View from the Top of the World: The Malaise of Modern Man

I took this photo recently from atop the Empire State Building, towering above the most impressive city on Earth.

During the daytime the majesty of the sun and the sky outshine the city’s brightness, but at night it has the stage to itself. And my, does it steal the show. Pulsating tendrils of light snake throughout the city in every direction. While millions of New Yorkers lightly sleep, New York itself awakens and stretches its legs, playing host to the night owls chasing it into midnight. At this height, the pitter-patter of their feet vanishes into the background hum of a machine encompasses every horizon. And yet, one cannot but help feel that all this activity is just noise to mask the lack of signal. The New Yorkers who hurry far below are really no different to those in London and Tokyo. All exist in a race towards a destination which eludes us. And yet, we blame ourselves for our ignorance – look how many other runners there are in this race; is it possible they’re all running towards a mirage? The oasis we seek must lie just beyond the horizon.

What we have in sight are the checkpoints. The degree, the relationships, the phones, the money, the hobbies, the gym, the pet cause. And so when we meet friends, we exchange progress reports. We talk, we even laugh, but we never look each other too closely in the eye. What if they see how lost we are? So we make our excuses and swiftly shuffle off, checking our phones and playing our parts perfectly in well-pressed suits and skirts. That which we leave unsaid overwhelms that which we say.

Images of the world outside the city are beamed to our screens, showing us so much suffering and poverty. Our guilt at our luxuries is compounded by our bewilderment that if we don’t know where we’re going, then who does? And if there are those who know where they’re going, then why aren’t they presenting themselves? Did we miss them? These questions press heavily on the air, unanswered.

As the night goes on the city grows louder. There is nothing it hates more than the sound of silence.

 Umar Nasser


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