In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I have seen so many people doing incredible things to help their neighbors. Indeed, what a “neighbor” is seems to expand during these times to include “strangers”. Our neighbors and our community become not just the folks you know in the particular section of New York City in which you live.
People without power in lower Manhattan or Brooklyn recognized they still had more than the folks in Staten Island or the Rockaways. Rather than sit around, complain or wait for someone else to fix it, they mobilized a collection of necessaries and figured out a way to transport them to their neighbors. Hundreds of people who’d planned to run the New York City Marathon chose – - well before it was canceled – - to schlep out to Staten Island (the designated starting point of the race and one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy) and apply their training, strength, stamina and inspirational spirit to help the recovery efforts.
I like to think this is New York at its finest. A bunch of people who appear crusty, but who never say NO, who roll up their sleeves and get it done.
It’s not just New York, though. We’ve all witnessed or participated in active compassion in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina’s cataclysmic landfall on August 29, 2005 and in Greater Los Angeles after the Northridge Earthquake disaster in January, 1994.
Certainly it’s not limited to the people who live in those areas, either. “Neighbors” from all across America are coming to New York with supplies and a willingness to help. The same was true after Hurricane Katrina (I know, I was one of those privileged to work with Habitat for Humanity and the St. Bernard Project for a week – and I was by no means the only one, nor the first, nor the last).
The world became “neighbors” to Phuket, Thailand following the 2004 tsunami and to Tokyo just this year after its earthquake. So, it’s not just about nationalism.
Perhaps that’s just how compassion works. The heart feels a need, sees pain and an ability to do something. Geographical boundaries are inconsequential. The heart calls the mind and body into action. Such a compelling, heart-based call aligns with the mind and body. The alignment of the distinct and powerful energies of the heart, mind and body is unstoppable. When we as a collective of humanity witness one person or a small group motivated by this call to action, we become inspired and a single heart-based call to action grows until it marshals a veritable compassionate army.
Perhaps this is the essence of the “compassionate America” President Obama spoke about  on the night of his re-election. We believe in “a compassionate America” because we have repeated evidence of it. What unites us is the best of ourselves and we tap into it all the time.
What if we viewed the issues that divide us with the same urgent, active compassion? What if we acted before the storm?