Still in Central Park

Apr 21, 2010 |Nathan Zacharias

I woke up wishing that there were something in my heart that could provide emotional refuge in the same way the Park provides a physical refuge.  

I've dreamt of living in New York since I was about 14 years old. And now I'm here.

There are many days where it still feels surreal. A part of me wondered if the city would feel different once I was here and if it would still have the same appeal. Certainly there are some things that feel different now. For one thing, I now try and avoid walking through Times Square like the plague. It's not that it's less awe-inspiring, it's just that the challenge of crowd surfing just to get from one block to the next is slightly less appealing.

But there are many parts of the city that I still enjoy just as much, and one of those is Central Park. No matter what time of year it is, each season highlights a new and equally gripping charm. I went there after a heavy snowfall this winter just to walk around and take some pictures.

I entered at Columbus Circle and walked past the row of "rickshaws" lined up and ready to go. They were prepared with cozy blankets but being particularly cold that day, many of them were probably going to go unused. But it was a picturesque sight nevertheless.

From there I walked through the winding path and just took in the sights around me. Horse-drawn carriages, cyclists, and joggers passed me on one of the main roads. In a more open field a couple played with their dog and watched it run back and forth between them.

A few steps later I saw a father playing with his two daughters in the snow. They were working on a fort. I miss the days of making a fort. Actually I miss the days where snow felt more like a new toy than it did a weather system. After the family I came across a snow sculpture. This one was pretty creative as it wasn't your typical snow man. It was a snow dog ... complete with a collar made out of small rocks.

From there I walked to the tree-lined mall and saw the sculptures that make up the Literary Walk. The snow had collected on their shoulders, but they were still just as inspiring as always.

I walked from the mall to Bethesda Fountain. Under the bridge right by the fountain was a saxophone player. A group of us just stood by him for a while and enjoyed the music.

And then I sat for a while and just thought to myself. I thought back to the times I had been to the park before and with whom I had been there. A feeling of sadness made my heart beat a little faster. Memories are great when you feel like they're still connected to your current life. It's the ones that are truly stuck in the past that can often be difficult. But confronting them and moving past them is a part of healing and a part of life, and that's partly why I was there that day.

I thought about my family. I thought about my friendships, the new ones I've made and the old ones who still stand by me each and every day. I thought about my career, the steps I've taken and the dreams I want to pursue. Through all this a group of birds stayed perched atop the Angel in the fountain, almost as if they were keeping me company. And the music of the sax player kept going, providing a relaxing soundtrack to the afternoon.

After staying there for a little while longer, I put my iPod headphones back in and walked to the subway.

The whole experience proved to be very therapeutic that day. There's something very striking about that park. There in the middle of the concrete jungle is a sprawling piece of land filled with fields, lakes, and trails. And within its boundaries lies a place of relaxation and almost a kind of solitude, even on its busiest day. As much fun as New York is, this park allows you to take a break from the distractions and enjoy the quieter things in life.

Life can be noisy. The pace, the goals, the dreams, the pains, and even the joys often get me so distracted that there's little time for peace. The next day I woke up and found myself wishing that there were something in my heart that could provide emotional refuge in the same way the Park provides a physical refuge from the city.

Every day I write from the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, but that day I decided to stop by St. Patrick's Cathedral first. There is something about the old Cathedrals that still provides a sense of inspiration and reverence. So I decided to go just so I could sit in one of the pews and pray.

When I walked in I realized they were doing their noon service. I decided to stay and listen, and within minutes of taking my seat they read the Scripture for the day. The passage was Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

There was my refuge. There was the reminder I needed of where my heart can take shelter in the midst of this earthly life. There was the truth that God's park is way bigger than New York's.

As I sat down to write this article, I put my iTunes on shuffle and let it play away. Half way through the article, an instrumental version of one of my favorite songs came on. It was perfect for what I was writing about, and as such, seems like a perfect way to end this article.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice
Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

Copyright 2010 Nathan Zacharias. All rights reserved.

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