I had a 5K to do on Saturday - one I had originally intended to run with friends in NYC. But plans changed (as they do) and I was still in Virginia this past weekend. So I headed over to Burke Lake to do my remote "race."
Instead of a 5K, though, the trail was 4.7 miles. And instead of running, I elected to walk. And instead of joining a group of friends, I did it alone.
That last part sounded good; necessary, even. After 3 days of being surrounded by family, friends, doctors, people - this introvert needed some alone time. I was ready to get cozy with my thoughts and sort through the muck of them.
I hit the gravel trail and started winding my way around the lake, which is good for fishing but not swimming. I know it well: early childhood trips here to feed air-popped popcorn to the ducks. Costumed rides on the park's haunted railroad each Halloween. Girl Scout camping trips. Marching band picnics. High school track practices. Me and this lake go way back, and I revisited our history at each turn in the path.
And then I got teary, because - you know - life. It is long and short and sweet and bitter, and sometimes you just need to have a good cry about it.
It was a sunny Saturday so there were other people out and about on the trail. Still, it wasn't nearly as crowded as a New York street. But I found that - unlike on a crowded city street - I wasn't able to really let go and cry like I needed to. Wanted to. Was overdue to.
Each time I passed someone on the lake trail, I would hastily wipe away any tears. City strangers will barely acknowledge your presence as a fellow human being - you can pass by, crying, unnoticed. But lake strangers all made eye contact, smiled, said "Good morning!" I felt embarrassed to greet them with a too-weepy expression, I did not want an offer of help or a look of sympathy. So I stuffed all the tears and emotions back down from whence they came and kept walking.
I'd been enjoying the fresh air, the space, the uninterrupted sleep, and other conveniences of the 'burbs. But this made me miss the city a little. Here, crying in public is easier, and acceptable, and done. Weird to miss that?
It's not to say I exactly enjoy crying in public, because I don't. I mean, I'm crying, for crying out loud. And there's usually a heartache fueling that which I'd rather skip. But - in a place where privacy is at a premium - there's a safe comfort in the anonymity of crowded streets, where you can have a good, cathartic cry when the hurting happens.
There was a piece in the Times about a year ago, discussing public displays of sadness (the less-fun cousin of PDA's), which was a good read. The following quote got me thinking:
"For me, it’s not that I want apathy, just privacy. To be noticed, but not interrupted. It’s comforting to be seen in our grief, there is a confirmation in it — however awkward it makes us feel. Is that part of why we live here? New Yorkers do tend to be the kind of people with both a need to be seen, and a deep fear of it. Somehow, this place satisfies both."
-Melissa Febos, Look At Me, I'm Crying
I'm not sure this tendency is actually unique to just New Yorkers (the only tendency that seems to be really unique to New Yorkers is our tendency to think that everything is unique to us) but I did resonate with that need to be seen and the corresponding/conflicting deep fear of it. I wonder if that isn't a basic facet of the human condition; I wonder if that isn't a driving force in most relational conflict.
I'm going to keep wondering these things as I walk home now, and maybe cry a little, if I feel so moved. Because I'm back home now, and here, it is done.