Most nights, I wake up at some ungodly hour to the sound of firetrucks or drunk lovers arguing on the sidewalk. On my walks to class, there are more passersby than students at my old high school. There is someone in every shady tattoo parlor, every overpriced bar, every sandwich shop. The subway is usually packed. There is always a line for coffee.
Still, most people appear to be alone — on their way home from work, on their morning run, on the way to meet friends for dinner. Solitude in Manhattan is simultaneously oxymoronic and plentiful. As a college student, I often find aloneness to be uncomfortable. Eating alone at the dining hall feels strange. Grocery shopping with earbuds in takes some getting used to. Reading on a bench in the park is awkward. Consequently, most young adults, myself included, avoid solitude.
I’ve admired people who flaunt their lone wolf status. I know there is importance in being content alone, but until moving to Manhattan, I didn’t quite realize that finding ease in aloneness takes some practice. In pursuit of comfort in solitude, I decided to take a day completely to myself.
I woke up earlier than usual and headed out quietly. Things I had never noticed were now conspicuous: the way the clouds looked in the morning, the smell of laundry, the carefully painted murals. I rode the subway to the MoMa, standing silently among strangers who were also en route to their own plans and places and obligations.
At first, wandering through the galleries alone felt unnatural. Most visitors were tourists with DSLR cameras and “I heart NY” t-shirts and the ambience was more like a bloodbath to capture a picture of the Van Goghs than a thoughtful, meaningful observance of the art. Soon, though, I found myself in a room of dreamy pastel Monets. I sat for a while, taking in the complexity of the artwork and the tranquil brightness of the gallery.
When I left the museum, I started to see the same allure I had seen in those masterpieces in the mundane. I spent the rest of the day sipping tea in a corner cafe with a good book, walking through Central Park and taking an evening yoga class. I stopped to buy myself a bouquet of flowers. I smiled at strangers. I no longer felt out of place in solitude.
Frankly, no one in New York really cares what you’re doing. If people can do aerial yoga in Washington Square Park and middle-aged men can walk through Midtown in their Comic Con costumes, then your solitude never appears as strange as it may feel.
At the end of my day-long experiment, I took the subway back to Greenwich Village. As I stepped onto the platform, I looked up and saw masses of people, all walking with intention, all with their own preferences and fears and ambitions and situations. I was simultaneously alone and among great company.
Email Sasha Keenan at [email protected]