On the Water: Strength, Resilience and Everything in Between
New York City is a funny place. Politicians here are always talking about the city being “strong” or “tough” or “resilient.” In light of Hurricane Sandy, the mayor, city council members, and every city agency has used such phrasing ad nauseam in the last year.
As adjectives, there’s nothing overtly wrong with the words strong, tough, and resilient. It’s arguable, though, that they could be used to describe New York City at almost any point in its history. They come easily because they are inherently true.
The problem with the words strong and resilient is that they evoke a sense of power and dominance. As a metro reporter, I spend a lot of time out in the city talking with residents, and can attest to New York’s endless array of nuanced, multidimensional individuals. It would be a disservice to limit a description of them to just a few words.
Perhaps that’s why after the dust of the last two weeks of my reporting on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy settled, I realized something surprising about this city. The source of our strength has nothing to do with plowing through difficulties with brute force. It’s quite the opposite. Hard to believe as it may be, our beloved metropolis is subtler than that.
The proof for me comes from my memories of interviews with Sandy survivors, of whom I interviewed 14. Those men and women described in great detail what happened to them that dark night, the day after, and in the year since. They came from all walks of life and all parts of the city, but their retelling was lucid and articulate.
Even with so many voices to recall, though, it seems I’m largely left with the indelible image of tears. That’s because three tough, strong, grown men cried when I interviewed them.
It wasn’t until days later that I realized how special those tears were. Those men and their pain are a remnant of Sandy’s awful legacy that’s greatly undervalued: our vulnerability.
All the talk of being strong and resilient makes it seem as though the city’s mantra is “We’re tough, we can take anything.”
But perhaps New Yorkers can be more accurately defined by their capacity to express life-altering trauma with open hearts. Even when they are being interviewed by a stranger.