Noisy Water Review

An Ambiguous Call

Taylor Werner

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I can barely breathe.

Each brick beneath my feet hums with the memory of each student, each hopeful soul, crushed to a pulp under the weight of their desire: to absolutely achieve their dreams, to transcend what others told them was impossible. I can feel them humming.

. . .

In New York City, there were two places that moved me more than any others. While I found Central Park to be charming, and while I was palpably repulsed by Fifth Avenue and Wall Street, nothing moved me quite like the graveyard in front of St. Paul’s Chapel, and the campus of Columbia University.

St. Paul’s Chapel was erected in 1764, twelve years before the United States was declared a nation. As I wandered through the graveyard – which is quite a strange patch of earth to encounter just beneath Freedom Tower on the island of Manhattan – I found myself overcome by the presence of ghosts. Each tombstone felt like a character, persistently braving the onslaught of tourists. Some stones were still legible; some were nothing more than a scar of rock that barely rose from the soil.

There was one that particularly drew me in. I had to kneel on the site where bones maybe still were in order to make out the lettering. It said, “Oh mortal man as you paƒs by, as you are now so once was I. As I am now you soon shall be. Prepare for death and follow me.”

My skin prickled with the realization that most of the people in the graveyard had died in their twenties. But while I found the proximity to death disturbing, I was also comforted by the sentiment shared by these ghosts: we all die. There’s no sense fearing death any more than there is to fear giving birth. Every person came from a womb and every person ends up in a tomb.

. . .

This place is hallowed ground. I have walked between tombs as old as this country – standing crooked with moss filling their etched letters – and still not felt the sacredness that I feel here. Three hundred years of agonized sobbing for the dead is not as loud through time as the hushed longing of the hopeful, as the need to answer some ambiguous call.

. . .

Columbia University was founded in 1754 by the charter of King George II. Since then, it has been attended by Jack Kerouac, Langston Hughes, Issac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, J.D Salinger, Hunter S. Thompson, and et cetera. Were they each once young fledglings, riddled with self-doubt? Did they sit on the steps, huddled in their own skinny arms, laboring to take up as little space as possible, simultaneously finding the vastness of their dreams untenable? Were they anxious about whether or not this was the place for them? Did they dread pretention and question the city life? Did they have to inflate their paper thin resolve like a Chinese paper lantern, threatening to go out?

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