By Tiffany Pao
Excitement emanates from every corner of New York City, prodding you to explore and to discover. There are always new restaurants to try, new people to meet, new places to venture. The city is insatiable. However, amidst all of your adventures, you slow down for a minute and realize that you are quite tired. Perhaps you want a place to sit where you are not sandwiched in tightly between two people, a place to think where conversation and laughter do not constantly interject, a place to breathe; I mean, really breathe. But where do you go to find such a place?
The United Nations Complex stands on the east side of Midtown Manhattan, serving as the international headquarters for those working toward world peace. The General Assembly may be the most modest of its buildings, but some of the world’s most significant progress takes place inside of it. 191 flags line its hallways, beautiful art adorns its walls, and security guards patrol every inch of the building. It is all very beautiful, but I find one room- ‘A Room of Quiet’- to embody the U.N. and its purpose the most.
‘A Room of Quiet’ is tucked away in the far right of the building. If you weren’t looking carefully, you would probably miss it. Once you walk through its plain silver doors, you are standing in darkness. A little creepy. But as your eyes adjust, you sense some light coming from further inside. You walk through a small corridor and come to a tiny, triangle-shaped room. A tapestry stands in the back, painted with abstract shapes and colors. You see a bright light behind it yet only a few rays filter out, softly framing a large block of iron sitting in the middle of the room. There are simple wooden benches inviting you to sit, and you oblige.
As you gaze upon these two objects and try to decipher their meaning (or perhaps you’ve given up – it’s okay), you realize that you are sitting in absolute silence. This is not something that you experience often in the city; it is an odd yet satisfying feeling. As I later read in an essay by Dag Hammarskjöld (the 2nd Secretary General and the man who commissioned the room), the iron symbolizes the endurance of humanity, and the tapestry- its harmony. “This is a room devoted to peace and those who are giving their lives for peace,” he says. As many Secretary-Generals and U.N. workers have done before you, go to this room. You may be surprised at the experience it gives you.
I am learning to embrace the aspects of New York that make it such a unique, vibrant place. But I (a visitor), along with those who may have lived in this place their whole lives, are all human beings. We may not realize it but our minds crave the silence that is so rarely found within the city. We were created to work and to celebrate, but also to sit and be still. Otherwise, we’d just go crazy.