Sitting on a small wooden crate outside the coffee roasters on West 10th Street, in what I call the Corgi District of The Village, I take in the pedestrians on this street, while I make inroads on this everything bagel. There is a couple talking to a cyclist in the road. There is a long-haired man walking around in flip-flops and a shirt with a hole in it. He holds a mug of coffee and a cigarette. His light brown skin, tanning for 60 plus years, is weathered to the point of wizened. He projects an air of impossible wealth.
On the brown steps next to me, a slight pale woman, with balayage blonde hair and a woman in a black knit tube dress are chatting. Their language comes into focus and I realize it’s Italian. Oh, they’re tourists, I assume, unfairly. They could be natives, too.
I stare for a long time at the woman in the knit tube dress. She is pregnant—very pregnant. Her stomach swells out so brazenly that I blush. Because here, at 10 am on West 10th Street no less, a belly is bursting with life. The questions that this belly begs are pressing. Her pregnant abdomen—seems precisely like that—an abdomen, a carrying-case for propagation of the species, just as sheep or queen bees or seahorse fathers sport—it’s very animal. And I am embarrassed. Because we are in the middle of The City and polite people in The City pretend that they are more than animals. We’re not quite sure what we are—maybe well-trained robots? Maybe slickly programmed machines who can perform and calculate and achieve? But we’re hardly animals, and the animalistic urges that surge from underneath the surface in waves of violence seem to reinforce this belief that the “animal” is what ought to be eradicated and evolved out of.
The cheery IVF subway advertisements in the Columbus Circle subway station echo this sentiment—having a child is something marketable, clean, and altogether rational. My gosh, look how hip those ads are, with their emoji-sprinkled copy. Their designs feature syringes, which mean science—experiments, empirical data, and dependability. Their colors are the trendy, dusty pastels of the Thinx ads (I liked those! I think), which, acc. to popular wisdom, millennials like.
I am pro-science and curiosity, and I’m a rather big fan of rational thinking, and I think the human mind achievable of great feats each day, so this is not knocking all of that.
It’s just funny to see those IVF ads, and then to consider this woman on the steps.
It’s just funny to eat lamb and not know how to slaughter a sheep. It’s strange to hear my doctor friends witness death when they go to work, and I have never stood at a deathbed.
Perhaps I am echoing the millennia-old lament of urban life: we are disconnected from the country, from nature, from the seasons. Real humanity lies outside the walls, in the country. But the world’s magic is always pressing at your eyeballs.
It’s no wonder that Victorians thought seeing pregnant woman in public was improper—it’s an invasion of this magic into the rational, measured, and well-mannered.
This pregnant Italian tourist declared (loudly, in a black tube dress), that she is—we are—magic, animal, and swollen with life. I don’t know if sex is magic, per se, but the fact that we can discuss it is. Sex is large parts silliness—a weird sort of Mother Nature urge that’s knit into our entire beings. But what a lovely facet of being human is that we can engage in behavior whose euphemism points directly to its biological necessity while discussing about or reflecting upon the experience. We exist both at the level of the birds and the bees and of the angels.
Sex isn’t always magical, but it is magic. It’s rather posh (because it’s not untrue) to take a blasé view of sex as though it were just another bodily function among others—like sneezing. But sneezing has, at least to my knowledge, never drawn a person to another, in a cripplingly vulnerable revelation of our own dependent humanity. Nor has it opened up vulnerable spaces of desiring in which two humans have to navigate their own egos while encountering their neighbor in such a way that all distance between self and neighbor vanish. Sneezing may be uncomfortable, but never for your pains are you rewarded with this magic that drew you to this other person continuing outside of you in the form of a new life. Something new springing out of what wasn’t there before is magic. The curves of this woman’s stomach push out the vertical lines of her dress. Cradled inside that curve, a new life is gestating, waiting, forming, already living.
Suddenly, her pregnant belly seems to bring this street down to earth. We are all just a bunch of animals—how is it possible that we can talk to one another, build these apartment complexes, roast this coffee, and write these words? The sheer improbability of human achievement shakes the sidewalk. Given that we all started off just as her silent child is—helpless, dependent, secure in a pocket of floating liquid underneath another human’s skin, how is it that we have grown, have learned, have become so human that we are almost divorced from being mammal? Where are we? Why are we here? This is all miracle.