Tuesday, May 12, 2020

I remember the day the world came back to life

September 08, 2001 was a super annoying day for me.


I was managing a large nightclub in downtown Chicago. It was late summer, blazing hot, and the bar was so packed you could barely move.

God I couldn’t wait for that night to be over.



A couple of days later I was sitting at my computer. A plane hit the world trade center. It was time to turn on the TV. Then another plane hit right in front of my eyes. It was now clear. America was under attack. As the day progressed, it was thought that the Sear’s Tower was the next target. It was a mile from my house.

I didn’t leave the house for three days. It was terrifying.



On that next Friday, I went back to work. Normally on a summer Friday night, the bar would be so packed we would have a line down the street.



There wasn’t one person in the bar.

Not. One.

The staff sat around looking at each other in bewilderment. Was this it? The new normal?

 People in Chicago were crippled with fear. New Yorkers were going through something far worse.


Markets were crashing, people were paralyzed and America had come to a standstill.


As the evening wore on, we heard a noise. It was a large group of bagpipers marching down Division Street playing songs. A quick thinking bouncer ran down and dragged them into the bar. They took a small break and we bought them some drinks.


They began to play again. Amazing Grace.


And then, the most wonderful thing happened.


As the band began to play, people started peeking out their windows. The sound of the bagpipes blasted through the otherwise quiet street, and people began to inch closer. They moved in closer. Then closer. Then even closer. Soon, the whole bar was packed with people with their arms around each other singing along to the song.

I was stunned.


The healing power of music is a well-documented phenomena, but this was something bigger than that.

People wanted to be with people again. It’s hard-wired into out DNA. Societies throughout history have risen and fallen based on the ability of people to cooperate and coexist. But fundamentally, in that moment, people pushed past their fears and followed their instincts to be together again.


So why am I bringing this up?


Because we are now in a period of forced separation. As a psychologist who has spent the last couple of months on the phone with people in isolation, I feel this. Their alienation. Boredom. Disconnectedness.


Here in New Zealand, all of this ends tomorrow. After two long months, we can see people again. Get out hair cut. Eat in a restaurant. Go to a gym. Many parts of America are now opening up again as well.

Here is my wish.

What I failed to mention, was that after 9/11, something quite amazing happened in America. People were extraordinarily kind. United. Even grateful. Living through that traumatic experience woke something up inside of people. Forced them to evaluate how fragile life really is. Take perspective on what was really important and what wasn’t. People Started calling their family again. Reconnecting with old friends.

Sadly, it didn’t last.

But as for the lockdown? The world has never been through anything like this before in our lifetimes. Not even close.

I really hope we emerge kinder. More grateful. Present. Appreciative. And I really think we will.

Throughout this lockdown, I have been sitting in my living room with one of the best views in the world.

But I have been through everything you have, I assure you. Boredom. Overeating. Loneliness. Restlessness. Worries about money. Employment. Health.

It has been my honor to try and guide people through their troubles, even as I have been struggling with my own. It was the most interesting two months of my career.

And towards the end, I saw resilience begin to return. Fathers sobbing on the phone with gratitude who have come to the realization that they never really knew who their kids were. People who attended therapy for the first time when they had been putting it off for years. Lonely people who vowed to find their courage and find their way back to people when the world came back to life.

I hope people remember these things they have learned. We might not ever live through something like this again.

Tomorrow is a big day for me. I have made a reservation at the nicest steakhouse in town. I’m going to order the biggest steak and the nicest wine and savor every moment. Enjoy being around people again. It’s been a long time.

And I’ll remember the day the world came back to life.

And I don’t want to forget this time. Slip back into old habits. Take for granted the previous gift of life. Time with other people. A nice meal. Friends. Laughter.

This time, I hope to God I won’t forget.