There’s a reason the night sky plays such an active role in nearly every culture dating back millennia. It is our tether to the scope of everything. Without the stars, we lose our footing and forget that we are, in fact, part of something vast and glorious and, well, magical.
When we look for meaning, it’s not just about understanding why we’re here, in the very practical sense of why consciousness exists. It’s also about feeling a part of something, a great human tableau that seems to have a collective soul of its own.
We matter, just for the simple reason that we exist alongside each other, and here are some places in the city that help remind us of that.
Central Park bench plaques: When I need to feel especially attuned to cosmic interconnectedness, I trudge to Central Park and take my time strolling around and reading the plaques attached to the benches. As I’ve mentioned before, these plaques are used as a fundraiser, and at $10,000 a piece they endow the important work of the Central Park Conservancy. More than 4,100 plaques have been added to 9,000 of the park’s benches. The inscribed messages range from marriage proposals to thoughtful obituaries to musings on the beauty of the park. Each is a tiny but intimate window into the life of a New Yorker or New York lover. I’m usually in tears a few plaques in. (There are lots of obits.) Pro tip: Go now, when you’ll have plenty of empty benches to peruse, as opposed to in summer, when they’re all full of weary park goers.
Chuck Close subway mosaics: Art can make us feel spiritually fulfilled. Something about the way in which it captures us—our moods, our moments, our likeness—and reflects it all back in a way that makes things a tad more comprehendible. Recently, one of the installations that moved me most was not in a museum. It was public art, part of the 86th station on the newly opened 2nd Avenue subway. The station is filled with 12 large-scale Chuck Close mosaic portraits in a variety of styles, featuring tiny glass pieces, large painted tile, realistic rendering, Close’s signature circle mosaics and more. The massive scale makes each portrait especially poignant.
Scales of the Universe exhibit: I’m of two minds about the universe and how its scope relates to our own philosophy of relevance. On the one hand, it seems we matter less if we’re so infinitesimally small in relation to what’s out there. On the other hand, we have the power to learn and understand the “bigness” of what’s out there, so maybe we really do matter after all. Come face to face with these grand questions inside the striking Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. The Scales of the Universe exhibit circles the Planetarium, using the sphere as a scale of reference for the macro and micro measurements of our world. It starts as a representation of the observable universe and ends as a representation of rhinovirus, so you can try to understand both the universe’s enormous expanse as well as its precision.
Sunset Park overlook: There are boastful views. You know the kind. They’re grand, and they know they’re grand. These include views from places like Top of the Rock and One World Observatory. Sometimes, though, it’s more low-key perches that invite a literal and figurative change in perspective. Take this view of Manhattan from Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. It feels almost like a discovery, like you’re one of the few people who’ve come upon it. The unexpectedness of it makes it that much more impactful. In a way, it’s a subtle reminder of the power of a different angle.
Lady M crêpe cake: Some people say that the meaning of life can’t be found on a plate. To these people, I say: you haven’t had Lady M’s signature crêpe cake. There’s no way for me to praise this dessert without coming off as melodramatic. It is a soft, delicate flower after a warm, spring rain. It is a first kiss with your first crush. It is the reason why the universe exists. Wait, did I go too far there? Excuse my sensationalism, I was mid-bite. This dessert’s perfection stems from its simplicity—20 thin crêpes, delicate cream, a crème brûléed top. It’ll help make you a believer.