On the rare occasions that sweet tea appears on a menu, it is a lie. Feeling at home in New York is taking longer than I had hoped. I recently moved from Atlanta to Brooklyn. I have a long way to go to be a real New Yorker.
I need to ride the subway without repeatedly looking at the map to make sure the train is still headed in the right direction.
I need to go a day without consulting my GPS.
I need to go into a grocery store and think, “That’s a reasonable price for a pound of ground beef.”
I need to look at a restaurant menu without sticker shock: “How can a Coca-Cola here be three times as good as a Coca-Cola in Georgia?”
I need to go to a Mets-Braves game without secretly rooting for Atlanta.
I need to convince myself that climbing stairs counts like a trip to the gym.
I need to honk my horn like a New Yorker.
I need to learn how to act in places like the DMV. It’s pretty far to the DMV, but I walked because that’s what New Yorkers do.
I get in line to talk to a stern woman who is telling us which line to get in.
I smile and say, “I’m here to get a New York driver’s license.”
She points. I get in a second line.
After a long wait I smile and say, “I’m here to get a New York driver’s license.”
Another woman who is having a bad day says, “Old license, three forms of identification.”
I hand her my old license, Social Security card, passport and birth certificate.
She asks, “Why would I want your birth certificate?”
“I’m sorry. I thought you said three forms.”
“The passport counts for two.”
“You’re B512. Listen for your number.”
I remember that my number is B512 because I am B512 for several hours.
An unseen computer voice eventually calls me to window 19, where a man who wishes he was somewhere else asks to see my old license and three forms of identification. I don’t offer my birth certificate, but I’m ready.
I say, “It’s pretty busy today.”
He says, “Go wait for your number.”
I sit for a long time. After a few hours I decide to send a picture to Carol so she can see where I’m spending the day. A police officer runs over to make it clear that I will go to prison if I take a picture inside the DMV.
I almost say, “But I need it for my Christmas card,” but then think better of it.
They finally call B512 to window 32, where a frustrated clerk complains that I should have been sent to a different window. When she sees my old driver’s license she says, “If I could get to Georgia I would never come back to Brooklyn.”
This is probably not what the Chamber of Commerce wants government employees to say.
I may never feel at home at the DMV. The people who work at the DMV may not feel at home there. One function of the DMV is to make it clear that we need a home.
Some institutions treat us like a number instead of a person. Some people make us feel unimportant. We need a place where we matter. We need a family that cares for us.
We have restless hearts. At times we feel like strangers even when we are surrounded by people. Sometimes we feel like we are not at home in our own community, our own family and even our own skin.
According to one source, the average American moves 11 times. We are drifters, pilgrims, gypsies, nomads, wanderers, because, at the deepest level of our being, we feel homeless.
The dream of feeling at home keeps us looking for a holy place that will offer meaning for our lives. We long for sisters and brothers who will help us remember that we are God’s children. We need a community and a family where we are at home.
New York reminds me that I need a church. NFJ
—Brett Younger is the senior minister of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, New York.