May I Tell You About My Day Yesterday?

Because it was a good one.

I’m just a guy.

White, 30-something, married a few years, work in advertising, live in Hoboken, NJ.

On a normal Sunday, I would be watching eleven consecutive hours of football and refreshing my fantasy app to watch the little numbers turn green, and hope they don’t turn red.

Yesterday was not a normal Sunday. I woke up with a desire to get up and go to New York City and to be present. I had no expectations; I knew most of the raucous partying had happened the day before. In fact, I didn’t know what I was looking for, I just knew I wasn’t going to find it on my couch, staring at multiple screens all day. I recruited my brother to join my wife and me in Washington Square Park. I thought of where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be there with, and I made it happen.

We left our apartment and walked to the PATH station around noon. I had a funny feeling when the train pulled up to the platform. For six years, I had ridden the PATH twice a day, five days a week to get to my office in the city. There was nothing remarkable or exciting about it. But yesterday, the train felt nostalgic. After eight months of not taking the PATH train once, the experience felt charming, and the ride flew by while my wife and I discussed our plans for Thanksgiving.

We got off at 9th street station and walked towards Fifth Avenue on our way to the park. As we walked, we marveled at the incredible brown stone apartments that were way out of our price range. We could hear someone blaring Frank Sinatra from the rooftops. A homeless man told us that the “babies are all medicated. They are so bored that they want to murder their parents.” For the first time in years, it felt like New York City again.

We approached Washington Square Park from Fifth avenue, passing under the arch. A man was playing piano. A group of people were standing around from a safe distance, dancing and swaying and enjoying the tunes. An elderly man was sitting next to the piano on his walker, and he periodically got up to lead by example and dance as well. My wife and I chose a spot on a bench near the fountain where we could listen to the music. We sat down and soaked in the sun, among Americans being Americans. Some were sitting and talking, some were dancing, some were throwing around a ball, some were painting. I was struck by the same feeling I got when I traveled to foreign cities, marveling in the details and the surroundings that the locals seemed to rush through and take for granted.

I broke down and cried.

After four years, I didn’t realize that it was possible for me to feel as happy and hopeful again as I did in that moment. I saw opportunity all around me. I saw a diverse array of experiences and perspectives and stories, all of whom were able to impart singular, irreplaceable wisdom on me. All I had to do was listen.

My brother joined us a little later. My brother has diabetes and has been cautious over the past eight months about socializing in person. He lives with his boyfriend two rivers away from us in Brooklyn (a seemingly short distance that is daunting to most New Yorkers), and we had not been able to see him nearly as much as we would like recently. My wife and my brother have a beautiful relationship. Relief washed over all of us. We caught up with him and laughed fully until the sun wore us down and we decided to switch up the tunes in a shadier spot.

Only a short distance away in the park was another bench under some tree cover within range of a brass band. They were playing joyful noise. A pug walked up to me for scratches and jumped into my lap. His name was Moe. His mom was Australian. Two elderly women danced by us, one of them was wearing a red souvenir hat with USA across the front. I joked to them, “make red hats wearable again!” They laughed and agreed. One of the women paused and chatted with us for a moment. She said that she had never in her life seen such an overwhelmingly joyous response to a Presidential election outcome. Her perspective was refreshing. This moment didn’t just feel different, it was different. She had the experience to confirm my hypothesis. All I had to do was listen.

After a few songs, we decided to move to a quieter location, and all agreed it would be fun to walk to the Southwest corner of the park to watch some chess. We posted up next to a game, and it was clear to see it was a one-sided match. The man who was winning introduced himself to me as Nashan and told me I was next (he saw me coming from a mile away). I’m ok at chess. My grandpa taught me when I was very young, but I have not played as much as I’d liked to over the past decade. Once the prior game wrapped up, I took my seat and Nashan said there is a traditional five-dollar donation to the winner. He asked me what color I’d like to play. Rather than choose, I picked up a white pawn and a black pawn and held them behind my back. He chose my left hand; I revealed the black piece. My turn.

Nashan took me to school. I was rusty, but it wouldn’t have mattered. This was a different game than I had ever played with my Grandpa. My opening moves were rigid and aimless. His were fluid and flexible. The speed was jarring. I was not seeing the board well. Nashan quickly imposed his will and made me play a defensive, reactive game. I made a handful of moves that made him lean in, but it was too little, too late. I had spent too much time thinking about my moves and had less than ten seconds on my clock. But at some point during the match, without me even realizing, he had stopped pressing his clock to give me more time.

His game was beautiful. Mine was humbling.

Nashan and I talked during the game. He told me why he was making specific moves and what I could have done differently. He told me how he thinks the game, what he sees, how he plans ahead, how he uses all 16 pieces as one unit. He pointed out where Bobby Fischer used to sit. He told me about the man who taught him, Harry. He told me about how he applies the lessons he’s learned from chess to the rest of his life. He didn’t have to share any of this with me, but he did. He provided insight and perspective that changed the way I will approach the game. I have no doubt that our conversation will color the lens through which I see the world going forward as well. And all I had to do was listen.

After I had laid down my King and made my donation, Nashan and I shook hands and said goodbye. My wife and my brother had been kind enough to give me the time and space to play the game they know I love, and it was time for my brother to go to work, so we said our goodbyes as well. Then it was back to Hoboken.

A month ago, my wife and I made a list of non-screen activities we could do over the winter. We recognized how easy it was to simply move from the laptop at the dining room table to the couch and the TV once six o’clock rolls around. We are making a concerted effort to change those habits. The item on my list that I am most excited about is teaching my wife how to play chess. When we arrived home, we opened our board for the very first time and I began teaching her how to play. She doesn’t know how all the pieces move yet, but she has an incredible analytical and strategic mind, and I can already tell she is going to be as good as she has the patience to be. After two games, we put the board away and I did manage to watch some football. My fantasy team is going to lose by 30 points this week.

Yesterday was one of the most emotional, stimulating, awe-inspiring days of my life, and it started because I decided to walk out my front door. I was able to spend time in a beautiful space where remarkable people were generously sharing their unique gifts. And for the first time in years, I felt that I was allowed to love my country again. This is a massive relief for me, because I absolutely love my country.

Yesterday was a gift.

And I will not mince my words: It was a gift that I whole-heartedly attribute to women of color.

I’m providing the details of my day because I wanted to share with you how your actions have impacted me so profoundly. And I’m just a white guy. I, frankly, have not done enough for you to earn the gift of the past 24 hours that you have bestowed on me.

So please accept this testament of a regular day from a regular guy as my thank you note:

To all the incredible, strong black and brown women who organized and mobilized and saved our country from the brink of chaos and our planet from the brink of collapse –

We don’t deserve you. I will cherish the memory of November, 8th 2020 for the rest of my life. I will hold it dearly and allow it to help unpack my prejudices and inform my decisions. I will never forget who spoke loudest when it mattered most. I want you to feel the same way about our country as you made me feel yesterday, and I intend to keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities to do so.

I promise to listen.

Author’s note: I listened to Stacey Abrams when she said to donate to to support Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in their Senate Runoff races in January. Please do the same if you are so inclined.

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