My sister chose to visit me in New York City on the rainiest, windiest weekend possible. We had no idea we were frolicking around the city in what was essentially Hurricane Ophelia. Thus, we scoured the Internet for indoor activities.
We decided to go to the Oculus in the Financial District because she has never been and I always love going shopping. The Oculus is a crazy-looking modern white building with wings that is also a shopping mall and transportation hub next to the World Trade Center. It’s become an iconic building in New York City, and I was excited to show her around.
At the Oculus, we just strolled around, tested some soap samples, and then finally stumbled across The Strangers Project exhibit, which left us (okay, just me) in tears.
We spent a long time there, reading and taking in so many stories of strangers.
Their stories ranged from cheerful and light-hearted to gut-wrenchingly painful: a mom who was in town to gather the belongings of her daughter who passed after coming to New York to find happiness, a child who was surprised with a bunny after a long day of school, and an ex-frat boy who spends his nights pondering about the moral dichotomy of Greek life and its legacy on American culture.
One of the most popular sentiments scribbled across those pages was a shared feeling of loneliness. One stranger wrote that reading so many stories of people feeling lonely made them feel less lonely and more curious about how we could bring everyone together so we can all feel a little less lonely. If loneliness is such a strongly shared feeling, why does it still exist?
Another common thing that people wrote about was grief — grief in losing people, relationships, pets, etc. These stories were especially powerful. It reminded me to cherish my friends and family and to prioritize my human relationships in every facet.
What struck me was these passages’ honesty, vulnerability, and rawness. Given a blank piece of paper and a promise of anonymity, it was clear that all these strangers were able to express themselves. Even though these passages only showed a sliver of a glimpse into these people’s lives, I experienced an astounding sense of humanity through the pieces of paper on the wall. It served as yet another reminder that everyone is going through their own struggles and to understand the people we interact with because they are people, too.
I’m left feeling really grateful and grounded. Living in New York and the digital age, I struggle with getting swept up in the busyness of life. Coming across exhibits like this, which brings me back to thinking about savoring the human experience as a whole, is incredibly grounding and wonderful.
Definitely check it out if you’re in the city. It’s worth the trip to the Oculus!
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