Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Stuck in Paradise

My Sunday morning routine always starts with coffee on my back patio. Because of the consistency of Florida weather, this is a ritual I enjoy year round. However, this past Sunday, as I stared into the abyss of palm trees obstructing my view of the sky, I started thinking about the relativity of beauty.

Being a New Jersey native, my version of beauty may be somewhat skewed. Growing up fifteen minutes away from one of the most influential cities in the world was definitely a perk. As a teenager, the epitome of freedom was cutting class to hang out in “the village” with only five dollars of lunch money in my pocket, hoping desperately that I didn’t get too swept away by what New York City had to offer, and wondering if I would be able to make it back home by the time school let out. By my early twenties, I embraced my obvious crush on the Big Apple by spending as much time there as humanly possible.

And then I got married…and had children.

My love for the city was instantly overshadowed, and eventually became a liability. While I knew how much the tri-state area had to offer my children in the future, my concern came from what I witnessed in other children while living there, which was that city kids simply grow up too fast. Above everything else, I didn’t want to cut my kids’ childhoods short. So, here I am, years later, living in Florida, where my twelve-year-old daughter is still interested in toys rather than make-up and thinks boys have the cooties, and my nine-year-old daughter still believes in Santa, the Easter bunny and fairies. Moving here accomplished everything I wanted…for them. But for me? I’m stuck in paradise.

Most people come to Florida to get away from it all. The lure of swaying palm trees, sunshine and Mickey Mouse offers peace, warmth and fun. When the Orlando airport doors swing open, vacationers eagerly welcome the staggering humidity that slaps them in the face as they draw their first breaths. They find beauty here, even if it’s just for a week.

And I get it. But let’s not forget that beauty is relative, and for me, it doesn’t include palm trees and beaches. That kind of beauty, that is so apparent to everyone else, is completely wasted on me. Sure, I’ve vacationed in some “island-y” places, but lying on a beach in the sweltering sun, trying to keep my sunglasses from sliding down my sweaty face, trusting my sunblock to not make my already-dark-skin darker, was never a treat for me. None of those island vacations screamed beauty to me. If anything, they left me bored and slightly agitated.

My agitation continued upon moving here, when I learned that the running joke was, "Florida is where you come to vacation, retire or die.” Although it got a chuckle from me the first few times I heard it, this particular joke had a bit too much truth to it. It made my inner child whine, “I want to go home!” And by home, I am, of course, referring to New York City.

For me, beauty is the music coming from the guitar of a man sitting on the mucky subway floor, hoping that his song will encourage me to drop my dollar bill into his beat up guitar case; it’s ducking into my favorite pizza place on Broadway to “grab a slice”; it’s hearing a man’s whistle, while watching his arm extend outward, expecting a cab to stop immediately to rush him off to his next appointment; it’s the hustle and bustle of Times Square mixed with the peace and tranquility of Central Park; it’s witnessing how much life is crammed into these overcrowded spaces. This is the version of beauty I understand. Despite the clich├ęd smog, dirt and grime associated with the city, it is the only place where I can breathe. You see, for me, beauty is not necessarily beautiful.

But trading skyscrapers for palm trees has shown me that if I truly wanted to find my personal definition of beauty, I had to start by looking deeper than the picturesque views of seagulls on the beach, or the memory of Manhattan’s magnificent skyline. Living in both places has taught me that beauty is not what I see, but rather, what I feel. Beauty is whatever makes my heart beat faster.

Beauty is what makes a person feel alive.

And although my current zip code is missing the palpable energy of New York, each time I walk through the door and see my daughters and my husband, the flutter of excitement I feel on the inside is a constant reminder that, no matter where I am, my heart will always find the beauty that will lead me home.