I am standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway on New Year’s Eve. It is almost 12 noon. In twelve hours the ball will drop one block from here, the iconic symbol of a new year, a new start, a tradition I remember first watching on a black and white 20 inch television screen over fifty years ago.
There are two schools of thought if one should be standing here this day.
One bent comes from one who protects these streets, and has been diligently for the past 72 hours that I have been in this city.
“If you want to be herded in here like cattle, not able to eat, drink or pee for this next 12 hours, then do it. My advice: watch it on TV.”
The other bent stems from those who crowd these streets. Those pulled magnetically to this city of promise and hope for years for the same reason: to leave all behind and to start over in hope, a fresh start. Lady Liberty a few miles down the street has drawn millions to her torch with the same pull, drawing in those who speak Italian and Spanish and Indian and Chinese and Haitian. Those who sell handbags under awnings and 2016 glasses on street corners. Those who get caricatures drawn and wave American flags and take selfies on the corner with the Empire State Building, lit up in its Christmas colors, behind them.
This city, this ball drop has ushered in new hope for decades.
Even though helicopters hover above, barricades block streets, bodies lined ten deep line up to go through security screenings, no bags in hand, this ball will drop. The year’s past shadows will not hinder this light’s descent.
6000 police officers line the blocks, grouped on every corner.
Some revelers are dishing out $50 a ticket from the Comedy Club Central hawking promises of a view, others have dished $5000 for champagne in a penthouse suite to witness this spectacle. Most will wait for the confetti party shoulder to shoulder in the streets right there in the middle of the square.
Naysayers say, “Why would you stand in line for 12 hours to watch a ball drop for 60 seconds. It’s just a ball”.
The one million that gather here say differently. Not just a ball.
A promise of hope.
A promise of a fresh start.
A spirit of courage, despite the terrors of the past year push the masses on from all across the country and the world towards the crystal beacon of a new beginning.
Twelve hours later, we sidestep from our restaurant like Aladdin through city blocks, bodies, and barricades, towards the ball, the epicenter of the new year, where thousands have lined up along the streets that radiate to the center, even blocks away. Our room key to the hotel on the corner is the lucky ticket past the barriers.
On the corner of 41st and 7th, barricades keep the crowds from the intersection where crowds have lined up for hours for the view behind the ball. Sometimes the route to what you want is through the back. Even from backside the crowds stand and push toward the center, for just a glimpse of the crystal ball from any angle.
“Please, please, officer,” begs an Indian man, his family behind him, “please just a few feet more, we just want to see, we just want to see.”
The officer relents a few inches, but as the crowds push in, he stops. “That’s enough,” he says, “I’m trying to be nice, but you keep pushing in!”
In the swarm families and couples huddle together, fathers hold up their children. I hear Italian. I hear Japanese. I hear French. I hand my noisemaker to a little Indian boy wearing a spiderman hat, another NYC symbol. I hear a wife whisper to her husband “It’s ok we’re in the back. This is as close as we are going to get. This is a once in a lifetime thing.”
“Please, please”, the man begs again, “let us get closer.”
“Look up!” I say to him. “It’s right there.”
The 2,688 sparkling waterford crystals of the ball shine towering two blocks above us, and to a throng of shouts its multicolor facets begin its descent.
The crystal ball drops, and fireworks usher in the new year. The Behind the Scenes crowd doesn’t see the flashing signs, but from the fireworks and cheers we know the new year has begun. The policemen who themselves were enthralled by the spectacle now remove the barriers and let the crowds into the streets. 2016 is here.
Hours later we ascend to the highest point in NYC, the One World Observatory, where, 104 floors up we catch a different perspective of Times Square and all the iconic points of New York City.
Familiar outlines lay before me from this height, yet my eyes are drawn to one place below the foot of the tower. It is the square of the green around of St. Paul’s Chapel. the church where not one window was broken the day the Twin Towers fell, protected by an old sycamore tree in the cemetery. The chapel that served as a sanctuary for recovery workers after 9/11. The chapel that serves as a memorial of photos and police and fire insignias. The chapel that survived the Great Fire of 1776.
Surrounding this small chapel are the signs of fresh starts and new beginning. The skeleton of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Oculus, rises at the corner.
The squares of the two Memorial Fountains that commemorate the towers of the World Trade Center lay distinctly below.
I descend to the south tower fountain. A white rose marks a name. A white rose, a symbol of remembrance and new beginnings. Somber reminders of loss and pain and destruction are beneath every footstep on these grounds. Standing here on this New Year’s Day of 2016 testifies what can be made new from the ashes of suffering.
“Suffering shakes us to the core…leaves you vulnerable and exposed….gives you a sense of your own limitations…In this new year we look back on what has shaped us, we look forward to what is ahead, we look up for strength and guidance, and we look down to examine our own hearts….”
In the quiet pew of Redeemer Church two days later these words are spoken into the tranquil sanctuary.
Outside these walls, down the streets this city continues its pace into the new year.
The sky is blue and crisp and fresh this Sunday morning. Sunlight casts golden on brownstones and barren trees.
Across the street Central Park is bathed in this light. Only a few days ago, my son asked his lovely girlfriend to be his wife on the terrace of Bethesda Fountain.
The other day in Chelsea Market she found a photograph of the fountain taken on a winter day in the 1930’s. “Did you know the story behind this fountain?” she asks me with her beautiful smile. “The Bethesda Fountain is named for the pool in the Bible where people came to be healed.”
Healing. Restoration. New beginnings.
As my flight ascends into the night sky that evening the places trodden these few days outline below me……Times Square, Central Park, and at the tip of the peninsula, the One World Tower. Barely perceptible in the shadow of the bay is a faint figure. The Statue of Liberty.
Her torch of hope a speck of light shining in the darkness.
Photo credits: Daniel Mogg, Vina Mogg