Friday, May 8, 2015

With new eyes

I put one foot in front of the other, panted while the path curved uphill. I was running in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York! Five years ago, who would have thought? Me, running? Or more so, me, enjoying New York?

Today, I ran for the first time in New York!

I visited New York back in 2010, after a brief visit to Boston to accompany my then 19-year-old son Paolo who was about to enter Northeastern University. I stayed in the same building that I am now staying in. I toured Manhattan and saw the famous sights for the first time but not with as much excitement as this time.

I was a scared traveler in 2010. My sister, Kia, and son, Paolo,
had to drag me around because I was too fearful to do it on my own.

How amazing a five year difference makes! In 2010, I toured because I had to. I was already here with my then 8-year-old daughter, Gabby. I had to make the most of it. I was a paranoid and scared traveler, decided to stick to Hop On- Hop Off buses in order to see the city. I feared riding the subway because of a scary story my sister said about a man with a samurai sword who brandished it in a train and struggled to hold on to it by grabbing onto its blade as his hands bled. I hated the walk from the subway station because I thought it was long and scary. I didn't like Brooklyn in 2010 but I love it now.

Riding the subway always made me nervous. The samurai sword
man never showed up but one time, passengers started screaming
and I wanted to leave the train. It was just because of a rat.

I barely explored this area where my sister lives. But now I twist my neck often to take a second look at quaint places and buildings. I've learned to love the character of Brooklyn. I never imagined myself living in a busy city but Brooklyn grows on you- the bustle of people walking, the restaurants lined up in Flatbush, and the old town look of most streets. I even tease my husband to buy this rental we're living in now.

Back in Brooklyn after five years!

On my way home from my run, I got lost in Park Slope. Whereas five years ago, I would have panicked, this time I savored the eight-block deviation I had to go through because I made a wrong turn. I've said it before- how nice to get lost! I carried on at a good walking workout pace as I stumbled on loose gravel in front of the St. Augustine church (which was undergoing construction). I smiled in admiration of the colorful wall of the PS/MS 282 (public school) on 6th avenue. And I vowed to go back to take a photo of that brownstone house with the red door near the corner of President street.

What happened in five years? Why do I now see New York with different eyes? Why does this once-scary, dreary, drab city now seem beautiful and alive? 

In 2010, my youngest child was a mere three years old. Prior to this trip, the only places I was familiar with were California and the Philippines. Comfort and safety were always foremost on my mind. And after 9-11, I feared New York. I did not dare go up the Empire State building worried that it would be targeted by terrorists while I was there. 

In 2009, I went to Tuscany for my sister's wedding. I barely
socialized and I didn't have fun. I regret now that I did not let
myself enjoy that trip.

Back then, because my life revolved around family only, I was weighed down by all sorts of fears that held me back from experiencing life. I took a path of predictability and routine because it was comfortable for me. I was willing to sacrifice personal growth through new experiences and travels because I would rather be "safe than sorry." 

As my eyes light up now as I walk in front of the Temple of Restoration (a small but beautifully unique structure on Dean street) I realize now how this mentality was detrimental to my being. I deprived myself of many opportunities to admire the beauty around me because it meant making a wrong turn or going beyond the usual 3 blocks to get back home.

Sometimes you just have to push yourself. Sometimes you have to muster extra courage to walk through an isolated, dark, tree-lined street because soon after you make that right turn, you will have to definitely stop in awe of the Former Lillian Ward house on the corner of 7th and Sterling. Imagine if I didn't get lost or if I just stuck to the main road because it was predictable and easy!

At 44, I am no longer a young woman. But what I realized is that I've allowed myself to stick to the familiar for so long that I lost my sense of daring and adventure. I've deprived myself of these challenges that eventually shape me and make me a better person. I've avoided the unknown, dark streets of life because they were scary. I chose the easy path because I did not want to get hurt.

But I see it now. You have to get scared, get hurt, get lost many times in life before you see a better you. I am grateful I learned this midlife because I've seen many elderly folks, my parents included, who have stuck to the safe route because the other way was just too difficult. I'm grateful I've learned to not let my fears dictate the way I live my life. Most of all, I am thankful I still have the chance to live the rest of my years applying this learning. 

It took a while for me to be brave.
Better late than never!

Tomorrow I will ride the NY subway system again for the first time after five years (hopefully the samurai sword-weilding man isn't taking my train). This time I will not force myself to look down at my feet because I fear eye contact with the strangers around me. I will look around station to station and see the beauty beyond the dusty, graffiti-lined walls. And when I rise from the darkness of the 8th avenue station and walk towards W 16th street, I will raise my head high. I will open my eyes to the experience I deprived myself of five years ago. I am a new person about to start another new adventure.