Updated: Feb 15, 2021
New York City is 1,590 miles away from the desk from which I am writing, but from my thoughts and heart there is no distance at all. I just left vacation from the borders of Gotham City with my wife and three children to return to Texas but in many ways, instead of feeling like I returned home, I feel like I just left it. Although I have never been a resident of New York I have felt like one ever since I watched my brothers and sisters suffer, die and display heroism on September 11, 2001. A portion of their pain and triumph mysteriously became a part of me.
Some of my southern neighbors used to tell me that the Big Apple was rude, cold and indifferent. Foolishly, I believed the mirage until I took a bite for myself and found them to be some of the most generous and kind people on earth. Like most misconceptions, I have discovered that the vast majority of naysayers are usually those repeating what others have “supposedly” said rather than what they have experienced themselves. Each time we asked for help to get on the correct subway there was someone who was eager to help. Often times, adjacent passengers would join in the conversation to offer alternate routes. Never have I witnessed such generosity to outsiders as I have these past few days. We should all read a page from their book and be so willing to help others who are lost and in need of direction.
In the last six days it was refreshing to not meet one single person who was like me. My family and me are better for it. To see, meet and hear such diverse perspectives, races, colors, creeds and cultures was both challenging and refreshing. The narrow-minded despise diversity but the wise embrace it. We personally talked to people from Italy, Russia, China, Guyana, the Ukraine, South Africa, and Australia and never once felt unwanted or unaccepted. It is easy to surround ourselves with people who are our clones and become so clannish that we make others feel different and isolated. This is a lesson of which most of us need reminding. New York City is one of the most integrated cities in the world and represents what I believe heaven to be – a place where everyone is welcome.
Visiting the 9-11 memorial was sacred. Standing on the ground of tragedy and triumph was riveting. Tears and sorrow were on display. So was patriotism. Chills danced on my neck when a group began impromptu singing of our national anthem. We were able to stand under the leaves of the “survivor tree.” It was the only tree at ground zero to survive and at the time of its recovery, was only 8 feet tall with one living branch. The tree is a stirring reminder of perseverance and what can happen when people make a commitment to nurture what is dying and work to bring it back to life.
Running a finger through the engraved names of those who died in the attacks was heart squeezing. When we got to the section of first responders, those who died in the fight to rescue others, I told my children, “If you’re looking for a hero, here they are. Heroes are not athletes or rock stars; it is people like these. There is no greater love anywhere than when one is willing to lay down their life for others.” As we left the site, we wondered out loud if we would have been willing to make the sacrifice.
We met and talked to several policemen. They were humble yet strong. I talked to one patrolman about 9-11, and he said there was not many officers left on the force who were on duty the day of the attacks. He explained that many died, retired or perished in later years from health complications of what they breathed in at ground zero. We all remember the immediate casualties but few of us think about the delayed ones. The residual effects of hate linger longer than expected.
China Town kicked up our heart rate. Negotiating and debating over purses, glasses, belts and clothes is exhilarating. I’ve never won a lottery but I presume it feels similar. It’s gusts of people trying to get what each other have. We left with items that appeared to be worth a lot but we knew they were just cheap imitation. I guess there is some pretend in all of us.
I was born, raised and, with the exception of one year in Kansas, have spent my entire life in this state of bluebonnets, oil fields and southern hospitality. My family, Texas heritage and roots wind down to a deep reservoir of strength, courage and faith. I am proud to be a Texan but not to the point of arrogance, superiority or exaggeration. Although I am from the south, I do not want to have only a southern point of view. I want to embrace others like my brother and sisters from New York City do – with kindness, friendship and a welcome mat. I have visited this magical city five times now and each time I learn something new. Thanks to New York for challenging and inspiring me. You preach the best sermons without ever speaking a word. Exposure to you has made me a better man.