(photo credit: businessinsider.com)
Sixteen years ago, my wife and I, newly transplanted in NYC, went to work via the PATH train as routine would dictate - she to a job at a financial management company on Park Avenue, me to the corporate offices of a two hundred year old retailer. We had moved to New York to challenge ourselves, to grow, to experience something different than either of us had grown up with.
Most everyone knows the history of that day - from the first reports that a small prop plane had hit one of the towers to the eventuality that we were under attack, most likely by a terrorist group. Groups huddled close to radios and TV's clinging to every word, every update, every theory. . .will others clung to hope, or to life. Close to three thousand lives were lost in that tragedy, another six thousand were injured. When we finally returned home, across the river in Hoboken late that evening, we saw the plume of smoke and dust covering the giant hole in downtown Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood, and I think we knew it would eventually be filled. However, the indescribable hole left with countless families and friends never would, or could be.
(photo credit: nbcnews.com)
My wife and I were spared the direct emotional scarring of that day - neither of us worked in the towers and being new to the area, we only had a handful of friends. But we only had to look to our left and our right to see the pain and impact. The Twin Towers, which for us were beacons as we tried to navigate the area were now lost. Every walk brought reminders of the number of people lost by this tragedy. During that moment, as the dead and injured were counted, history, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation. . .none of that mattered. They were all victims. Humans, lost in a most unimaginable way.
(photo credit: nyu.edu)
That day impacted me in many ways. As both the country and the city came together in the best of ways, it reinforced our ability to work together as a nation. Having moved around several times as a kid, I became, indelibly, a “New Yorker” with a greater appreciation of the diversity that melded together to face this tragedy united, instead of melting down into chaos. Over the years, I have developed a greater appreciation for those who sacrifice, who put their lives on the line to protect and defend us – our military, our police and fire departments – who do so not for money or fame, but for many born from a calling, a civic responsibility. For me, 9/11 has always been a reminder that we need to remain diligent in the face of those who would hurt us, while not backing down to fear. It is a day to remember the victims of that tragedy, and keep them and their families close to our hearts. It has also become a day to appreciate what we have, and give thanks to those who serve and have served, and who may have lost their lives to defend what sometimes we take for granted.
(photo credit: nymag.com)
A few years ago, my wife, daughter, and I were sitting at an outdoor restaurant in Rhodes, Greece - the kind of cafe so small that your knees crush against those of your neighbors. We had just ordered when we noticed a rather disheveled looking man standing in the pedestrian walkway, perhaps ten or fifteen feet from us. By his appearance, it was obvious that he was likely homeless. He stood there for several minutes, looking up and then down at the pavement, slowly shuffling his feet from side to side. Having been the victim of petty theft while in Rome and given the number of people around us, we did what would be normal. . .we pulled our belongings closer to us and became more diligent. As the minutes went by, I expected the owner of the restaurant to go out there and chase the man away, though candidly, he wasn’t doing anything to disturb us. Then, the woman who had been waiting on us cut through the crowd and handed him a bag while patting his shoulder. He bowed slightly, smiled, and then shuffled off. I stopped the waitress on her way back and asked what had happened and she explained, “My boss, the owner, tells him he can come by each day. He gives him two sandwiches, one for lunch and one for later and when business is good, he puts a bit of money in the bag.” When I went up to pay for our meals, I smiled at the owner, who spoke little English, and put my hand to my heart and thanked him. He smiled and said something back which I didn’t understand at first, but as I walked away, I realized what he had said. . .”we are different, but we are still the same. . .we are humans."
Towards the end of our vacation, my daughter had warmed up to many on the staff who were taking care of us over our European adventure. She brought her sketch book to dinner one night and showed her drawings to various people who each took a quick glance through the pages and passed along a “you are talented!” That is until she showed our assistant waiter, Miming. He stopped what he was doing and invested the time to a definitive interest in her work, not just passing along superficial comments but offering her constructive advice. He had her pick up a pencil and worked with her for a few minutes to change the direction of her shading, explaining why, and reinforcing that she had talent and that with work, she could shine. I asked him afterwards his background, only knowing that he was from Indonesia, and he explained that he was an Art, English and Science teacher back home, but this job this paid better and allowed him to save his money. For almost two weeks, I looked at him, kindly, as a servant who was there to take care of us. In just a few minutes, he was now a teacher who had a lasting impact on my daughter.
The petty theft (which wasn’t that petty) that took place in Rome was by three college-aged girls, most likely Italian; we were less than diligent because they were like us. In Rhodes, the homeless man was more than likely a recent immigrant. My intent isn’t to debate immigration policies, nor is it to argue that there aren’t those who would abuse any immigration policy to gain entrance into this country, or others, to repeat the tragedy of 9/11. During a recent diversity event, a speaker proposed that there often isn’t “right and wrong” but instead “two truths.” Rather than attempt to understand and reconcile between both truths, which are often in conflict, many simple migrate to the truth that is most convenient, most comfortable for them. Convenient, yes. But at what risk?
Throughout history, it is been a common trait to blame our problems on others and seek that single truth. History reeks in the atrocities committed by one group towards another under this banner of "truth", and few cultures can claim innocence. While it may seem that today it is growing worse, it really is just growing louder and traveling faster, collecting momentum through the use of social media. The same people and the same problems existed decades and centuries ago, they just didn’t have Twitter, Snapchat or Facebook at the ready. However, in today’s day of 140 character “character assassinations”, and labels attached to broad groups to the left and right, up, down and sideways, meant to condemn a group in a convenient manner, perhaps we should take the time to remember.
When taking an action under the guise of protecting ourselves or expressing ourselves, we should remember. . .
When faced with two truths that come in conflict, instead of taking the easy path, we should remember. . .
When faced with the differences that make us who we are and how we react to different situations, we should remember. . .
We should remember that we are all humans.
(originally published September 11, 2016 on LinkedIn)