The Certainty of Others

The other day I walked through Washington Square Park in the late afternoon. Three different bands were competing for passersby’s attention, canoodling lovers canoodled, dogs did their doggy thing and were interested in other dogs, and in the middle of it all, a couple of NYU students led a tour of parents and prospective students.

“The reason I chose NYU is because…” and then the young woman was entirely drowned out by the saxophonist and snare drummer hoot-a-tooting and rap-a-tapping immediately behind her.

It was obviously planned to go down that way, roughly if not exactly. The admissions office understood that this, this buzzing bustling confusion of the City, was why one chose New York, and why one would choose NYU. As Walt Whitman put it about New York,

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose;
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the day;
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme—myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme:
The similitudes of the past, and those of the future;
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings—on the walk in the street, and the passage over the river;
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me far away;
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them;
The certainty of others—the life, love, sight, hearing of others.

I’ve known enough people who’ve gone to NYU to know that “the certainty of others- the life, love, sight, hearing of others” isn’t always enough to justify the price tag when they drop your financial aid package after the first year. But it is interesting that our desire to have others always close around us, to be amid the Metropole, seems to have increased in recent years, perhaps no doubt because many cities are safer than they used to be, but also because as we escape into electronics and withdraw from other kinds of bonds, the sight and sounds of other people are all the more required in recompense.

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