Beauty has her way of showing up in the most unlikely places. Oil slick rainbows floating atop cavernous pothole puddles. Heavy weathered doors with rusted patina door knockers. Delicate purple flowers escaping forsaken warehouses. Tattered garments hanging from a rusty basement pipe. Street graffiti that gives back to the city.

Welcome to Philadelphia; where the grit and the magic intertwine.

Five years later, I’m still puzzled (and mesmerized) by the juxtapositions of the city.

Fact: Philadelphia is a big, old, northeastern city. The pace is fast. The people are frank. The seasons are severe.

It’s delightfully diverse. Wealth intermingles with poverty. Sacred historical sights border menacing neighborhoods. Cheesesteaks are more of a pastime than a food. Sports fans are (at the very least) fanatical and locals don’t give a wooder ice what you think about them. They are proud and fiercely loyal. (Which is wonderfully refreshing, yet especially challenging as an outsider.)

Clearly, when I moved to Philadelphia I did not expect a welcome wagon to greet me with a beer and a cheesesteak wit onions and wiz. I did expect a get-to-know-you curve. Being ignored came as a shock to me.

The general unwritten rule: Pass a stranger, (or in my office, a colleague) look away.

Not my thing, but it wasn’t my city, yet. So, I followed suit. Did what I thought was customary. Partly out of respect. Partly to fit in.

I started to mind my own business, avoid small talk and minimize direct eye contact. But I became miserable. I started to feel isolated and even afraid. What began as geographical and societal differences, suddenly became personal.

It wasn’t about me, but when you believe a story long enough it becomes true. And so it was. People ignored me. They passed. They did not say hello. I retreated.

Until I had a minor meltdown and realized, I didn’t have to follow suit or do what seemed customary.

Who am I not to say hello? To walk past people and say nothing? To wait for them to speak first?

Everyone deserves to be acknowledged and recognized. This is who I am and what I stand for. I was wrong to give up a piece of myself so I could be accepted by others.

The truth is we were put on this planet together.

We’re all human. We have the same needs. We strive to be happy. We need to be connected.  It’s the responsibility of all of us to host the planet and say hello.

You want a recipe for happiness? Shift your perspective. The story probably isn’t true. (And if it is, it doesn’t mean you have to believe it.) Does it fit? Does it feel good? What’s important to you… family, work, love, travel, friends, animals, creative expression…?

It’s all about connection. Whether it’s to your authentic self or the people around you.

Misery for me was shutting down, closing off and disconnecting. I thought I was being respectful, but I’d lost sight of what was important to me… you.

I don’t want to go it alone. I am not living by myself on this planet. We’re in this together. You and me.

And while it’s nice to be acknowledged, that is my responsibility, not yours. If I’m going to place my self-worth and happiness in your hands, it’s going to be a very tough road.

I’m happy to say hello, first.

Philadelphia is full of tradition. I say hello to honor myself and the people around me. The locals now indulge me in small talk. (Because I ask. AND they usually have a lot to say 😉

I listen to stories of history, gentrification and transformation. My imagination is sparked at every turn. Now all I see are people like me living in a big, old, beautiful, fast paced city.

Live like a magnet. Let yourself be drawn into undiscovered beauty, opportunity and slight idiosyncrasies that may be outside your comfort zone.

Hello Philly. Hello you.

 

Image Thanks Maser, Ireland
(Urban Lover and Graffiti Artist)
Note: This mural was created in Dublin, not Philadelphia. I simply adore it. It speaks 1,000 words to my story of the streets of Philadelphia. Hello Maser. Hello Dublin!