31 October 2012

In Work, Wisdom

Seemingly uncommon acts of selflessness buoy a flooded city.

In the twenty-two years I've lived in Brooklyn, this has always been true.  From the first attack on the Twin Towers to 9-11; from the fear that Rodney King riots would spread to the Crown Heights riots; from blackout to Irene to Sandy; I'm always moved by how New Yorkers simply get down to work, forge bonds, and do what's necessary to help each other and get through it.  Millions of people from hundreds of nations speaking hundreds of languages living on top of one another in a crowded grid spread across five boroughs surrounded by water tend to do that.

Rise to the occasion.

While we were told to remain inside, someone had to be outside saving lives and risking their own.  The thousands of nameless heroes, working.  Wading into exhaustion, stepping over electrocution, walking through fire, breathing air into lungs of babies while walking down darkened hospital stairwells.

Extraordinary.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira wrote, "Our sages, who themselves were filled with dedication and self-sacrifice, always looked for inspiration from everyone and everything around them.  Rabbi Eliezer, who was always the first to arrive at the house of study in the morning and the last to leave at night, noticed one morning that the garbage collectors and farm laborers had risen before him.  He chastised himself:  'They are getting up to work for their own personal reasons, while I rise ostensibly to serve God--yet they precede me!'  Examine yourself in this same light.  Construction workers risk their lives putting up buildings.  Farmers sweat over their crops.  Your father works hard, sweats, and exhausts himself in order to provide for you.  Everyone works, whether with their body or their mind, many at backbreaking labor.  Why should you alone by idle?"

New York is such a thrilling place.  So glamorous.  And most days of the year, those lights shine.  Finance, Broadway, Big League Sports, Art, Books, News, Food, Museums, Music.

And beneath the surface, all that work.  Even when the city goes dark, still, all that work.

So with calmer winds we face the road ahead to repair this great city.  "Everyone works, whether with their body or their mind, many at backbreaking labor.  Why should you alone be idle?"










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