As far as I can tell, people in New York City who live above the first floor tend not to think about curtains.
I didn’t mean to notice this.
That’s a lie. I’ve always been a little bit of a non-creepy Peeping Tom. I don’t want to see my neighbors in compromising positions; I’m no voyeur—but I’ve always liked looking in windows. This started, I think, very early on around Christmas. As the days grew shorter, I looked forward to evening drives where I would sit in the backseat and admire the lights. Outside lights were fantastic, but I really loved spotting living room Christmas trees through windows. This love eventually translated to a year-round fascination with the tiny glimpses of others’ lives that can be gained driving past an unshuttered window.
I take the subway in New York, so there’s no window-glancing on my commute, but our living room window looks across the seminary courtyard to condos that cost more than I can fathom having in my bank account (the penthouse sold for $15 million last fall, after a price drop). When I sit on the sofa to eat dinner or do homework or watch TV (so, most of my time in the apartment), I can glance to my left and usually catch a glimpse of someone at home.
The penthouse is often dark, and even when the lights are on, all that seems visible is a hallway, so if I see someone, they’re coming or going. There is a good deal of outdoor space, though, so perhaps now that the weather is more pleasant that space will also be used. The apartment below the penthouse is home to a man, or possibly a couple, with…interesting art choices and a fondness for cooking. The apartment below that is home to a lovely family with a couple of young girls. They have blinds, but their kitchen light is on when all of us are getting ready for school, and I feel a sense of solidarity with the girls. Another family lives below them, though I’ve only glimpsed them a couple of times, as I have to be very intentionally looking out of my window to see into theirs. When I have seen them, though, they’ve looked happy—gathered around a kitchen table like something out of a 1950s TV show.
I think what fascinates me about windows is the same thing that’s always drawn me to books—all the stories and worlds that are playing out in addition to my own. I’m unlikely to meet any of the residents I see, even though we live so near each other. In fact, I doubt I would recognize any of them on the street—even my guesses at age and sex are more conjectural than factual. And yet, each and every one of them has a story, has hopes and dreams and concerns and disappointments. There are so many stories in the world, and from a very young age I’ve been desperate to discover as many of them as possible.
What sparked my thinking about this in the first place was story on the Love + Radio podcast: “Living Room” by Diane Weipert. Her story is more voyeuristic than mine, and also more tragic and utterly compelling and beautiful. It also serves as a reminder of how all those other stories we encounter ultimately shape our own stories, in big ways and small, whether we realize it or not.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.