This week I cried 2 times. Once out of joy and pure happiness, and once leaving my baby cousin in NYC.
New York is an interesting place. Lost bits of sunshine parallel the agony of suppressed and hidden dreams of busy New Yorkers. Every block, every corner, there is someone living in a small ass apartment that never even sees or feels the warmth of sunshine, ever. I have even seen some rooms that completely lack the concept of windows.
What New Yorkers have in common is the belief, deeply buried in a small corner of their hearts, that the sun IS shining somewhere even if they don’t see it everyday waking up against their thick brick walls. It is also the belief that getting through the busy work days 324239 more times will get them closer to a ray of sunshine, although nothing is guaranteed. Doesn’t matter where you are from, but what unites them is where they are headed: success in many forms. But the problem is, some get lost amongst the wine and mignon, and some get lost in greed, lust, and politics and never see the sunshine that originally brought them there.
But none of this I intended to find out in that one short week I was there.
I visited New York City for the first time this week since I was 13 years old. NYC feels, looks, drinks, eats, and just IS different when you go back there as a 24-year-old. F*ck, I mean a 25-year-old.
This trip was a 25th birthday gift to myself: I worked my ass off for the last couple years, and I have yet to reward myself with a week-long vacation. My little cousin who is a 21-year-old fashion design student provided me with a place to “sleep” (Seriously, New Yorkers do not sleep). But truly, half of the reason I visited NYC was actually to go see her.
Growing up as an only child, I yearned for the type of sisterly or brotherly bond that some people take for granted. I think having a sibling is one of the biggest blessings for anyone. It is someone who is unconditionally your family, and who will most likely share a larger portion of your life compared to your parents. Many people think that being an only child is a luxury; in fact, for those of you who have siblings do not understand how intolerable family road trips are when you have no one to fight with over what radio channel to listen to, or have no one to really tell you the truth if you look fat, or have no one to be on your side when you have a really good awesome point that your parents fail to understand. Sure, I got to have my own bathroom, and sure I got a car on my 16th birthday. Yes, and those are the type of things that some non only children envy, but I would have given up either of those in a heart beat if I had an older sister to argue over who gets the bathroom first or a younger brother who asked me to take him places in a car I borrowed from my parents.
But I try to leverage what I am already given to stay happy, and there are two advantages of being an only child: one – I learned how to make friends fast and connect with people on deeper levels. When you don’t have anyone to play Barbies with in your own house, trust me, you will be nicer to the girl next door. Two – I have learned to create a close brotherly and sisterly bond with my own cousins.
So on the night before my birthday a few days ago, I was partied out from drinking for 5 days straight being in NYC, and wanted to have a chill night with my little cousin to celebrate in her small apartment. Right when we got back from dinner though, around 11:30 pm, my cousin got on her iPhone and texted away with her friends. She then told me that she had to go out real quick to meet up with one of her friends for a few minutes, but she will be back shortly. Although I was a little disappointed that she had to leave me, I had been a 21-year-old once, and I knew how important it was to stay in the loop with your friends, so without showing my little shade of sadness, I told her to be safe and to call when she is on her way back. I was watching this gory Korean movie on her computer, and before I knew it it was 12:10 and the last thing on my mind was that I just had turned twenty-freakin-five. Then the door bell rang, and I went downstairs a little bit confused because she had a key to get into her own place. As I opened the door, I was greeted with my 5 foot baby cousin, holding a cake bigger than her with candles lit and a shy smile… then she said.. “Happy Birthday unnie (meaning older sister in Korean)… did you think I’d forget?”
I don’t know if it was the extreme transformation of emotions, or because I was so unexpecting it, or because I was already a little bit shaken up from the gory movie I was watching, but I had to bite my lip so I didn’t completely break down like an emotional fifty-year old going through menopause. Okay, well I did tear up.. a lot. All I knew was that my tears were from a new level of happiness.
My little cousin and I literally grew up together. In Korea, we used to go to the same elementary school, and walked there every day together. Every weekend we played outside with my friends and we used to do everything together. Once I left for the States, one of the things that upset me the most was that I didn’t get to see her everyday. My friends later told me the day after I left for the States, my little cousin, who was in second grade and I was in fifth grade at the time, came to my classroom after school like she did everyday for 2 years to walk home with me. She totally came over to my classroom out of habit, as my friends found her waiting by my classroom asked her… “Yuri left for America… remember?” she bursted into tears and ran home.. without me. She had completely forgotten that I was not there anymore to share the rest of our childhood together.
Uniting with her in a strange place called NYC over a decade later was an experience that we had no specific expectations of.
But that moment, the moment she walked across the town by herself to surprise me on a cold snowy night in New York with a candle lit birthday cake, everything came back – the sisterly bond I haven’t felt in so many years. After I blew out the candles, I did eventually burst into tears of happiness.
Then fast forward to this morning… We both were never morning people, and after snoozing for the 13th time, I finally got out of bed around 11:30 AM (it was set for 9 am). As I slowly started to pack, I realized I hadn’t even cooked her a meal since I have been in NYC to be with her all week. I got to the kitchen and cooked her a small meal. It felt good to feed her before I left. Then I finally packed all my shit, and she walked out with me because she had to go to the store. She got me a cab and we hugged once, threw my luggage in the cab and we both left that moment and place so quick so we wouldn’t cry in front of each other. But I had a stream of tears the rest of my cab ride back to the air port and I know she also did the same thing on the way to the store. I was so confused why I was tearing up… I remember when I used to leave home for college after each summer or winter break, my mom would cry and I thought she was a little cray cray. I thought, why is she crying when I am clearly going to see her soon? It’s not like I am going to war…
But that cab ride made me understand the complex emotions. The thought of leaving her behind on a cold winter day alone in her apartment made me feel so bad. I was also just already missing her. I texted my mom unable to comprehend some of these emotions. She simply said, “it’s because she’s your family.”
Today, I ask each of you to appreciate the unconditional love from your family, or people who have become your family. Not everyone has the luxury of having sisters, brothers, moms, and dads. Sometimes we choose and appoint the ones close to us to fill in those family roles to have a support system, to grow, and to love. That is such a beautiful thing.
Also, when was the last time you had tears of joy or sincere emotions? I realized today that marking those moments when and if you do have those tears of joy and feelings, you understand yourself better because you understand what is truly important in your life. Some of us it might be when you are saying goodbye to your family, some of us when we win an important award or recognition. Reflecting back to those moments help us realize what our values are and what drives us to be better people.
Some people say that they never cry, whether it is from being sad, angry, or happy. Don’t be scared to let those feelings take their course. It is normal, it is human, and it is so necessary to understand ourselves.
I’d like to end this post by sharing one of my favorite excerpts from the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.
“But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.
I thought about how often this was needed in everyday life. How we feel lonely, sometimes to the point of tears, but we don’t let those tears come because we are not supposed to cry. Or how we feel a surge of love for a partner but we don’t say anything because we’re frozen with the fear of what those words might do to the relationship.
Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help. If you let the fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, ‘All right, it’s just fear, I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is.”