Twenty-two minutes. That is how long it would take me to walk from my office to Grand Central Station and get an aisle seat on the train home. Three minutes longer and I would be forced to sit in the dreaded middle seat of a three-seater, having suffered through the rolling eyes of the passengers on the book ends of that seat. Four minutes longer and I would be across from the train restroom that would smell like a port-a-potty at a sporting event on a hot summer day. Five minutes longer and I would miss my train entirely which would result in 20-30 minutes less with my kids, potentially halving the time I would get to spend with them that night.
Twenty-two minutes allowed for a limited amount of brisk walking obstacles: two to three red lights, up to two tourist couples or families who were walking slow, and no more than one commotion in which people gathered forcing me to navigate through a crowd. Any more time sinks and I would end up sitting between two annoyed people, smelling the rancid odor of the train toilet or watching the train pulling out of the station without me.
Everything I saw on the way to Grand Central Station was converted to minutes:
- The Rockefeller Christmas Tree: 5 minutes to navigate the crowd
- Police barricades protecting a building: 3 minutes to cross the street and then cross back to remain on the fastest path to the train station
- People taking pictures in the middle of the sidewalk: up to 2 minutes to wait for the picture to be taken or to go around them without photo-bombing the scene
- Apple’s newest product release: 3 minutes to walk the curb of the sidewalk crowded with those waiting in line at the flagship Apple Store, slowing my brisk walk to an irritating balancing act
Anyone walking in front of me was measured in minutes: how long until I can pass them and continue my long strides to my destination? One red light over my limit and I would cross the street anyway, staring down a cab, daring the driver to not slow down (Note: don’t try this in London as those cabs will hit you).
Once I stopped working in New York City, those stressful walks stopped as well. I did not realize how stressful those walks were until just last month when I went into the city to meet with friends for dinner. I arrived at Grand Central 35 minutes before we were due to meet, so decided to walk to the restaurant which was about 20 blocks away — about a 20 minute walk if I maintained my usual brisk pace.
One block in, I found myself in front of the New York Public Library. I was struck by the two stone lions at each side of the staircase to the main building. I had looked at these statues hundreds of times but had never really seen them. They now appeared so impressive, so imposing. How had I not appreciated the endless marble and stone bricks of this magnificent building before today? I looked at the people sitting on the grand steps leading to the entrance, enjoying the setting sun and each other’s company, some with iced drinks to cool them from the heat and humidity still lingering in the early evening.
As I continued my walk, I saw a very pregnant woman crying behind her huge sunglasses and I felt deep compassion for her. I wanted to approach her and tell her everything was going to be OK, but I saw that her sorrow was personal and private, and a stranger walking up to her would likely upset her even more.
I noticed a photographer sneaking a picture of a sleeping homeless man and wondered about the emotions the image would capture and portray to others.
The person gesticulating wildly as he spoke to someone on the phone made me smile in amusement, but I felt badly for the person on the receiving end of his rant who clearly did not know how to use the advanced features of Microsoft Excel.
I admired two gorgeous women dressed in intensely vibrant colors with their hair styled in endless braids and woven colorful beads, cascading over their shoulders and down their backs. Their beauty was so striking it radiated throughout the street.
The two people I saw flagging down the same cab, offering it to the other, then deciding to share it, strengthened my faith in humanity.
I heard before I saw a man sitting on a piece of cardboard screaming about Jesus and I choked up when a young man gave him a sandwich which transformed the man’s screaming into a glowing smile.
I was mesmerized by a woman with huge red Beats on her ears singing loudly. She was a tad pitchy, but her joy and abandon made her voice sound beautiful.
I noticed that a woman walking towards me was wearing the same exact dress as I was. Her designer shoes made it nearly impossible to navigate the streets filled with subway grates and cracks. I wanted to provide her a few band-aides that I knew she would be longing for after the blisters from those shoes made walking even more painful. But I was not sure how she would react to the twinsy-dress situation so I let her pass without interruption.
Just before I got to the restaurant, I came upon a couple holding hands, strolling in front of me, enjoying the sights and their togetherness. And rather than think about how I could pass them within a minute, I thought about my husband and how we needed to hold hands and stroll like that more often.
As I turned down the street to where my dinner companions would be meeting me, I realized what I had achieved during my glorious walk to the restaurant. My walk was filled with moments, not minutes. Not once did I think who or what was adding minutes to my trek. Each block I walked, I was in the present, in the moment, enjoying strangers who evoked a range of emotions.
My minutes became moments during that walk, and I was truly grateful.