There are few less Shabbat-like places on earth than the middle of Times Square at rush hour-- which is where I spent part of this past Shabbat.
It was a surreal few minutes. This Friday was my dear friend R.'s birthday, and she wanted to celebrate after work at a midtown restaurant. I usually don't take the subway on Shabbat, although will go out to dinner, discreetly. I try to stay away from crowds, noise, reminders of the real world. As much as possible, I build a 25-hour cocoon in the middle of Manhattan.
I went to the meditation service beforehand, which this evening was particularly contemplative. We sat in silence and pondered deep thoughts; afterwards I felt as if I had gone through the spin cycle and emerged clean and limp. I wanted to float away, but instead boarded the downtown local and emerged at 42nd and Seventh with two long blocks to walk before reaching the relative refuge of Bryant Park.
The sounds and rhythms of New York City are in my blood, and I need them as much as my blood. I know all the tricks of navigating a sidewalk teeming with tourists and teenagers, and remember when 42nd St. was like Beirut. Now it's pink and green instead of grainy greyscale, but is still insane and doesn't bother me one bit. I find it kind of beautiful, in fact. I recognized all the usual characters--kids holding hands and eating gyros, families with cameras bumping into cold-faced men with their heads down and young women in short skirts running to make the curtain--but tonight the action seemed to be on the other side of a thick, glass, towering Wall of Shabbat. I watched the chaos through glare, contrast turned all the way up; it hurt my eyes, but I didn't mind. I was invincible, full of peace, able to brush aside the hard light and traffic noise like weightless, falling leaves.
I was exhausted when I got back home, worn out from ten minutes of intensely mindful walking down the street. I now knew, without a doubt, that I could tap into the river of Shabbat whenever I needed. I felt like l had renewed a covenant, both sides promising peace and safety forever and ever.