Busted Halo

Busted Halo contributors reflect on the spiritual moments they’ve experienced on vacation — finding God in all sorts of destinations.

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July 10th, 2012

Big Apple Hospitality


I’m not one of those really proud annoying Texans who thinks Texas is better than every other state. But I am one of those annoying Texans that doesn’t know much about the rest of the country because I’ve lived in this huge state for so darn long. So when I think of New York City, most of my stereotypical assumptions come from either Friends or Seinfeld. That being said, you can imagine what I was anticipating when Brandon and I scheduled a vacation to New York City when Olivia was just six months old.

Brandon had a conference to attend all week and Olivia and I were staying with my best friend from high school who lived in the city. I was so nervous. If you know me at all, you know that I am pretty much the opposite of New York City. New York is big bright lights, fast-paced, hard-nosed. I am pretty much the slowest walker that you’ve ever met, laid-back, and definitely not a “tough guy.” Especially with Olivia in tow, I was dreading how rude people were going to be because I was going to be moving extra slow. Even with all the anxiety, after six months with a baby, I was ready for our vacation adventure so off we went.

Strangely enough, this was probably one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. Having a baby in the city gave me a unique insight into the hearts of New Yorkers.

Brandon went off to his conference and I set out with Olivia strapped to me. Obviously, we rode a lot of public transportation. Every single time, someone gave up his/her seat for me since I was carrying a baby. I was floored. I was ready to be pushed around and given mean looks. These hardened New Yorkers were giving up their seats for me — an obviously wide-eyed, naive tourist. How weird. But nice.

And every time I was stopped in front of a map to figure out which train I needed to catch, it would only take seconds for someone to ask me if I needed help getting somewhere.

Watching out for one another

If there is one thing that Jesus commanded more than anything else it was to take care of our neighbors. And New Yorkers do exactly that. It was their own kind of radical hospitality. People weren’t gushing over us or tripping over themselves to help us but they helped. Every time.

Later when I was talking to my friend, I told her how puzzled I was that people were being so nice to us. She explained to me how different New York hospitality was from Southern hospitality. Living in New York City is hard. Everyone that lives there knows that and is secretly watching out for everyone else because they’ve all been in that vulnerable situation before.

While the goal of our trip was just to get some fresh air and maybe eat at some good places, I really feel like I had a spiritual encounter with the people of New York. I was privy to a part of the city that I would have never known existed — its hospitality. It’s not a warm kind of hospitality. There’s no small talk. There are no smiles. People just see that you need help, they help, and then they pretend like nothing happened. Everyone is secretly looking out for everyone else without letting down their icy, don’t-mess-with-me guard.

Everyone gives up their seats on the bus or subway for moms with babies because they know how much it sucks to get around the city with a baby. Everyone offers help with directions to get on the right train because they know how much it sucks to be on the wrong train and lost.

And what especially struck me was that the people helping me spanned all classes, ethnicities, ages and English-speaking abilities. I don’t remember every single person that offered me their seat but I do remember a middle-aged, nicely dressed white woman; a Hispanic teeny-bopper with a Bob Marley necklace and a crazy strong Brooklyn accent; and an older Indian man who barely spoke English. Seriously, everyone was willing to give up a seat. The second I got on a subway train, all the people standing would start looking at the people sitting to see who was going to get up for me. Like if no one was going to get up right away, the people standing would stare them down until someone did.

One day we got caught in a really bad snowstorm and we ducked into a tiny grocery store. We were blocking the entrance and getting the floor all dirty with muddy snow. I really thought the owner was going to yell at us to get out, but he didn’t. He looked at us, looked at Olivia, and ignored us. God bless him for not throwing us out into the storm.

If there is one thing that Jesus commanded more than anything else it was to take care of our neighbors. And New Yorkers do exactly that. It was their own kind of radical hospitality. People weren’t gushing over us or tripping over themselves to help us but they helped. Every time. Don’t get me wrong, we still got pushed around a bit and had to be aware of our surroundings, but New York City was not half as scary as I thought it was going to be.
Thanks New York City, for having our backs.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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  • Meagan F

    Thank you so much for this, Vanessa!

    My husband and I were once trying to park in NYC, and a man starting shouting at us. We rolled down the window to hear, and he was saying “you can’t park here! You’ll get towed! Park two spaces back!” Thank you, stranger. He saved us a few hundred dollars and major headaches (with no benefit to himself) by bothering to notice and caring enough to shout across all the noise. If that’s not looking out for your neighbor, I don’t know what is.

  • joe

    vanessa – wonderful insights into this mad and marvelous metropolis! i agree with everything you’ve written here. moving to NYC about 6 years ago, i had the same reservations and fears you speak of, but it wasn’t more than half an hour off of the airplane, timid and alone on a bus headed into manhattan, that a woman asked me for directions and i suddenly didn’t feel so alone anymore in this city of strangers with shared circumstances. there is so much spirituality in this city that it can sometimes overwhelm. though there are the dry days where the subways, pedestrians temperature and traffic can get to you, there’s a secret New York right around the corner, ready to lift you up and carry your spirit over the highest of the skyscrapers.

  • Megan

    Vanessa, as always, love your column!!! I had this same experience in NYC — coming from the Midwest, I was cringing at the thought of trying to navigate The City (and — I imagined — its hard-edged, impossibly fast-paced people) with two small children in tow. And, yeah, it was rough trying to get around the city with a stroller in the snow, I won’t pretend it wasn’t… but every time I got on a subway or bus carrying the baby, someone would give up their seat immediately. And every time we got to the top (or bottom) of a flight of stairs, someone would step out of the flood of people and (usually without comment) grab one end of the stroller and help haul it up/down the stairs. It was amazing. In some situations, I could wait hours for that kind of help in my small Midwestern city — here, everyone just assumes that everyone else has it “together,” and that to offer help would be offensive. Yes, NYC was certainly a surprise to me too!

  • Audrey

    Great thoughts, Vanessa! I witnessed this today. A large family of tourists took up residence right in front of the doors to the subway at Grand Central looking dazed and confused. A New Yorker, in the heart of rush hour, stopped her breakneck pace to help them navigate their next steps! Your words ring true! Thank you!

  • Tom Gibbons

    Great insights, and so true! Watch the original Spider-Man movie with Tobey Maguire – my favorite scene is when a whole bunch of New Yorkers are on the bridge, helping Spidey out. It’s SO New York!

  • Marie

    NYers are the nicest people in the world, even if we’re a bit brusque. It’s an extremely fast-paced city, so often we don’t have time for small talk, but we like people — if we didn’t, we could hardly live that close to each other 24/7!

    I’m temporarily assigned to San Francisco and while I can appreciate the surreal natural beauty of the area, the people are not nearly as nice. They don’t seem to like people much. Of course, this being the epicenter of the tech-universe, it’s no surprise people are focused on their iThings nearly constantly. I can’t wait to go back to NYC!

    That said…we, ahem, are not the ones with the accents…it’s those Southerners! Just kidding…my Brooklyn MIL said something kind of snarky about southern accents the other day and I laughingly reminded her that they probably think ours are godawful.

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