Seth Cohen
Applying Optimistic Thinking to Complex Community Challenges
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Tears in the Square

At an impromptu vigil in New York City, there were no words or answers, just being together as a global family

“It feels like we should do something,” the woman next to me said. “Like maybe sing Hatikva?”

“No, no,” the man next to her said. “The only thing we should say now is Kaddish.”

“I don’t know what to say,” said another. “But I know that I am tired of not knowing what to say, and I am tired of the sense of helplessness—when will this all end?”

At that moment, what was being said and not said, what was being felt but not understood, was shared by all of us, grasping for reasons beyond reasons and words beyond words.

It was dusk in Union Square in New York City, and I was standing in a crowd that had gathered spontaneously to mourn the news that Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali were dead. More than dead, murdered. The crowd swelled in despair. Israelis, students, parents all became hosts to sad faces, lit candles and smoldering anger.

I was accidentally present—I wasn’t supposed to be there (are any of us?) at this impromptu vigil. I was in NYC for a daddy/daughter trip—a chance to spend time living and laughing with my 11-year-old daughter, dancing in elevators, walking the streets and talking about her future. It was a day of dreaming, including a long walk along the High Line, enjoying high times.

But there we were, not laughing on the High Line but crying. What we did that day Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali won’t be able to do, and their parents won’t be able to do. The news cut through our day—reminding us that however removed we were from sadness, we were never too far from the darkness it can cast.

I told my daughter, “It is important that we go light a candle.” She looked at me forlornly but understandingly—this was a diversion, a sad and frustrating one (aren’t they all). And as we walked towards the small flickering flames, we talked about what it means to be connected to others, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. That even though we were on a vacation, our sense of responsibility motivated us, required us, to take a moment to stand in solidarity with our global family. She didn’t argue, she didn’t cry. She knowingly walked with me, holding my hand, squeezing it tight.

It almost felt normal. Like we were supposed to be doing this together, that this is what we do as a family, as much as any other family activity, like a daddy/daughter trip.

But this is not normal. It is not normal to need to go to a vigil for three dead boys who were killed in cold-blood for no reason. It is not normal to need to always speak to your children about terrorists and the evil things that are done by them. It is not normal to say that it will be ok when the facts, the cold hard facts, indicate otherwise. It is not normal, and we shouldn’t pretend that it is.

As a nation, Israel convulses at news such as the death of three of their own, and a world of Jewish people echo their pain. But then we walk to dinner. We go on living in a way Israelis seemingly can’t but somehow do. And maybe we can’t either. But this pain is getting too regular, these vigils too common. Paris. Kansas City. Brussels. Israel. The places are different, but the question is the same.

“Why don’t they like us?” my daughter asked. “Why do they want to kill us? It seems so confusing.”

“It is.” I told her. And my voice was just one more in the square at dusk, among a nation of people weeping.

About the Author
Seth Cohen is the founder of Applied Optimism, a global consulting and community design lab that helps organizations and leaders design and apply optimistic solutions to complex challenges.
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