This morning I have a memory of New York City and my sister. After I’d lived there for a couple years, she got a teaching job in the Bronx and moved to East Harlem. My memory takes place in her small studio in a walkup building on 3rd Avenue. While I lack any ounce of interior design sense, space organization, and taste for what “looks right” or “goes” together (especially with clothes!), my sister is a master of creating eye-appealing spaces and combinations. In just a few weeks and a shoestring budget, she had her place inhabiting the “cozy” and “chic” camps simultaneously. This memory I’m sitting with today isn’t any sort of monumental milestone or particularly notable activity. What I remember is best summed up as simplicity. After a combination of taking the bus and walking to her apartment, I stood, my face out the window, her light, breezy white curtains rippling along the wide window frame in the gentle summer air. The street below was bustling with cars, pedestrians, and street carts, mostly wafting the aroma of tamales and the joyous sounds of neighbors’ Spanish greetings as they bumped into one another. I drank in the vibrant scene and the surprising freshness of city air, my sister joining me in the window, along with her heavyset, but ever-so-soft cat, Bean. In my memory, nothing else happens. The memory is the moment of simplicity itself: standing side-by-side with my older sister, silently acknowledging to myself the magic of New York, the gift of her presence in the city, and the ties that bonded us.
Although it seems that memory should be categorized as one of little importance because there’s no “action” or describable event, there’s an impactful feeling that rushes back when I mentally put myself back on that Sunday afternoon. It’s a place I go to in my mind when I need to remind myself to take pause and soak in the moment because sometimes the moment drifts away too quickly and is gone before you are ready. Five years from now, this moment—lying on the floor in my little living room, listening to the choir of June morning birds, reminiscing, writing, and thinking—may become one of just as much importance as the August Sunday afternoon in East Harlem with my sister.
Research shows that strength gains or physical growth from exercise come during the rest, and not the work itself. Emotional and spiritual growth seems much the same: it’s not always the big moments that directly change us. Growth also happens from those big moments (and small ones) in the breath, the pause, between. This memory of “nothing” is actually a memory everything that matters and the significance of the seemingly mundane is in fact, the direction that deserves the greatest focus and appreciation.