New York City’s Emergency Medical Services received 6,406 medical 911 calls yesterday. It was the highest volume ever recorded in the city, surpassing the record that had been set on September 11, 2001. Once again, New York has become the epicenter of a global crisis. Although this time of Coronavirus is different. Like so many New Yorkers, I have been thinking about a time when we were reminded of our interdependence, our fragility and of our collective strength — and what tough lessons we can apply today.
A day or two after the tragic terror attacks in 2001, I found myself sitting in the majestic St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue with 2,000 other New Yorkers gathering to seek wisdom, quiet and solace together, regardless of their practice. On the altar stood several religious leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, including the charismatic Reverend Forbes of the justice-oriented Riverside Church. He grieved with us: for those who were lost, for the families impacted, and for our entire city, recognizing the shock of events, and beseeching us not to lose hope.
The reverend went on to add that he was glad to have known suffering in his life, “for it prepares the soul for hard times.” He continued, “Be not afraid…We’ve got to shake the fear that is so natural for this time. I think that it has been said that there are some things we ought to fear and fear in that regard is a gift. But paralyzing fear in the face of this disaster will block us from the transformation we need and the healing we pray for.”
Then he offered the congregation an image I will never forget.
“The body knows how to heal itself,” he reminded us. “New York!” he shouted, his thundering voice seemingly directed at each of us as if we individually held within us the city’s entirety. “Our skyline has lost some teeth, but the body is strong… there will be a smile again.”
In under two minutes, the reverend had recognized our pain and encouraged us to muster strength and hope. We had lost more than 3,000 souls along with those two front teeth, but all of us together, and each of us individually, had the chance for renewal. For rebirth.
Moved by these words, a large man sitting in the middle of that packed church rose slowly, singularly: a tree reaching upward. I felt a collective…