It has been said that there are as many kinds of New Yorkers as there are people in the Big Apple. But one might also say that there are just as many New Yorks, by which I mean, everyone has their own version of why they love (or hate) the iconic city.
Compelled by my own version of New York, I’ve decided to relocate there from my home in Atlanta. It wasn’t an easy decision, which is perhaps why it was nearly three years in the making.
My roots run deep into the red clay of Georgia. Generations of Merritts have called this part of the world “home,” and memories from my childhood and adolescence are scattered around like wedding rice. I have found a loving faith community here that has walked with me through some of the darkest nights of my soul—a wonderful gift that cannot be purchased on either eBay or Etsy. And yet I’ve decided to step away from this and head to what E.B. White called “The Capital of the World”.
One of the primary motivators is my profession. At the end of the day, I am a writer who wants to continue writing until I am either not physically capable of performing my craft or the marketplace decides they will no longer pay for words. There are few greater cities on this spinning globe called “earth” for a writer to live.
There are 1,926 listings of publishers in New York on YP.com. New York is home to media conglomerates including Time Warner, the Hearst Corporation, Viacom, and News Corporation, as well as some of the biggest newspapers and magazines in the world. Nearly every major book publisher has offices in New York City. So the opportunity there is great.
But New York is also a place where cultures and ethnicities and ideas collide. One cannot afford to self-segregate and self-insulate in comfortable cultural or religious echo-chambers like other places.
As White once remarked,
“A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.”
There are also spiritual impulses behind my decision. Christians have formed a felt presence in New York City for as long as its existence, but in recent years, the city’s evangelical community has quietly flourished. In some ways, New York City represents the fringes of the Kingdom. The faithful there are asking questions that others are not yet asking and attempting to discern what following Jesus might look like in a pluralistic, postmodern context.
This excites me because my work as a writer—particularly my column at Religion News Service—is devoted to exploring those spaces where the Christian faith intersects culture. In New York City, religion collides with music, art, politics, public opinion, and current events with regularity. Rooting myself in this richly diverse context will enable me to better probe the questions of faith others may be afraid to ask.
I nurture no illusions that New York is a glittering, perfect city of promise. It’s cramped, impractical, and bitterly cold much of the year. The city is also famously expensive, and the amount I’ve been paying toward a mortgage for the last five years will now earn me a tiny bedroom shared with multiple roommates. I fully expect that life there will be filled with soul-crushing pains and spiritual awakenings. In that way, it will be like every other stage of my life.
And yet, one day when I look back on this decision and survey the friends I met, lessons I learned, conversations I had, frustrations I weathered, and even the tears I’ll cry when I say my goodbyes, my prayer is that my heart will echo the sentiments of O. Henry: “It couldn’t have happened anywhere but in little old New York.”