“When you’re gonna move to New York people give you a lot of advice about how horrible it is–I didn’t listen to anything…I knew that I needed to be here.”
Gail has been in New York for a little over 6 months now; she moved here after living in Los Angeles for almost her entire life. I was immediately anxious to sit down and chat with her when I learned she was a newbie; I’m always interested in exploring how people end up in New York and it’s not every day I find someone right in the thick of such a huge transition.
Moving to New York had been at the back of Gail’s mind for a while but there were always too many reasons to stay put. Then in January, Gail’s grandmother passed away after a long bout with Alzheimer’s. Suddenly, Gail saw her relationship with her own mother–who was her grandmother’s caregiver, start to shift. “With my grandmother gone, my mom didn’t need me in the same way she had before,” she told me. Gail realized that she could start to let go of her own role as her mother’s caregiver and start to focus on her own hopes and ambitions. “Her saying it was cool for me to move was a big deal cause we are really close,” Gail explained. The blessing from her mom was just one sign; there were others, which boosted Gail’s confidence in her decision every day. “Some relationships that I had fell apart right around the time I needed to move,” she admitted, “if they hadn’t, I would not have been ok coming here.”
Things started to fall into place. She sold her car and connected with a friend in New York whom she could stay with until she found her own apartment. On April 15th, just 3 months or so after the passing of her grandmother, Gail was on a plane headed to her new home.
I got goosebumps listening to Gail talk about hopping on that plane; I know firsthand what that’s like. On November 27, 2009 I was lounging on a chair in a Barnes & Noble in Michigan, chatting with my sister about what’d be like if I moved into the apartment next door to hers in Brooklyn. It started out as sort of a hypothetical joke. January 4, 2010 I was on a plane headed to LaGuardia.
Like Gail’s, my decision seemed quick; everything fell into place. My car had broken down about a month before my sister came to visit. It suddenly seemed so obvious to move to a place where a car was more of a hinderance than a necessity.
After comparing our stories a bit I commented on how fast everything seemed to happen–for both of us. Gail understood what I meant but disagreed. “What may seem fast I think may actually just be intended,” she explained. I was just looking at the short period of time between considering a move and actually getting on a plane. She was taking into account all the moments in her life that had brought her to that place. This line of thinking started to make a lot of sense to me. I began to see the building blocks of a bunch of big moments in my life; much less had happened on a whim than I thought. This idea also made me curious and excited–what might I be building for at this very moment?
Gail’s first couple months in New York were obviously filled with several ups and downs. “I only had one moment when I was on the phone with my mom and I was like ‘Hey, I need to come back,'” she confessed. “I had gone to see an apartment and it was horrible and I started to think, maybe I shouldn’t do this.” But instead of giving up, Gail changed her perspective on things and decided to set some goals for herself. “I set a deadline of when I needed to make money by and I ended up getting my first job that week,” she shared, remembering the relief of that moment. Eventually she found a suitable apartment as well; it was so important to get off of her friend’s sofa and into her own space.
Although acquiring a job and an apartment took a little bit of time, Gail’s adjustment to certain aspects of the NY lifestyle happened in no time at all. “I love that I am not in a car here,” she told me as we discussed the differences in commuting. “I don’t see people’s faces in LA unless I’m walking and I don’t do a lot of that there.”
Unlike many other New Yorkers who dread the crowded subway cars they are forced into to and from work, Gail enjoys the social interactions she gets to witness or be a part of. “I love all the really great human moments I see on the subway,” she told me, bright-eyed. “You see a kid on the subway who you are just sure is not going to give his seat up and then he does, and it makes me smile–I see those things every single day.”
I smiled and nodded my head listening to Gail; I witness those moments all the time too. In fact, those moments are one of my favorite things about living in New York. Within the hustle and bustle and crowdedness, quiet and beautiful human interactions like the one she described are happening all around us. They are inspiring. They are what keep you going when you haven’t found a job yet or are second guessing your decision to move to the city.
I witness all these great interactions, but it’s not so often I participate in them. Gail is different. She is bubbly and outgoing. She is excited to meet and get to know new people and New Yorkers seem just as anxious to get to know her.
“My confidence level here is different…[It’s quite something] when you feel like people see you–I feel like I have the ground underneath me in a way that I did not have it in LA.”
Now that Gail has begun to get settled into her new home she is jumping back into the things that she loves–the things that in many ways define who she is. She is a writer and a filmmaker. “In all truthfulness, my life’s purpose is to give back and be a beneficial friend for the planet,”she told me. “I feel like my filmmaking is an extension of that–I’m telling stories that generally aren’t told.” Gail is currently working on her third documentary.
Gail is also reaching out to her new community through volunteer work, which has been a significant part of her life for years. One Monday morning her and I were having the usual “what did you do this weekend?” catchup. My response was surely something like “yoga and brunch”, while Gail’s was “helping out at the public library.” She finds these opportunities through organizations like New York Cares, and even hosts a Facebook page where she helps others locate volunteer gigs that they might like to participate in.
This type of work is now deeply woven into the fabric of Gail’s character. She has such enthusiasm for connecting with people in need, but also great compassion for those who are contributing through other channels. “There are so many genuine ways to give back,” Gail told me, recognizing that her way may not be for everyone. “Making eye contact with the guy on the corner who I don’t have money for–that acknowledgement of ‘I see you’–that is being of service.”
After talking with Gail I got to thinking about how I don’t always make eye contact with that guy on the street asking for money. Sometimes I am in a rush and I feel like I can’t be bothered. Other times it’s about fear. I often avoid watching a sad movie because I don’t want to feel those feelings; that pain can be too uncomfortable. Shamefully, I often don’t make eye contact with the homeless for the same reason. After I spoke with Gail I thought, “I need to at least have the humanity and the strength and the compassion to acknowledge these people–to at least recognize their burden, even if I lack the means to help them carry it.”
About a week after our conversation, my husband and I were down in a subway station waiting for a train. I saw a girl, probably in her early twenties, walking towards us. She was cutely dressed and wearing a huge backpack. As she got closer I realized her beautiful black skin was muddied with brown dirt and her backpack was not so huge as it was absolutely packed to the gills; it seemed she might have been carrying everything she owned. As she got closer and I realized her plight my instinct to look away began to kick in. But then in the next second, I thought of Gail. As the girl approached and then walked past us I looked straight up at her, I may have even managed a bit of a smile. We held each other’s gaze for a few moments.
I don’t know that acknowledging this girl helped her any; but it did move something in me. It compounded my belief that I have to work each day to try and make the world a better place; no matter how big or small the contribution.
Seeing Gail bring all these big contributions to New York is undoubtedly inspiration to do more. In that one split second I thought of her and my actions changed; I wanted to be of service. It will be exciting to see how many other lives Gail touches–how many other people she inspires to give more of themselves. While some people are skeptical of their fellows, Gail is positive and hopeful. “I think fundamentally people are really good–and we all want to be reminded that we are good,” she told me.
Gail looks at her life and thinks, “How much good can I do with what I have?”. I think even she might underestimate just how much good she will end up doing. As an individual she’s made sincere, consistent, and dedicated action towards the betterment of the world. As she does this, she touches people along the way; her positive energy ignites the humanity and compassion in others. It seems she is in the right place; this city is always in need of those who will work to make it better and brighter for others. Welcome to New York Gail; it’s been waiting for you.