In Search of a Transformational Experience in the Big Apple: A Monument of the Anxious and the Hopeful

I’m told that September is the best time to visit New York. This year, I just dodged the heat wave by a few days, enjoying the mild perfect autumn weather.

A returnee to New York after all these years, the feeling is familiar yet not exactly the same. Doesn’t quite feel like home but it isn’t foreign either. It’s easy to slip back into the pace of the city, which is not much different from Hong Kong, where I currently reside.

What are the best things to do in the city when you’ve been here many times but still are looking for a transformational experience?

Retracing my steps last Sunday, I found myself at the Rubin Museum in Chelsea. If you aren’t a NYC native (or even if you are), it is unlikely you will know about this gem. During my college years, I spent a summer as an intern here while it was still the newest museum in Manhattan, born out of one man’s collection and love for Himalayan art.

On a raining dreary Sunday last weekend, I ducked in, grateful to have a respite from the incessant rain.

After dropping my baggage at the coat check and handing over a twenty dollar bill, I was admitted inside. The lobby felt intimate, as if entering my own apartment building, with a grand spiral staircase and a skylit oval illuminating the central space.

Taking an elevator straight up to the top floor, I slowly made my way down. The layout of the museum was thoughtful, interspersed with comfortable benches for contemplation.

Connecting the exhibits of each floor with one another was the key theme, “the future is fluid” and the linkage of past, present and future.

While we experience time in specific order, the exhibit challenged the viewer to consider alternatives where time is not chronological — a reality in which past can happen before the future (think The Arrival or Interstellar).

In particular, the exhibition A Monument for the Anxious and the Hopeful made a palpable impact. It struck a cord by magnifying my constant state of worry. It was a relief to know I was not alone in yearning to see what the future holds.

Observing the display close up, you see individual expressions of what people are anxious about on one wall in red. On the adjacent wall, you have what they are hopeful of.

In the way Tibetan prayer flags are individual meditations strung together like a rainbow coloured flag, the exhibition wall is covered in the anxieties and the hope of visitors who have come before me.

Stepping up close and reading each of them opened a door into an introspective world.

In a city that is so densely populated as New York, it is hard to feel alone yet can be difficult to develop genuinely deep connections.

Thanks to the anonymous nature of the installation, the contributions felt written from the heart.

Here are a few, but really worth the view in person.

I am anxious because….

I am hopeful because…

My contributions are the following:

I am anxious about time. Always feeling like I’m running out of it. About being on time. About timing. About having no time.

And I am hopeful because I believe love is stronger than fear. And living water.

My visit to the Rubin left me feeling that despite all our anxieties, there was a an equal or greater amount of hope still.

For further information on planning your own visit:

The Rubin Museum of Art
150 West 17th Street
New York, NY 10011

Curious novice to all things creative. to-do list fanatic. globe-trotter. third culture specimen.

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