When Horrible Things Happen

Yesterday in New York City something horrible happened. A man drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians and everything stopped.

The sun was out, it was a beautiful day, until all the sudden it wasn’t.

Here’s what else happened.

Everyone had a moment of being completely scared. Was this random? Was there more to it? How scared should we be?

Then everyone got to be grateful. People reached out to one another. Whether via social or text or email, people found the people they loved to make sure they were ok.

I am often on that corner, in Times Square, exactly where that horrible thing took place. But today, I had a later lunch date at a vegan restaurant, I was trying to convince my friend to reconsider. “How do you get cheese from cashews?”, I had wondered aloud. Moments later I had to cancel, blocks were shut off. The city that never sleeps was suddenly at a standstill right in the heart of it all.

Safe in my office, I heard from my mother, my sister, my colleagues. We all did. The check-ins came in with urgency and were followed by smiles and relief.

I got a Facebook message from my best friend in London who knows my life here and figured there was reason to check in. Months ago when another driver ran into a crowd of people on a bridge in her city and I had immediately written her to check on her safety. We hadn’t really been in contact since her birthday, but she’s one of those people who you just think of immediately. She’s one of those friends who feels you all the away across the world and I felt lucky to have her.

At work, we accounted for each other and checked in safely on Facebook while making sure everyone we knew had done the same. Complain about social media all you want, that feature is solid. Then we checked the news all day. We hoped everyone was going to be ok. My work wife, Deeksha, and I went to lunch at the pub downstairs. My diet broke briefly with a delicious plate of onion rings and some sliders, no cashew cheese. We ate our feelings and discussed work a bit. We also reminded each other how much we cared about each other and our team. Glad we were all safe, well aware of how all our daily problems paled in comparison to what had been unfolding today.

When bad things happen, people connect in odd ways. Strangers become familiar. Everyone becomes siblings for a moment. The goodness in us is revealed and people help each other, even smile calmly to assure each other, “It will be ok.” I was in Manhattan that horrible September day when everyone came together to try and help sort through the sadness. I was also here in August for the city-wide blackout years later when we all shared a collective sigh of relief and shared our neighbors ice cream which was melting any way.

To be a New Yorker is to be hard-core as much as it is truly human. I had tried LA but you spend so much time in cars you can avoid seeing people for hours. In New York, we are forced to see each other. We brush up against each other on the street and in the subway. We even make eye contact every now and then, though we are famous for shielding ourselves from the very point of this place, which is to co-exist in a city with millions of people.

When bad things happen, whatever you are doing at work, gets a brief pause. You get to take a moment to remember and reflect on what you truly care about. You are clear on who you truly love. And then you get to move on.

The streets were still empty in the heart of the city last night as we all piled collectively into a work event in Times Square. The day that seemed to be over had not quite taken its’ bow. I watched with a group of people as the car that had ruined a day, (and several lives), was towed away. Moments later, the streets were re-opened and the world commenced.

But I felt different. I felt sad and grateful and lost and found with a knowledge of how life can change in an instant and how good it is to be alive right now.