Although never a chart-topping hit for Billy Joel, New York State of Mind remains one of his most popular as he travels the world performing. The basic premise of the song is that while others travel to different locations to get away, he still finds something life-giving about returning to the city, in particular, a city that never sleeps. There really is, something, about the hustle and bustle that seems to crescendo in this city like none other that I have visited over the years. None seem to come close in comparison of what unfolds, never a dull moment, in a city that seems to take chaos to a whole new level and meaning, as it continues to stand as a cross-section of a global world all within an area of just over three hundred square miles. How on earth does anyone find some semblance of peace in any of that?
I’d be naïve to think that peace can never be found in such chaos but it certainly comes with challenges that are unlike other places. Yet, that’s the challenge, finding peace in the midst of the chaos of our own lives. From honking horns, people glued to their phones as the walk, pushing and shoving in trying to cross streets, glittering lights that entrance, skyscrapers that tower over all of us, it all seems to be, at times, the lived reality in my own head, always running and never quite finding the time to simply slow down and center myself in a way that allows the peace to surface in the midst of it all, quieting the noise of my own life and only exasperated while descending upon this city. Maybe it’s not the right place to find peace.
In the process of getting from one place to another, all you can really do is keep pushing through the noise, because even the noise has something to teach, even if it is how easily we are distracted by it all. The first inclination is to try to get rid of it, eliminate it, and then somehow I’ll have peace of mind. It seems like a rather narcissistic idea of peace, where I become the center of it all, isolating myself from the rest of the world all for what I want. Yet, if a walk through the city teaches us anything, it’s just how much it’s not about me, but rather points out my own smallness of a much larger world, an oft necessary perspective for any of us. It all seems to flow much more smoothly when I move with traffic than always trying to go against. I suppose it’s a dance we all do over the course of our lives, and every moment in crossing streets, sometimes needing to move with the flow, but at others going against the grain and pushing back in order to grow in different ways, despite the looks and the frustration that often arises within myself and others. We’re all just trying to get to that place, wherever it may be, simply because I haven’t found that peace where I am, standing in the middle of 46th and Broadway, as the world seems to be passing me by in an instant. It’s not where I maybe want to be, but it’s where I find myself and I can only be there at the moment.
Yet, somewhere, despite that New York state of mind that seems to encapsulate my life, there must be peace. There must be a way to silence it all, to stop it, in order to find what I’m looking for in the midst of it. It takes me to the most obvious and least obvious place in this journey, to the apex of the city at Christmas, Rockefeller Center and its surrounding area. There’s nothing much like it and I continue to return to that same place, taking a break and sipping on coffee as I watch the world pass by my very eyes, people without a care in the world and lost in the moment. It still, though, wasn’t enough. I went further, to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where I was sure to find some semblance of peace. As I waited in line, just to enter the place, being pushed by hundreds of other visitors trying to get somewhere, it seemed all but lost. Finally, though, I entered the doors, bag cleared by security, and headed to the creche and sat down for a few moments. That New York state of mind seemed to follow through the cathedral doors, people chatting in a quieter tone, snapping photos, gawking at the enormity of it all, gazing at a scene that means so much, a baby born in a stable. Peace.
In the moments that followed, the most obvious was the least obvious. There is no baby in that crib for another two weeks, until Christmas. Today that crib stood vacant, empty, as if just waiting for something. The animals all seemed to know. The other characters seemed to understand something that the rest of us didn’t know in that moment. The peace we seek will never come in my New York state of mind but rather somewhere deep within, in the emptiness of my own heart. It isn’t about going anywhere to find that peace. As a matter of fact, the harder I seem to go looking for it the further I seem to end up away from experiencing it. All I could do is sit in those moments and stare at the emptiness of that crib, following the eyes of all the characters that already seemed to know and that I had once again forgotten, needing to be reminded over and over again. It was everything I could do to hold back tears looking at that space, sleep in heavenly peace.
We convince ourselves that if I had peace of mind it would somehow correct it all for me. Yet, I have yet to find a way to totally silence the mind in that way. It all too often feels like a New York state of mind, with sirens blaring, horns blowing, voices yelling, all trying to vie for my attention, assuring me that they have the silver bullet to my life and what I truly desire. It’s so tempting and at times fall for their lie, only to be left least satisfied and lost in the chaos of my own mind. It is, though, only in the places deeper within my own being where the creative act of God continues to work, priming me for another opportunity to be found in the silence lost in the noisiness of the world, since it’s the only world in which I have found. When finally found, my eyes become fixed as well, and then finally, a deep breath can be had and I can take that peace with me out into the world, finding myself more patient with myself and others along the way who are simply looking for the same thing in the busyness of their own New York state of mind.