I am walking through JFK airport today, and the whole place feels very different from the last time I was here. Sure, it's a bit busier, but overal nothing physically changed in the past two months. What changed was the level of coziness I feel this second time.
I first travelled through here June, confused and lost, swept on a multi-leg homecoming journey (Taipei -> Istanbul -> New York -> Buffalo -> Toronto). All I wanted to do was get home since I had no ties to New York. The place felt otherworldly and unfamiliar; I was a speck in a confusing mass of people, concrete, and noise.
This time, I pass through very casually, almost like a local. I had lived here for a month, gotten an apartment, made many friends, and started getting comfortable with the city. Now, I feel ambivalent, perhaps even nostalgic, as a thin layer of familiarity grows on the buildings I say hello to for a second time.
I am still traveling alone, with Google Maps and my backpack as companions, but I feel totally different. Repetition, even just for the second time, has changed the experience. I think this is a large part of what makes something feel cozy and comfortable to us. Our homes, the schools we grew up in, our longtime friends, that old toy we dig up from decades ago - give us a strong sense of coziness and nostalgia, because we've interacted with them a lot.
We add meaning to objects and places through the power of association - by interacting with them under a shared feeling or experience, these things become more special to us. Looking at the angular terminal building, I am reminded of the emotions I felt of exploring this city, the excitement of anticipation and the bright and liveley nights I spent with new friends.
I think I now understand why people carry totems, souvenirs, and photos along with them. Using the power of association, you can imbue within these trinkets the memories and feelings of special times in your life, and take them with you.