-forward five years and multiple flights in and out of LaGuardia later and I’m packing up to leave my apartment in Brooklyn for the last time. I’m two weeks and four days away from my final flight out – the one where I turn in my visa at the Canadian border and move on to other (read: cheaper) cities. And the departure feels bittersweet, to say the least.
There is an easy way to frame the time I spent in New York City: I failed at it. I failed at fighting to stay in the city I grew up dreaming of moving to. I failed at making a life here long-term.
I could write a long, self-indulgent list of everything I didn’t accomplish in this city and it would be easy to do – because it’s always simple to identify our failures in retrospect.
But here’s the core truth about everything that ends:
Even the most sensical ending – even the most necessary one – always feels like a letdown in some respect.
Because every ending means giving up on the beginning that we once envisioned with starry eyes. Every ending means shutting down the lights on an old dream and calling it a night. Even when if we’re tired of that dream. Even if it’s damn well time to call it.
I could look back on the time I spent in New York and deem it a failure because I didn’t stay here forever. But doing so wouldn’t do justice to all of the successes that proceeded it.
Calling my time in New York City a failure wouldn’t do justice to the day I signed my first lease in the city and called my mom to say that everything was going so well that I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t dreaming it. Calling my time here a failure wouldn’t do justice to the incredible friends who lit my world up every time I grew frustrated or discouraged with the city. Calling my time here a failure wouldn’t do justice to the incredible skills I picked up during the time that I lived here, or the ways in which I changed for the better.
It wouldn’t do justice to the person New York make me into. Which is a better person. A stronger person. A more self-sufficient, more capable one.
This past Thursday I was meandering home from my Williamsburg gym around 9pm when I turned my head to the side and caught an unexpected glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, peeking out from between two warehouse buildings.
Every day for the past year I’d walked adjacent to the skyline on my way home from work or the gym, separated only by a single line of buildings. I rarely stopped to appreciate the sight – it was normal. I was used to it. It had become a part of everyday life.
But that night, with my mind on my final flight home, I was caught off-guard by the skyline. For whatever reason, the sight ricocheted me back to five years prior – staring at it for the very first time and knowing that I would someday call this city home.
And in that moment I had another distinct feeling – the same one I get when a plane’s wheels stretch out to touch the tarmac at the end of a long flight. It was the feeling of having endured infinite miles of turbulence, brilliant patches of clear skies, disbelief at the miracle of flight as a whole, only to realize it was all now coming to an end.
It was the feeling of something incredible ending – but peacefully. Rightfully. The way that it was meant to.
Calling my time in New York a failure because it ended would make about as much sense as calling a long plane ride a failure because the plane eventually landed.
Not everything stays up in the air forever.
Not our desires, not our emotions, not our relationships with other people.
Some things are meant to soar for a long time, and then land. That doesn’t deem those things irrelevant. That doesn’t mean that the time and energy we spent on them was wasted.
Because just like stepping out of an airplane, every new experience drops us off somewhere different than it picked us up. The point of the experience is not necessarily the experience – just like the point of a flight is not the flight.
The point is where the experience leads you. The point is where it drops you off when it’s over.
The point is how long you soared for in the first place. The point is how gracefully you landed.
And if we can learn to look at endings that way, maybe we’ll start to get better at accepting them. At welcoming them, even.
Because chances are, this won’t be your last chance to be airborne.
Chances are, you have another flight to catch.