I sit on the balcony with my sandals off, the chill of a beer bottle cooling my hand. A breeze ripples the hemline of my skirt and I settle into the creaking plastic chair beneath me. I’m not at the beach, a hotel, or a cutesy B&B overlooking a hillside somewhere. I’m on my friend Karen’s balcony, which we’ve nicknamed “the veranda” to sound more aristocratic than we actually are, exactly 12 blocks from my apartment in New York City.
I’ve found myself here quite frequently. Before landing my current job, I was in a place of real uncertainty, struggling with the unpredictable nature of my career in television, feeling the pressures of dwindling funds, and attempting to manage the crippling anxiety over what my next move would be. Over our G-chat conversations, Karen, who I’m sure could sense my apprehension weighing heavier with every keystroke, would say simply, “It’s a lovely night for the veranda.”
And so her balcony became a place of solace for me. A place where I could vent my anger and frustrations to a compassionate friend willing to listen. A place where I would have something cold to drink and good to eat. A place where I could sit quietly in my own mini-retreat two stories up in the air. In the evenings, I’d walk over to the apartment, nestled just off a busy avenue lined with Mexican bodegas, hookah bars, and street carts all promising the world’s best shawarma. For me, the balcony became more than just a literal stepping outside. It became a place to escape the stress of job applications, money woes, and that pesky feeling of restlessness. For just an hour or two, I could allow myself to be outside of my own head.
I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in several weekend retreats over the past few years, and I’ve always been encouraged by the sense of renewal and peace that follows — a sort of spiritual gas-up. It’s been a while since my last, but I’ve begun looking at the balcony as an abridged version of a retreat, where I can sit, debrief, laugh, and refuel for the next day’s challenges.
One night, I had plans to enjoy the veranda with Karen when it started to rain. We stared out through the screen door at our slowly-dampening oasis, which isn’t protected by any sort of overhang. Not to be discouraged, we grabbed a towel, wiped off our seats, and opened our umbrellas to carry on with our plans. Two urban women, too stubborn to stay inside.
At some point over the course of my veranda career, I had the moment of realization that if I turned the focus away from myself for just a few moments, there was a whole block to witness.
I love to people-watch. The opportunity to gain insight into somebody’s life through a brief glimpse is an excitement that’s never lost on me. In New York, I’ve seen everything from proposals to breakups, profound moments of compassion to instances of ignorance. But the thing that I love the most about people watching is the surprise and delight of seeing something beautiful.
The veranda became our personal opera box, allowing us prime viewing real estate for the show below. As my nights on the balcony became more frequent, I began to notice and appreciate the small parts of people’s lives I was allowed to witness — the many, many adorable and varied breeds of dogs (and owners) walking below; the teenage boy’s phone conversation with his mother; the flicking of lights in the apartments surrounding me; and the surprising frequency with which cars tap the bumpers of those behind them to ensure they’ve truly “settled in” to their parallel parking spot. A fleeting moment sharing in a complete stranger’s joy, frustration or laughter is something for which I’m truly grateful.
The veranda, for me, has evolved from just a simple mini-retreat to a true God moment. Not only am I sharing in the hospitality, fellowship and compassion of one of my great friends, but through the insights into the lives of those around me, I’m also being reminded that I am not alone. As I turn my focus away from myself and appreciate the view, I’m reminded to breathe, to trust, and to be filled with the new hope of what awaits me when I head downstairs.