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.)
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.
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.
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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So the four of us in our family self-quarantined and social-distanced, keeping our kindergartner out of school, even though the school called us to tell we should be sending him there and that he would get unexcused absences. But we didn’t care. We cared more about his life, his health.
Also our second child, our baby, had a cleft palate and lip. The latter was already repaired, and the former was scheduled for surgery on March 18th.
But it didn’t feel right. We felt this urgency, that it was only time before NYC was in a panic.
So we moved up the date. They had the 9th open. And we took it and prayed that nothing would happen to cancel it before then.
We were also planning on moving out of NYC even before the pandemic. But that changed these plans as well. After moving up the surgery, we moved up the move and the closing date for our new home in St. Louis. The latter moved from mid-April to March 20th, and the movers would come to NYC on the 18th.
So everything was changed and set.
And now it was the beginning of March, and all we could do was wait.
The first few cases occurred in NYC. But there wasn’t panic yet. People were still going out. No one was wearing facemasks. Bars were still full, restaurants bustling. The city was still the city.
The 9th finally came. Donning a facemask and latex gloves, I walked an hour with our baby in the stroller, to avoid Ubering, to the hospital. I marched into the hospital, ready to do battle against this invisible enemy. No one else wore a mask.
The surgery was a success, and the doctor let us out early because he saw that we were seriously concerned about this virus.
I walked home that night and was greeted by my wife and firstborn. We were happy and relieved and tired.
The following days my wife and I were busy pumping various painkillers into our baby (since he had the roof of his mouth carved up and put back together) and packing to get ready for the movers.
All the while, the cases were jumping. People started dying. We were worried.
The surgeon wanted us to come in for a postoperative appointment. We tried to get out of it. But he wouldn’t let us.
So on March 16th, I went, wearing another facemask. It was quick and easy. Our baby looked great. But then the doctor told me news that sent shivers down my body.
All elective surgeries were canceled that week by the hospital to get ready for the onslaught of patients from COVID-19.
If we hadn’t move up the date for our surgery, it would have been canceled for some indefinite date.
And even now, as I write this, it looks like we would be waiting a very long time to get rescheduled, and we would have needed to go back to NYC to do it.
Instead, we were on the other side and done and just making sure our screaming baby wasn’t in too much pain while we waited for the movers. They arrived on the morning of the 18th and quickly started moving our things into the truck.
Right after they got there, I went into New Jersey to pick up a Suburban we were renting to drive back to St. Louis. We didn’t want to risk flying.
Riding my bike down to the ferry was wonderful. The air was crisp and the Hudson River was on my right and the city was on my left. But it was already changed. It was quieter, more fearful, less certain.
I was the only person on that ferry during rush-hour.
After picking up the car, I got back into the city quickly since there was very little traffic. People were already working from home.
As the movers were finishing up, I wiped down the whole Suburban and started packing it with all of the stuff we needed for the next couple of days. (It’s amazing what a family of four “needs.”) And we had our 80lbs dog and cat.
Driving through the night while still dosing up our baby with a concoction of Motrin and Tylenol, was interesting. But we made it to St. Louis the next day, the 19th.
After staying a night in an Airbnb that a friend let us use, we were set to close on our new home on the 20th. We requested a mobile notary to bring us the documents to sign for our new home. He did.
The movers were supposed to move us in on the 21st, but they said that they could do it on the 20th. So on that afternoon, after we closed, we were totally moved in and unpacking.
On the 20th, NYC was locked down.
On the 23rd, St. Louis was locked down.
If things were off by a couple of days we could have been trapped in NYC; or worse, we could have been homeless. But things worked out, miraculously.
Sure, I guess we could say, “Wow, we are amazing to have done all of that,” but that would be ridiculous because we had no idea what we were doing. We were like a blind person wandering around NYC for the first time: Lost.
It was a Divine hand that was guiding us. It was God’s grace that held us. We were objects of mercy.
The timing was too perfect to be planned.
Right now, we are comfortably situated in our home working, playing, living. We’re still quarantining and healthy. And as each day passes, we are more grateful.
For those of you who prayed for and thought about us, thank you. We really needed you.
We hope you are well, too, friends.
Lots of love,
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From our windows we would see long lines of people, snaking around the modern white building, waiting to absorb contemporary art, as the sun set spraying its varied colored glow over the city with sea breeze air wafting in and around the west side streets.
Now it’s empty. The Whitney. The streets. The city. All of it.
Before we moved from NYC last Wednesday the virus case count was still relatively low, under five hundred. Now at this writing it’s mushroomed to over twenty thousand, with no sign of it slowing down.
Life can change in an instant.
A pandemic apparently does that. New York was thriving. Full of life. Alive. Now it’s on life support. Sure, it has buildings. But they are shells without the people inhabiting them. The sidewalks, once teeming with feet, are bare.
Barrenness is everywhere.
One moment you live in a city swarming with activity, the next moment the same city is quiet as death.
I don’t write this to make you sad.
This is about remembering what life was like in a city I love, that was filled with mirth, possibilities, dreams, hopes.
These words are about not forgetting, reminding myself—you— that things were not always filled with fear, sickness, nor will they remain as they are.
They will improve.
See, it’s easy to get swept into the pain, the loss, the panic, the scarcity of toilet paper. It sweeps you up and takes you wherever it goes like a raging river.
But, remembering a different time, better times, in these moments of agony is an act of defiance against the darkness that wants to take any shred of light you have.
For me, hope is best cultivated in faith. In dire times only an infinite God who took on flesh and suffered as I suffer and bled for me, you, us, so that we can be in relationship with Him is a balm to my soul and wings for my heart. With that, I can fly, even in a starless night.
But even if you do not believe as I do—fair enough.
As we remember, we shouldn’t live in the past. That is gone. It remains as a relic of a bygone time that can never be resurrected, but it can be referenced. It allows us to see what could be in the future.
Humanity has survived horrible times; history is riddled with them: other pandemics, The Great Recession, The Great Depression, World War II, and so many other wars, diseases, disasters.
Feeling like the world is teetering on the edge of a dreadful abyss isn’t a new experience.
Yes, at the moment we are swallowed in the blackness of night. But the dawn always comes.
And one day we will see the streets bustling with people buzzing around to swim in the beauty and majesty of the city.
It was a beautiful morning in the city, with spring in the air and magic around every corner.
But for me, New York didn’t blossom in my eyes; it was different for us. I was taking our nine-month-old baby in for surgery.
He had a cleft palate (and lip, but that was already repaired). A cleft lip and palate is a birth defect where the child’s face doesn’t fully close up on the upper jaw and lip and nose while in the womb. For birth defects, it is the best kind to have because it’s repairable.
So that seemed manageable—scary—but doable. We could stomach it. But that wasn’t the only issue.
There was another one.
Our family has taken this very seriously. The two weeks before the surgery, we kept our six-year-old out of school and don’t know when he’ll go back. We canceled all meetings, lunches, get-togethers, everything—except the surgery. The only time we leave the apartment is to take a walk, only outdoors, in the fresh air. We have been on lockdown and, while we are locked in, we wash our hands every five minutes, literally.
So then, on that beautiful morning, I was venturing out with our baby to go to a hospital—A HOSPITAL—where the sick go, which was something major for us. People who are infected might be there. But we thought it best to get the surgery done since the surgeon is one of the best at this repair, so we plunged into the great unknown.
But I was prepared. I had a few face masks, gloves, and a will to get us out of there without getting infected.
When I was there, I was the only one wearing a mask. I was that guy: The weirdo. Being Asian might have made the whole scene that I was look worse, but I carried on. There were a few people who reacted. A nurse asked me if there was a reason why I wore the mask. I said, “There’s a pandemic going on.” And a young kid sneezed and then made an exaggerated sneezing and coughing noise as if to imply my mask was unnecessary. And I got a strange look here or there but, for the most part, it was business as usual.
The staff was kind and courteous and understanding, but there was a feeling that I shouldn’t have been wearing the mask. One nurse even mentioned that there was a shortage of them. (But I kept on thinking about the two countries—Taiwan and Singapore—who have effectively stopped the spread of the virus, and one of the measures they used was getting everyone to use face masks.) Doctors and nurses washed their hands and used hand sanitizer. But no one washed their hands for twenty seconds as the CDC has recommended. (No one; except me; ok, I do it for more like fifteen seconds.) It was odd to have such a prestigious institution as that hospital not be more vigilant and take this more seriously, especially since this unit was only for children.
I asked the nurses and doctors what they thought about the Coronavirus. They said that it was an issue. But it almost sounded more like a nuisance than a real problem.
And they might be right.
But I kept on thinking “What if it’s not just a nuisance? Why not practice more precautions? Why not wash your hands more, for longer, thoroughly? Why not wear face masks? Why not work harder to stop the spread?”
One conversation I had with a nurse concluded on this idea, “We have to live our lives.”
That seems to be the pervasive thought that I see: “I won’t let some stupid virus stop me from living my life.”
And I’ve got to say that I agree with that in most crisis situations. In WWII, the motto, “Keep calm and carry on” is inspiring especially when you think about Londoners keeping their lives going even when the Nazis bombed the hell out of their city. That mindset of never letting fear stop the way we do life is beautiful. That’s courage. That’s good. Don’t live in fear. Hoorah!
But this is different.
Our bodies betray us. Anyone can be a carrier. All the virus needs is a warm body: yours, mine, your buddies. And our common behaviors spread the very thing that hurt our neighbors, friends, parents, people. With each handshake, kiss, cough, sneeze, we can advance illness, and even death, unbeknownst to us, and them.
That’s how this virus works: it’s stealthy. People can be contagious even if they don’t feel bad—or asymptomatic. That means you don’t have to feel like death curled up next to you with some doctor in a hazmat suit hovering over you, laboring to keep you alive, to be infectious. No. You can just feel a little off, or nothing at all, and sneeze and give it to someone else. Just like that.
This virus grows exponentially. One person on average gives it to two. That’s crazy and freaky. So one becomes two, and two becomes four, then eight, and before you know it you have a hockey stick on a chart of people all with the virus. That’s scary.
We should all be scared. Because people die from this. Our parents, friends, loved ones, they can all get it and it can possibly be fatal.
If we don’t stop how we live our lives this virus can stop it for us, for our loved ones.
Eventually I walked our precious son into the unnaturally bright OR to have people cut our son open in order to heal him, but I feared less the knife and more the invisible enemy that was too small to see.
After leaving him there, I waited in the waiting room. There were other parents and families.
I did what I could to fill the time, making some phone calls, praying, and reading with my face mask on, with people looking at me, as they coughed and sneezed around me, as the hair on my neck pricked up, with fear. Dread filled me.
The operation was supposed to take two hours, but it was solidly passed that. I was panicking. You know when you start thinking those irrationally dreadful thoughts? You know, the bad ones, really bad ones. That’s what I was doing.
After two and a half hours the surgeon came out and greeted me with a smile. Relief washed over me. I smiled back. But he couldn’t see it under my face mask. I stood up and he told me my baby was well. I was so grateful.
“They’ll call you back in a bit to see him,” he told me as he held out his soft, supple, well-manicured hand, only the way a world-class surgeon, with seven-figure hands, could. I clasped it. It felt good. It felt bad. And as he walked away, I followed him a few feet away and thrusted my hand under the huge hand sanitizer dispenser that hospitals have everywhere. And a white foamy cloud of liquid gold fell into my palm, with that distinct mechanical dispensing sound that they all make. Then I smeared it all around my hands, covering them over and over, not just removing any danger from them, but also washing away my fears.
After a much longer time than I had expected, they finally welcomed me back. And when I saw him all I wanted to do was hold him and love him and be grateful all was well and hope that he was.
After a few hours they discharged us even though we were supposed to stay the night. Before the surgery I told the doctor my concerns about staying overnight with the virus ramping up. He understood my concerns and put in the order to release us if our baby ate well enough. A baby not feeding is a real worry after they’ve had the roof of their mouth worked over. But he ate. And we were released.
That was kind. Very kind. The doctor took some risk to let us out so that we could have some peace of mind. It was health care at its best, making caring for the patient the protocol, even if he had to break the protocols to do that.
The fact is we don’t know if our baby, or I, have the virus or not. Before I left that morning I told my wife and our six-year-old son not to touch me when I returned: no hugging, kissing, etc.
When I walked back home, they were both up, waiting for us. My firstborn drew a sign out of crayons to welcome us back. I felt loved even though we didn’t touch. We used words to express the feelings we felt to wrap one another with love and cover each other with the affection we carried in our hearts.
We don’t know if we are carrying anything else in our bodies, but we will see.
Quarantine, pandemic, respiratory droplets, contagious, viral (in a bad way), and death are words swirling around the media, and we shouldn’t ignore them.
My family basically hasn’t left our NYC apartment for a week. My last venture out to a destination where people congregated, like a restaurant, was with a friend at a ramen shop in the neighborhood, and we talked about Coronavirus.
In that conversation, I told him my serious concerns about it. He brushed them off.
The family and I did take some short walks outside this weekend, avoiding large knots of people (we wanted to get outside a little bit), and what I saw was disturbing.
People were still everywhere. No one was wearing face masks, except this one Asian girl. Singles, large groups, couples were littered throughout the city, strolling, enjoying the sunny winter day.
My other friends are also keen on meeting up and grabbing coffee, lunch, etc. Nothing has changed. And our neighbors seem calm. No one is alarmed.
And that’s what’s so concerning: No one seems concerned.
But we should be.
This is a serious issue. Death is serious. People are dying. Yes, most of them are elderly, but some are young, young adults, healthy, until they weren’t. This matters; they matter; you matter.
And if we don’t take precautions and greater concern, we will likely create a worse outcome, spreading the disease more than it would have gone if we were more vigilant.
See, anyone can get Coronavirus. You can. I can. My kid can. Your kid can. This is about everyone. And yes, you can die from this, too. We all can.
This virus doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t have compassion. It doesn’t care if you’re famous, powerful, poor, beautiful, crippled. It infects. It inflicts. It kills.
What can you do? Wash your hands. Stop traveling. Limit meetings or eliminate them, no matter how much you were looking forward to them. Stop hanging out. Stop going to the bar. Stay home. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash them well. With soap!
That’s not just for yourself but for your family, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your country, your world. Let us be good global citizens, people, humans.
I get it. Behavioral change isn’t easy. Not seeing people sucks.
This morning I canceled a lunch meeting with a friend that I was excited about seeing today. And we were supposed to eat at this incredible Indian restaurant, in Long Island City, Queens, that serves up dishes that Indians eat at home. I had been waiting to go to this place for weeks. Now, thanks to Coronavirus, I’m eating at home, which is great. But, not the same.
That’s what it takes to fight something like this virus: Behavioral change. We need to change how we do our days, where we go, how we move, how many times we wash our hands. It needs to be top of mind.
Ok, so you may not work from home like me. You don’t have that freedom. But you can talk to your boss, manager, CEO, Supreme Ruler, and tell them that you’re concerned and want to discuss the idea of letting you and others work from home. Make your case. You can do that. Why not? It’s worth it. And when you talk to them, make sure you’re at least six feet away from them so you don’t get any respiratory droplets on each other. Seriously.
That’s what we need these days when we’re facing a possible pandemic. Fight. Grit. Scrappiness. Conversations with your boss, about working from home, had six feet away from each other.
Changing the way we think is a great place to start. Especially you who live in urban centers need to remember that things have changed. Anyone can be a threat. Of course not the person, but the virus that they might be carrying. We are fighting an invisible enemy that can come from anywhere and anyone. And this isn’t for other people. It’s for you, me, our loved ones—us.
That means you need to change your schedule, your routine, your mind—you.
US citizens have died. Thousands of humans have lost their lives. Washington state reported two deaths from this. California, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas, and more have reported cases. New York City just found its first. And it looks like this is just getting started.
But it can be curbed. It can be stopped. We all need to work together. We all need to be concerned.
Yes, I’m freaking out. But that’s not why I’m writing.
The point isn’t to be afraid.
It’s about being cautious, taking this seriously, changing ourselves as our world changes.
The bus was taking forever. And it wasn’t just cold; it was windy, not like a gentle breeze. It was gusty, which is common in New York City. At least it was sunny. But we were still shivering while on 14th Street and 9th Ave surrounded by people who looked like arctic adventurers with the pervasive fur-lined hoods. Then my family and I met Tolerance.
Tolerance wasn’t a person. She was a tiny dog, so tiny that she almost looked like a gerbil, literally. She was cute. And I couldn’t help but feel the owner was trying to communicate something by naming her dog that multisyllabic word. It felt like a name that you would only find in a coastal city.
Then I stopped thinking about the cultural dynamics and moved on to the idea of the human condition and how tolerance fits in it and asked myself this question: Is tolerance (not the dog, but the actual meaning of the word) what we really need?
I doubt it.
Tolerance is an idea we can throw around when we live in urban centers like New York because it sounds good. It’s shiny. But it lacks depth. It can’t get the job done.
Humans, no matter how great, are greatly broken. We hurt one another. We hurt ourselves. It’s almost like we can’t help it.
And yes, tolerance is needed, but it’s not enough. Tolerance puts up with people. It lets them do what they do. It’s not about caring, helping, blessing. It allows people to do something, say something, think something without intervening, correcting, saving. But don’t you see that’s not what we really want. Tolerance is cold; it’s distant. There is less humanity in it. There isn’t intimacy, teaching, guiding that we need. We need others to be involved, engaged with us: parents, coaches, mentors, lovers. Even as adults, we need closeness. We need other humans talking to us, telling us how stupid we are being, giving us advice on how to do such and such, encouraging us to do better.
That’s not tolerance. Tolerance acts like a stranger, is aloof, standoffish, unmoved.
No, we want more than that. What we all really want is this.
We want people to care about what is happening in our lives. We want to feel heard, respected, cherished, important. We want people to ask us questions and listen—like really listen, making constant eye-contact and nodding the head at the right times kind of listening.
Tolerance is certainly needed. We do need more of it. Sometimes, when we see and hear people with whom we profoundly disagree, tolerance is the most we can give. And maybe a two-pound dog that looks like a gerbil is the best reminder for us to be more tolerant with one another.
But tolerance is the least we should do. I wish people named their dogs Love. Because that’s what we all really want; that’s what we all really need.
The world in which we live has darkness and evil that scares all of us. Yes, there is beauty and glory that is bewildering and dazzling. But there are unspeakable things that happen everywhere, even in the shining city of New York. And that darkness isn’t just out there, it inside of us. We have thoughts and feelings that we would never want to be projected for all of the world to see. Yet we still think them, feel them.
You see, tolerance isn’t strong enough to conquer the high tide of evil, pain, suffering that plagues our world, us.
But love can. It can meet it. And one day, Love will destroy all of our suffering, longing, agony.
The greatest act of love that I know of was displayed by a controversial man, who claimed to be God. He was innocent but was crucified. He wasn’t just going to die, but He was going to be abandoned by His Eternal Father. It was their plan. They did it because they wanted to swallow up evil. Not with swords, guns, military might, political maneuvering—no. They used sacrifice. By giving Himself up to the raging tide of hatred and death, being swallowed up by it, out of love, Jesus accomplished the work of paying for all of the darkness in the world, in our hearts. Hatred cannot be crushed. It can only be subdued, transformed.
Others also transformed the world through followed the same path though not to the same degree. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King used the power of love to defeat the power of hate. They absorbed violence and flooded the world with love, creating lasting transformation. Tolerance wasn’t strong enough to overcome slavery, bigotry, hate.
It can’t bring about peace. It only looks peaceful. Tolerance is merely a two-pound dog that can only scamper around and whimper.
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.
Walking into a room full of people can be hard. A party isn’t just a party, especially if you’re an introvert like me. They are work.
But it’s summer in the city, and people want to barbecue. And I got invited to one in Brooklyn.
Usually, I would have stayed safely at home, giving an excuse about needing to take care of our newborn (children are always the perfect leave-me-alone-I’m-an-introvert card). But this day I felt like it would be good to put myself out there and connect.
When I arrived at the beautiful rooftop, a breeze was blowing, and the weather was unseasonably cool for an evening in August; but the crisp air was magical in the midst of the canvas of twinkling city lights surrounding us like the stars in the night.
About fifteen guys broken into smaller groups of two to four were drinking beer, talking, and getting ready to devour meat. They were friendly, but not all were my friends. Not because they weren’t good guys, I just didn’t know them well enough yet.
There were some I knew better than others and would even call them friends. But I didn’t expect them to treat me the way they did. They ignored me.
At one point, one of them reached around me to throw something away but didn’t even bother to say hello. I had to remind myself that I had been invited, even though it felt so uninviting.
The night wasn’t a complete disaster. There were two good conversations with a couple of people I didn’t know well, and hearing their stories was a privilege. It felt as though I might have made two new friends.
As the hours wore on, my bed’s call to me transformed from gentle wooing to shouting; resisting was too hard, so I left.
And as I walked home, I reflected on the time, the interactions, and the lack of them. Gratitude filled me as I thought about the conversations had, but I couldn’t help thinking about the friends who seemingly ignored me. It was hard not to blame them. It was what they did to me.
But then an unsettling thought occurred to me: I didn’t greet them either. I didn’t walk up to them and say hello. I wasn’t inviting; I wasn’t friendly.
Furthermore, I said to myself, “Maybe they are introverts like me, where a party isn’t just a party but an inner battle. Maybe they were working through their own issues, and none of it had anything to do with me; and it was just me being self-absorbed and petty. Maybe. Probably.”
A new voice filled my mind. It was a mentor’s. “Those who extend friendship have friends; those who don’t won’t,” he told me once when I was a college student.
Two decades later, I’m still learning this lesson: