New York City Is Not Dead

New York City will thrive again.

Yes, the city seems gutted. But it’s not gone. It feels lifeless but it’s not dead. Just because a creature is still doesn’t mean it has been snuffed out. It’s resting.

More than that, it’s transforming. New York is evolving.

It’s done it in the past; it will do it again. Too many times have skeptics and pessimists said New York was down and died. The 1970s were a dark time, so was 9/11; then there was the financial meltdown down with 2008. But each time it learned and changed and grew. Sure it was knocked down those times before, but each time it came back stronger. Because, when it fell, it learned.

But this time, some may say, is different.

The virus makes the city’s strength, human density, its kryptonite. It’s flipping its power into poison. And the city is on life support. And that’s true.

People are leaving the city. My family and I moved out of our West Village apartment right as the virus caused the city to lockdown in March. We didn’t leave because of the pandemic. We thought it would be better for us to return to our midwestern roots with our growing family. But now, months later, we are hearing from various neighbors and friends about how they are leaving NYC permanently, too. The city is bleeding. And it seems abysmal and terminal.

But doomsayers always seem right when the night is darkest. And in the darkness, they forget the dawn. Sure, there are no assurances that a city will survive a devastating blow like a pandemic. But many think crises are worse when times are bad, believing the worst case before it happens. They have a harder time seeing the horizon or the silver lining. Fear does that. It makes the dark darker and the bad worse. And, in those times, it’s easy to sound right, and smart, by being negative. And, optimism will seem foolish and naive then.

But just as New York overcame overwhelming obstacles in its past, it will do the same now. Fighting is its trademark; it’s codified in its DNA.

I believe in the resilience, ingenuity, tenacity, and spirit of New York City and its people. They fight and possess grit. They might get knocked down when things are tough, but they don’t stay there. They will claw back to their feet. They will create their way out of this, find new avenues to subsist and grow. Yes, many small businesses and companies will not make it out of this—but some will. And new ones will start. Entrepreneurs will discover innovations and business methods and protocols that won’t only help them survive but let them thrive. They will emerge stronger and more resilient and more successful than they ever have been.

That’s the thing about pain and difficulty, it’s dark for a season. But it’s also the spark that ignites creativity, innovation, transformation. And that’s the most critical part. We mustn’t focus on the negative and forget to see that often it’s the darkness that forces us to discover fire.

And I believe New York’s flame is not out. They are just finding a way to build a bigger torch. And when they do, the city’s light will blaze brighter and larger than ever.

The YouTube ad that made me cry

Last week, we were watching a video when the greatest YouTube ad I had ever seen appeared. We couldn’t stop watching it. The skip ad button turned on and I ignored it. The ad went on for seconds then minutes. Until it ended nineteen minutes later. (I know, it might feel weird reading about a YouTube ad, but it’s just as weird or weirder writing about one.)

What was the ad? It was a Charity Water video.

Charity Water is a nonprofit started by a guy named Scott Harris. And in the ad he told his story from his challenging childhood in the suburbs to becoming a nightclub promoter in New York City. He got paid to throw huge parties and be around beautiful people and drink. It was fun until wasn’t. Eventually he discovered he wanted something more. That led him to abandoning that thrilling life and paying a nonprofit so that he can go with them to third world countries to take pictures for them as they did humanitarian work. When he was there, he discovered people drinking the most heinous water. It was dirty, muddy, diseased, bug infested water. And they (mostly the women in those villages) would walk miles to bring it home even though it was unclean enough to kill and carrying it was backbreaking work. That’s when Scott found his calling and started Charity Water which has a mission to bring clean water to the 780 million people who don’t have access to clean water.

Huddled around our computer screen with us was our first born. He loves YouTube videos. We’re Dude Perfect subscribers. These days we’ve been watching ones with deep sea fishing on BlacktipH. But this YouTube ad did something different to our boy. He saw people’s pain and had compassion. He saw for the first time that too many children didn’t have something he took for granted ever day—clean water to drink. And that was not the only story in the video that moved him.

There was a 9 year old girl, Rachel, who gave up her birthday in hopes to raise $300 for the nonprofit. She didn’t reach her goal: she raised $220. But weeks later she died in a car accident. It was tragic. But from the ashes of tragedy arose a phoenix of hope. As news traveled about Rachel’s death, people and media noted how while she was alive she offered up her birthday to give clean water to others—and many were inspired. They gave hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, eventually more than a million dollars for the cause she sacrificed for just before she died.

I was crying. And my son says, “I want to give up my birthday. I want to give money.” And he ran off to get his piggy bank and wanted to give right then.

“Buddy we can’t jam dollars through the screen,” I said gently to him.

“Why not? I want to give right now,” he said adamantly.

It was beautiful.

In times like these, when brokenness and sadness reigns, there are still stories that can shift our paradigm and remind us how rich we are. We have clean water. I still have my child. We are alive.

We are richer than we know.

If you have a chance check out Charity Water.

It’ll make you want to jam your money through the screen.

Most of all it will help you see the world afresh.


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The frontlines of COVID-19—A love letter

To the nurses, EMTs, physicians, staff who are on the front line of this war, thank you for risking and sacrificing health, safety, comfort to ensure our health, safety, and comfort. You even sacrifice time with your family so we can be with ours. You are exposed so that we can be protected.

You are heroes.

An EMT we know goes to and fro, sirens ringing, carting people back and forth to hospitals on the bloody edge of this pandemic. And when he’s not saving lives, he allows himself to see his kids and wife from afar at an outdoor playground once a week or two to limit the possibility for him to expose them to the virus. And to remind them of his love he records himself singing to them and sends the videos to his daughters.

Sacrificial acts are everywhere.

They harmonizes with the melody of these times, coupled with the dissonance of pain and agony as an aria of heroism crescendos before us in humans performing extraordinary acts everyday, like this EMT.

In New York City, the eye of the storm, we know a world class surgeon who, repaired our baby’s cleft lip and palate, with his seven-figure hands, insured and well manicured, trained in plastic surgery to perform delicate carvings, is now caring for patients struggling for breath, drowning above water.

Now this surgeon answered the call to be on the frontlines because staffing is low from his colleagues getting COVID-19, so he stepped in to fill the gap, exposing himself to the threat.

He has children, a family. He has a great career. Nonetheless, he dives into the trenches. Even though he doesn’t show it, I’d imagine that he has fears. But he charges into danger anyway.

Many are jumping into it, risking much, risking all, to help their patients, them, us, me, you.

This isn’t about title, position, money. It’s about doing what must be done to save lives, stem the tide, help people.

Another friend is a nurse in Queens, and a new mother. We just saw her post a picture on social media. She looked like a warrior, masked, armed, ready to battle this invisible enemy who masquerades in human form, using our bodies as vehicles for its mayhem. And she’s at a Queens hospital attacking it with all of her wits, energy, body, spirit, soul.

To my friends, to strangers, to all who are fighting where the fight is bloodiest, fiercest, most dangerous, we salute you.

We honor you. We love you.

For the courage, valor, duty, honor, love that beats greatly in you, we acknowledge you.

You are the best of us.

You don’t just live to stay alive. You’re spending your lives to save ours.

If there is a silver lining in all of this darkness, it is this. It provides the world a backdrop for people like you to shine and radiate.

So we see you, and by your light we see.


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Surprising love in a city of strangers

Silver doors quickly slide open, and my family and I piled into the subway car with everyone else. All of the seats were taken: It was morning rush hour.

But, our five year old whined, “I waaannt toooo siiiit.”

Mortified, we tried to hush him thoroughly. But before we did, a man in his fifties of a darker hue wearing a baseball cap got up without a word and moved aside. And my son plopped down in his place.

That man stood before me smelling of cigarettes and alcohol, and I wondered what his story was and what caused him to give up his seat to a demanding boy he didn’t even know.

I looked at this man, amazed, and said: “Thank you.” And he glanced at me and nodded with a sense of understanding and then went back to gazing at nothing.

Every time we enter a subway car, what happens is this.

People get up.

Once they see my wife wearing our three-month-old, walking with my five-year-old, they automatically surrender their seats to strangers—to us.

Women, men, young, old, light-skinned or dark, white collared or blue, it doesn’t matter. All rise to the occasion—to this unspoken rule—unspoken but followed.

Love thy neighbor, especially if they are small and helpless, by sacrificing your comfort so they can be comfortable. It’s living art. It’s small but great. It’s humanity shining.

Surprise takes me every time, and I marvel at the generosity of these people in this city. We are strangers, yet we are friends, maybe family. And in that moment we are connected, loving and loved. We are grateful for you.

We love you.

All of you.

How New Yorkers react to our five pound baby

New York can be a hard place. People are rushing around you, treating you as if you weren’t human, only something in their way. The bustle can be overwhelming. You can get lost in the shuffle and feel like a number. But living here with a family has been very different, especially with a newborn.

Continue reading “How New Yorkers react to our five pound baby”