Looking Past the Skyline | My Family Travels

We walked nine miles in one day.

It’s a statement that perfectly describes New York City: fast-paced, sprawling, and exhilarating. And my trip to the metropolis was all of that and then some – the journey of a lifetime.

Our first tourist stop was Central Park. I expected to dread the popular destination; why would anyone enjoy staring at trees and grass and dirt for hours on end? Coming from the suburbs of Dallas, I wasn’t a stranger to nature, but I have to confess: I was wrong about Central Park.

As my footsteps crossed its threshold, my world shifted. Tree branches stirred in the wind, scratching each other with wooden fingertips and nails while elegant toy boats lethargically skimmed the surface of the park’s pond. There was a rustic quality to the air, like the energy of the bustling cityscape around it couldn’t seep into the park. My family spent hours in the park, drinking organic lemonade from Le Pain Quotidian and eating orange popsicles from a local vendor. Central Park was like a hidden pocket in the universe – its own world.

And I was over the moon.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at Benihana, a highly acclaimed hibachi chain that served Japanese dishes. New York is the place to create novel experiences, and so we decided to pull the trigger.

And we didn’t regret it one bit.

A theatrical chef grilled our food tableside, flipping shrimp tails into his hat and building a volcano from onion rings. We laughed and clapped and cheered as he fried rice on a stovetop and cut chicken with surgical precision. It was art – truly extraordinary.

Over the next few days, we visited the staples of the city: The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Wall Street Bull, but I didn’t personally connect with any of them. It all seemed like a mere checkmark on a tourist’s list, like a chore or an obligation. It wasn’t the mainstay attractions that filled me with emotion; rather, it was beyond the tapered skyscrapers, past the glossy veneer of the megacity, that I discovered the true beauty of New York City.

And it was in front of an H&M in Times Square that I found the city’s hidden gold. While my dad and sister were shopping in the store, I waited outside with my mom. There was a homeless woman sitting at the corner of the street, caressing her dog. Her face was lined with the strain of living on the streets, but heat moved in her eyes, filling her with an energy that defied description.

As I watched her with sympathy, the generous owner of a street vendor walked up to her, handing her a warm hot dog. Without a flash of hesitation, the first thing she did was offer it to her pet.

And my heart melted away like snow in the summer. For the first time in years, my eyes moistened with tears, warmth spreading in my chest. That simple act of unconditional love shattered me. Despite her misfortune, compassion continued to live and breathe inside her.

On that trip, I learned that it isn’t always the famous sites that bring the greatest personal satisfaction. Oftentimes, it’s the little things that mean the most, like the color of the sky or the hum in the air or the smell of roadside shish kabobs.

Or even a woman’s love for her dog.

So, here’s a tip: look past the skyline. Pull away the curtain. Read between the lines.

And I promise you’ll find the crown jewels of the world.

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