I have been doing a lot of thinking about death in the last couple of days. Not bad thoughts, but good thoughts of two old friends passing over to the other side. It does not hurt any less for the loved ones left behind to know the two beautiful people passing on — their parents — led an extraordinarily exciting life as individuals and as a couple, and their passing will bring tears of sadness and sorrow.
My intertwined thoughts pulled me to the words of Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. I had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by him last night in Chattanooga. In his talk about how his new book “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back” came to him and how the American worker will have to adapt to make it in the 21 century.
Being a native New Yorker, I know how to adapt; in New York if you do not adapt, you do not survive. Many people come to New York to make their mark and they learn fast how to adapt, just as my old friends Swede and Joyce Nelson did many years ago. Swede, from the plains of Minnesota and Joyce, orphaned at nine with her brother, and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens making their mark on life and never being satisfied with their accomplishments.
The people of New York are very much part of the ever evolving landscape of the city. Just as the city’s architecture has melded from old to modern, the people of New York have melded into a mishmash of ethnic diversity, DNA and language.
Mr. Friedman went on to say that he believed it was crucial for 21st century workers to function as though the job will never be completed — to have that hunger of an immigrant, that never-satisfied thrust for excellence, like the artisans of the renaissance perfecting their craft daily from one moment to the next, never becoming complacent and never finished.
My New York home was smacked in the mouth two weeks ago and many people have had their lives turned upside down by the death and destruction caused by hurricane Sandy. I have watched from afar, as New Yorkers have picked themselves and their neighbors up off the ground in one of the most heartwarming exhibitions of love for their city and their fellow New Yorkers. It is wonderful to see strangers flocking to the aide of those hardest hit by the devastation, reaching out to the needy of the needy with compassion and love.
It is not unfathomable to understand New York edginess, that innate quality that makes New Yorkers, New Yorkers. No hurricane was going to take their chance at life away, and just like the aftermath of 9/11, the people of New York will move on, rebuild and flourish, in this latest attack by Mother Nature.
Mr. Friedman’s optimism is based on America’s record of bouncing back from tragedy and turmoil. My optimism for New York and its people is based on the same spirit and heart shown daily by the thousands of stricken Sandy victims. It is the same optimism expressed by President Obama after the storm and he expressed the same feelings during his visit to see the destruction and aftermath first hand.
The future of the American worker is at a crossroads, the past has passed and the 21st century has snuck up on many people — people who have been stuck in time thinking life would remain the same. The 21 century worker has to develop an edge, a New York City edge of never being finished and adapting to the ever-changing world.
Many people had the privilege of meeting Swede and Joyce Nelson, both true American success stories and amazing people who knew what it took to be adaptable in an evolving environment. Their passing will be met with tears, and after the tears there will be the stories, the laughter and the memories of a robust life that will never come to an end but live on in the hearts and minds of the people who love them.