Yesterday I spent most of the day in the middle of New Jersey. I had an unlikely epiphany while driving over from my town in Queens to Oradell. It’s an age old lesson that I continue to learn over and over again but somehow it sunk in deeper yesterday, and I have to admit, in a pretty silly way.
Crossing over from NY to NJ can be quite an ordeal, depending on the time of day. It can take 20 minutes or it can take 2 hours. If there’s daylight, you can pretty much bet it’s the latter. I was in a bit of a delusion to think that my trek over would be smooth… but the traffic always tricks you a bit before making you fall into its trap. The roads seem so clear, cars seem to be going at normal speeds and for awhile, even if the warning signs give you some ridiculous estimate that you’ll be waiting to cross that ol’ George Washington Bridge, you believe, just for a few minutes that the sign was for some traffic jam that came before you got there and that it’s going to be clear when you get there. That’s pretty much how it went for me. I crossed the Triboro bridge, and the thruway seemed free and clear. I did see a sign that said 48 minutes over the GWB but I thought, that can’t be right cuz the roads are so open right now. Then in about 2 miles, I came to a complete halt as I became yet another car to add to the 48 minute traffic. Still, I thought, this isn’t going to take 48 minutes. I don’t know why I insist on remaining hopeful in the middle of a bottleneck, but this is how my skin starts to crawl about the middle of the way through and I wonder how I’m ever going to make it out of this first world hell that is NYC traffic.
Actually, it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t have an appointment to make and it was a Sabbath-like day for me so I was able to sit through it and make it out without any need for attitude adjustments. But I have to tell you, it did take almost exactly 48 minutes and that was so amusing to me. After 48 minutes, there I was, right at the EZ Pass lane and crossing the GWB. It was a glorious moment. I don’t know if you ever notice how scenic things are by bridges, but I love, love, love crossing bridges. I grew up crossing the Beacon Bridge in upstate NY every Sunday as we went to church and while my sister turned her head from side to side, I would just stick to one side and just stare at the beautiful water and mountains in the distance…people sailing or riding boats, and dwell on how magnificently the sky reflected off the glistening water. The GWB is no exception. The scenery is quite a sight and most of the time I’m soaking in as much as I can while trying really hard not to crash into the car in front of me.
And then it happened. I crossed into NJ and I saw trees and cheap gas prices. I made it to my destination, a quaint café in an old American town, with houses that have porches with rocking chairs and dogs and American flags hanging from the side. And I don’t know why this thought came to me just then, but all I could think was, this is like the promised land. I had been stuck in the dry, unrelenting desert (aka traffic), but finally crossed the Jordan and now I was going to spend the rest of this day here in this heartwarming, wonderful place.
I think New Jersey gets a bad reputation for a lot of different reasons, and even though I’m pretty sure I’m a New Yorker at heart, I have a fondness for NJ because I spent some of the best years of my childhood there. But this isn’t a post about NJ, even though I’ve just gone on and on about it.
Yesterday, what I kept thinking about was how we have to go through pain in order to truly know joy. It seems that we experience life through a range of relativity. It’s hard for us to know what we actually have until we know what it’s like without it. Life is kinda funny that way. We appreciate nice people a lot more when we’ve met someone who treats us terribly. We value relationships much more when we realize how utterly lonely life is without them. We don’t fully know how much we love someone until he/she is taken away from us. We don’t know what freedom really is until we’ve been in bondage. We don’t know what dignity really is unless we’ve been abused. We don’t know how to really live until we’ve been face to face with death. We don’t really know how to love until we have been loved.
Today is my 31st birthday and I am grateful to be alive. Every year that I get to live, I am more grateful – for another chance to build on a relationship, to breathe again and to be able to witness the great NYC skyline and the foliage of upstate NY and yes, the scenery as I cross the GWB into New Jersey. I went for many years trying to play my birthday down, for a lot of different reasons. Didn’t want the attention, didn’t want people to feel like they had to do something for me, but maybe mostly to deny myself the gift of existence, because sometimes, it’s easier when life doesn’t give reminders about how things aren’t going the way I had hoped and dreamed and on the schedule that I had planned. But something’s different now. I want to let life be what it is. I want to embrace life and embody it in all of its pain, brokenness and beauty.
And who knows? This might be the year that I cross that Jordan and enter into the Promised Land.