The View from Times Square

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
'Times square' photo (c) 2005, Morten Skogly - license:

While most people were rushing to get out of New York City, Dan and I were rushing to get in. 

We were scheduled to appear on The View Monday morning to talk about A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and had lined up multiple media appearances throughout the week, so we changed our flights around and just barely made it into the city on one of the last flights into LaGuardia. 

We connected in Atlanta, and as we dashed up the escalator to catch our flight, we were confronted with a startling sight: A group of emergency personnel were huddled together at the foot of the opposite escalator, appearing to perform chest compressions on someone who had apparently fallen. We got out of the way before we could find out what happened (and I’ve searched the internet to see if there was any news, but nothing appears, which I’m hoping is a good sign), but the sight left us numb and shaky. 

As we waited in line board the plane, Dan looked dazed. 

“One minute all you can think about is catching a flight, and the next you’re confronted with your own mortality,” I said for us both. “One wrong step and…” 

I trailed off, unable to speak. 

A bumpy ride into LaGuardia followed. By the time we got into our cab, the mayor had announced that the entire NYC subway system would be closed at 7 p.m. It seemed unlikely that our interviews would proceed, but we were stuck in the city, with no going back. 

Our room on the 32nd floor of The Millennium Broadway Hotel looked out over Times Square. Flashing ads for Victoria’s Secret and Hershey’s Chocolate reflected in our windows. One by one, producers called to cancel our appearances, and while families across the Northeast crammed as much as they could into suitcases, praying their homes would be there when they returned, I cried like a baby over a single bad review. 

Not once during Hurricane Sandy did we lose power. In fact, Dan and I made the most of Sandy—ordering a bunch of food from the deli across the street, chuckling at the obligatory shots of CNN reporters clinging to telephone poles while shouting through microphones, enjoying some of the only quiet time together we’d had in months. But on Monday night, as the wind picked up and reports of major flooding came rolling in, we were sobered. I’ll never forget looking out the window to see the words “Generators at NYU Hospital fail” slide across the brightly-lit ABC scroll in Times Square. It was no one’s fault, of course, but it just seemed so unfair.  Somehow I could get on the internet, make phone calls, and even order room service, while a mother watched helplessly as her baby’s respirator failed, just blocks away. 

This pattern would repeat itself again and again throughout the week.  We had finally reached release week for A Year of Biblical Womanhood and things felt simultaneously big and small, important and unimportant, profound and shallow. We spent two hours in a car to travel just 20 blocks both ways, only to have the interview cancelled because of an Obama/Christie press conference. We laughed with Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd. We called Dan’s family in New Jersey, and everyone was okay. We gasped at the story of a mother whose two little boys were drug away from her by the rushing water. We complained about my critics and about how we spent too much money on clothes.  We got a taste of Mayor Bloomberg’s “Spanish.” We hung out with friends we hadn’t seen in a while. We watched fires burn and waters rise.  We worried about missed flights and changed plans and the presidential election and shorter-than-planned segments and the homeless guy without a coat and lost internet and that damn rogue crane.  We realized in a way we hadn’t before just how much our sense of control is an illusion. 

Throughout it all, the words of James haunted me:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

At the end of the day, it’s all mist. It’s all fragile and fleeting and destined to pass: the criticism, the praise, the security, the fear, the storms, the camera lights, popularity, obscurity, life, loss, turbulence, traffic, the rising tides, the presidential election, books, beaches, the bright lights of Time’s Square, and even New York City itself. 

If you’ve read A Year of Biblical Womanhood you can guess what words have been running through my head this week: 

Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing:
God alone is enough. 

I whispered these words from Teresa of Avila to myself on the plane during turbulence, in the green room before The View, for the doctors and nurses at NYU Hospital, after getting called a heretic and whore on the Internet, every time I thought about the person at the bottom of that escalator. 

When we finally got home last night, Dan collapsed into the couch and said, “I feel like I just woke up from a dream in which I lived through a hurricane and then got interviewed by Barbara Walters.” 

That about sums it up. 

It’s going to take a while for these two introverts to process what just happened, but I want to thank you all for your encouragement and support. If I know anything, it’s this: Life is short and fragile, and what matters the most is not the books we write or the esteem we garner, but the people we love. I am more grateful than I have ever been for you, for my family, for Dan, for friends, for kind words, and for the gift of life.  

It wasn’t the release week I had planned, and that’s okay. It's the release week I was given, and, like most gifts,  it was more than I deserved. 

To help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, consider donating to The Red Cross or World Vision

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