A few hours ago I stood at the first floor indoor balcony of “The Shops” at the Time Warner complex, “Jingle Bells” playing softly in the background, and stared at the commotion on the street below. The traffic circle and the whole street was awash in red, white, and blue. Not of flags, but in emergency vehicles.
Behind me the shopping center continued its pre-holiday buzz, filled with the distinct hubbub of people at the ceremony of gawk and point, browse and purchase. The mall was festive. Large ornamental decorations hung from the ceiling, and the balcony’s railing attracted a steady stream of visitors keen to capture a photo for immediate uploading into social media. It was a lovely spot to take a photo in, and yet it surprised me how many of the people who approached the banister seemed not to register the events that were taking place right outside the very windows that framed their shot.
It was impossible to miss.
Or was it?
Perhaps the tourists, energetically set to mingle with the locals, assumed that a constant whine of fire-engines, ambulances, and NYPD in a mass of first responders’ flicker is part of everyday in New York City. And perhaps in many ways it indeed is … and I am the one inured to an ongoing level of it. Perhaps where the quantity outside had, for me, somehow shifted qualitatively from the mundane to the attention-getting … the flickering outside had long surpassed the visitors’ threshold and had moved them beyond a place of response …
I considered how this was representative of the way in which, in general, once a “Too-Much” level for something is reached, a further increase in magnitude of too-muchness can paradoxically fade into the woodwork, swallowed by saturation.
A gaggle of teens passed by me, loudly debating the level of celebrity of some pop artist and the likelihood of her responding to a social media message. I found myself thinking of how an aspiring celebrity’s fan mail may be eagerly read when it first comes, every letter representing an individual … but might turn into a mass measured by boxes or at most a quick count of envelopes by the time fan mail becomes too numerous to actually read. One would have to pull out a single letter from the avalanche in order to rediscover the real person who’d placed a bit of themselves into the message. Otherwise, the very same person’s letter would remain as unseen as the rest.
It was the way so many other things — or at the very least the individuality of them — became meaningless when turned to be too many to count or attend to.
A stubborn blare of a siren jarred me out of my reverie and I returned my eyes to the scene outside the window. A ladder was raised to a high floor on one of the ornamental buildings on the exclusive street ahead. As far as the eye could see, Central Park South was brighter and more colorful than the lights around a tree.
Smoke billowed. It was a different kind of column than the one exuded by steam vents in the streets or steam stacks in the roofs of buildings. Fire.
Someone’s home. Someone’s belongings. Someone’s person could be at the mercy of the flames, tittering between existing and being devoured. The safety of the emergency personnel, too.
In this city of millions, it was all of it real. It was all individually significant in its own way.
“Keep safe,” I breathed. “May whatever this is, not completely mar your day.”
[Click for a Citizen App video of today at that time. Thankfully, all are safe.]