to know your neighbors and to die.
In the steamy summer of 1948, E. B. White, on guest assignment for the New Yorker, spent a few days strolling his former hometown. The essay was released in 2000 as the slim volume, Here is New York, which The New York Times calls one of the ten best books ever written about the city.
One of White’s most perceptive observations, in my opinion, is this:
New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along…without influencing the inhabitants; so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul… I sometimes think that the only event that hits every New Yorker on the head is the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is fairly penetrating — the Irish are a hard race to tune out, there are 500,000 of them in residence, and they have the police force right in the family.
I wonder if an unintended progress, of sorts, resulting from an event like the terrorist attacks on 9/11 — an event which penetrated every New Yorker so completely they’re still looking at the skies for wayward aircraft and checking skyscrapers for fire exits — is neighbors noticing each for a literal fear of dying.
It may be that the only good to come from each wave of tragedy we experience is the way neighbors share a conversation. Boston, West, Newtown — neighbors experiencing the same story. Neighbors making certain someone’s going to notice if the ground opens up beneath their feet.
Read all of Tamara Murphy's reflection at This Sacramental Life