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Canyons of steel

There’s something special about a metropolis like New York City

Canyons of steel


Maybe only in heaven will we know what music was. “What was that back there?” we’ll say. “And what witchcraft did it work on me, that it broke my heart, and I loved to have it so?”

Take “Autumn in New York,” by Vernon Duke: “Autumn in New York / Why does it seem so inviting? / Autumn in New York / It spells the thrill of first-nighting. / Glittering crowds / And shimmering clouds / In canyons of steel / Are making me feel / I’m home.”

If it leaves you cold, after hearing Billie Holiday sing it, you are impervious to this particular kind of sorcery, and count yourself fortunate. I personally have struggled with the disease, and each time I visit Manhattan, if I stay more than a day, suburbia feels empty and beside the point for a week afterward.

Who can see it with a clear eye? Even those who know its faults love it: “New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, … its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous. But there is one thing about it—once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough” (John Steinbeck).

Each time I visit Manhattan, if I stay more than a day, suburbia feels empty and beside the point for a week afterward.

Ayn Rand is more extreme: “I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. Particularly when one can’t see the details. Just the shapes. ... When I see the city from my window … I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body” (The Fountainhead).

I used to pass that skyline on I-95 four times a year on visits with the kids to my parents’ house, and we saw for miles of driving what Rand vowed to commit hara-kiri to save—the Empire State in midtown; lurking behind, its 1929 runner-up for sky dominance, the scalloped Chrysler Building; the boxy twin towers in the lower part of the island, surpassing in height but not elegance.

In late summer my husband and I drove to Bear Mountain in Upstate New York, to see what we could see, as the song goes. Atop the round-shouldered, green cotton-candy swell on the west bank of the Hudson River we found a coin-operated tower viewer and dropped in a quarter. They had told us we could see New York City from there. Aiming south and slightly east, we thought we had achieved our objective, but it was merely a smudge of cloud. Then a slight adjustment to the right, and there it was—ghostly and gleaming and almost translucent as Salvador Dalí’s Last Supper.

My husband and I had the same thought as we took in the length of the island the Lenape fished, Verrazzano claimed for France, the Dutch turned into New Amsterdam, the English snatched for the Duke of York, Washington took his oath of office on, and his offspring decided to scrape the sky of, with jagged columns like a vertical bar chart on steroids. We thought of Jesus standing on a very high mountain and the devil dangling New York City and every other empire in the world of time before His eyes, and making Him an offer.

Turns out God loves the city. If not, the devil’s pitch was no temptation. If you want to know what God rhapsodizes about, you can read in Zechariah: “Old men and women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:4-5).

It is interesting to me that the new Earth will be a city. So those of you who had in mind the fields of Elysium, practice getting used to the idea. But cheer up, this metropolis will have much of the country about it, with a crystal river and trees bearing healing leaves (Revelation 22), its many promised mansions rivaling the neo-Renaissance of Central Park West, as the real outstrips the shadow.

And it won’t have been the body of Ayn Rand that saved it.


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  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 09/04/2017 05:18 am

    I got lost in this one Andree. Your point seems forced and takes a bit of meandering to get there. But food for thought, nontheless. And yet one thing comes to my mind and that is that cities are made up of people and God made, and loves, people. Aside from that, the reality is that cities stand as monuments to Man's (humankind's) creative genius and hubris. But there is no comparison to the majesty of sitting on the rocks along the New England coast and watching and listening to the surf and witnessing and soaking in God's creative genius. When on Bear Mountain, or Mt Washington, or Lake Winnipesaukee,  aside from curiosity why would one want to look at NYC? The entire earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. I'm not convinced that "the new Earth will be a city..." The New Jerusalem maybe. One needs only to meditate passages such as references to the trees praising God, and finally all of Creation, to realize the shortsightedness of the glory of the city.

    "Let the sky rejoice, and the earth be happy! Let the sea and everything in it shout! Let the fields and everything in them celebrate! Then let the trees of the forest shout with joy before the LORD, for he comes! For he comes to judge the earth!”  (Ps. 96:11-13 NET)