People say that children are happiness, but friends are a close second. Michaela was in town this weekend despite her constant hatred of the city. A friend of hers lives here and was soon to depart for New England for the Christmas season: she and said friend are intimate and sought to see each other, being so long separated by Michaela’s travels abroad. So I decided to meet with here in the late afternoon in Washington Square Park, where a crowd of young people were gathered around a man playing a piano. Luck had it he was playing Philip Glass: a favorite of Michaela’s and a wink at our Alma Mater. I watched for Michaela as the notes resounded against a winter’s backdrop of cloud-spangled blue sky: the sun was golden and it was one of those rare moments of beauty not mediated through a screen. I looked around me and found the faces of the crowd fixed on the piano player: I felt as if I were in school again, surrounded by people filled with hope and emotion while I too existed in anticipation.
Michaela’s face appeared among the others at last, and I circled around to reach her. She cried out in happiness when she turned to see me and we embraced to both attend the music. The pianist was talking about how the next moments were to be only of joy, only of positivity: some members of the crowd closed their eyes – and it was gone. Michaela took out her wallet and we reached back to mundane, she noting this donation and the rarity of it. We walked away quickly, both cold.
After circling the park we started to criss-cross the neighborhood through its restaurant-lined streets and decided to settle in a cafe for some time. Michaela bought me a coffee, stepping in when I was to pay, which was unexpected and quite kind of her. We sat in the corner of the small shop and spoke at length in the same conversations I will always want to record. “We have beautiful conversations,” she would say towards the end of it, and I suspected that was the case.
Michaela lives in India: she tells me about her work as a content producer of sorts. She has worked for Groupon, which is a good gig, she notes; Marriott Travel, and currently is working to write book summaries. Her work is entirely freelance; when I asked about how she files her tax returns, she laughed. She dreams of writing a novel and being a journalist. I say her current work is not entirely divorced from that dream, though she seemed not convinced. We don’t really have an agenda, per se, when we talk: conversation is quite abundant, and there is sparse any lack of words between us. We talk about our relationships with our family, our relationships with peers, our relationship with the past. We all love to dream about the past, but she puts her foot down and says it foolhardy to have our hearts stuck there. We are only shorting ourselves by doing so. Why should we not, she says, in moment of earnestness somewhat striking for the sardonic Michaela, use these moments for personal empowerment? Why must we retell our entire past – good and bad – to strangers when it can sound like a sob story? She says new people are like new apartments: you can leave behind certain things each time you move. You can choose what to bring to each novelty.
That is what faith is, she says; the belief that things are going to get better. She says it takes courage to have faith, to believe in this risk that is the present and the future. I ask her whence one achieves this future, which I have thrown from the window of a speeding vehicle. She pauses, but I pick it up: taking heart perhaps is finding it in someone or something you love. I ask whom she admires. She cites the friend she just found: their dream to be a historian snatched away from them, they did not cow down, move to the haven of home and spend years lamenting; they “sucked it up,” made a decision and went with it. The life they are living now, she says, could be turned into an unhappy story of unfulfillment: but the friend believes they are working towards something, and they did not throw away their faith.
Into this conversation is lobbed the thought that this mindset seems to Michaela almost aristocratic, and I concur. Wealth plays a big part in shaping one’s mindset: what one can and cannot do. Michaela reassures me, and partially herself, when reiterating that our school has connections and she has wealthy friends. This is, she supposes, if in case she needs to be bailed out or have money lent to her. But that this would figure into her equation was odd.