In the grand scheme of things, I am not that old (37). Still, I feel I have been spending much time lately pondering phases of life that are over and gone.
My trip to New York last week was steeped in such nostalgia. In my quest to get out of my house a bit more, I agreed to speak at the Behavioral Summit organized by Ideas 42, a non-profit that helps groups incorporate insights from behavioral science into policy and program design. I enjoyed hearing from Daniel Kahneman, Nate Silver, Dan Pink, Eldar Shafir, Angela Duckworth, and so forth. I was on a panel on scarcity. My three fellow panelists talked about their academic research on poverty’s effects on the brain and behavior. Then I got up to tell everyone in the room that they have more time than they think. I definitely felt like I was the curve ball thrown in, but people laughed, which was what I intended, and I had people come tell me later that they would take my advice to turn off the phone for 2 hours and stare at the stars if they wanted to feel like time was abundant.
Anyway, the conference was held at a center on Third Avenue between 45th and 46th. I lived for many years at 38th and First, so these were my old stomping grounds. On Friday morning I got up early and ran toward the East River. That was my old route, with a slight detour through the Tudor City area, then out to the East River at 34th Street, and past the heliport, the Water Club, down past the United Nations International School, and then into the park that stretches most of the way toward the Brooklyn Bridge. I saw the track where I did speed work while training for the Big Sur marathon in 2010. I saw the playgrounds where I’d take my two little boys. It seems like ages ago when I was first pushing the stroller around with my now 9-year-old, or the double with him on top and the now 7-year-old on the bottom.
I was running back toward my hotel as school was starting, so I saw a lot of families out walking toward drop-offs. It made me wonder what life would have been like if we had stayed there. I loved being able to walk out of my building and choose from dozens of restaurants within blocks. I loved the view of the skyscrapers and the sun glinting off the water. The people watching in New York is always fantastic. It is impossible to know the counterfactual of a life. I like many aspects of my existence in the suburbs. Outside the window of my spacious home office the leaves are turning crimson and gold. We spent much time in the backyard on Sunday, watching the children play and taking in our roses and Michaelmas daisies. If we’d stayed in Manhattan, we would have had to move from our already cramped apartment, but suffice to say that no matter where we moved, we would not be living on three-quarters of a woodsy acre. Back when we lived there, we would take weekend trips out of the city for hikes and the like, but we’d always be figuring out traffic back through the tunnels, parking somewhere by our building or returning our rental car, and then hauling our kids and their gear back from the parking garage. New York is fun when you are not encumbered by kids and their stuff. The thought of my toddler on a subway platform gets my heart pounding.
So I am trying to appreciate that I can have some of both worlds now. I like going to the city by myself, and walking around the streets where I used to live. Now that I no longer have a nursing baby, and I have more childcare than in the past, I can stay overnight sometimes and not be dashing to Penn Station. Still, when I saw the morning light on the water sparkling like diamonds, the nostalgia was quite intense. I love the blue flowers in our backyard now, but New York has flowers in those corner shops too. Blue flowers at all hours of the day. They speak of abundance, possibility, a time in my life when much was new. They are always something to behold.