The 9/11 Seawall and the Figurative Seawall: The Empathetic Community

My mother posted the YouTube link I attached below on Facebook last week, and combined with a ‘thank you’ for a good faculty meeting last Tuesday, I forwarded it along to the High School faculty thinking that some faculty members might want to show it to their homeroom advisories at some point. “Boatlift”, the story of the boatlift from the lower end of Manhattan on 9/11 is compelling viewing for many reasons. I found it especially fascinating because I had no prior knowledge of the fact that there was a significant boat evacuation on that day, and I certainly did not know it was the largest such evacuation in history. Even more significantly, however, I was drawn to the heroic actions of the people who moved so quickly to help others while placing their own safety in  jeopardy.

At about the 4:18 mark in the video, I was struck by the statement of  Kirk Slater: “It’s just human nature…you see people on the seawall in Manhattan begging you to pick them up, you have to pick them up.” I found myself thinking that while we are not running from collapsing buildings and faced with the potential prospect of having to jump into the water to avoid the smoke and dust of the Twin Towers, we have all spent some time on our own figurative seawalls (though our seawalls probably don’t lend themselves to dramatic soundtracks, and Tom Hanks is not likely to accept the job of narrating the documentary). On 9/11 the clarity of calling and purpose was clear to the men and women who stepped up to help the people stranded at the furthest edge of Lower Manhattan. It is far more difficult to assess and react to the seawalls upon which other members of our community may find themselves.  The routines of our lives allow us to forget others at times. We can find ourselves living as if the other people are merely actors in our play.

Successful communities discover ways to fend off this kind of empathy forgetfulness. Such communities create and maintain high expectations for our awareness of and respect for others. These places bring to day to day life many of the same skills that were manifest in the actions of every person who reached out helping hands on 9/11.

[I have written before about something my mother forwarded my way—Tribute To Mrs. Alley ]

[I have written before about 9/11—September 11: I Could Not Stop Watching Because I Could Not Begin To Understand]

2 thoughts on “The 9/11 Seawall and the Figurative Seawall: The Empathetic Community

  1. Shirley Davis January 14, 2012 / 12:18 pm

    Inspiring material for the students (and their parents)! Thanks for showing our kids that real heroes can be ordinary every day people.

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