The images above are now familiar; they are pictures of the New York City skyline before and after hurricane Sandy. When I arrived home yesterday, it was my first time in the city since before the storm, and I wasn’t sure what to expect: would there still be signs of damage? Would the mood be different? My mother’s neighborhood, which I call home, was largely shielded from damage, but I still couldn’t help but wonder. I was delighted to step off of the train and see that the skyline looks just as bright and tall as always, and to be greeted with New York’s customary energy. The streets were packed with people entering and leaving the city for holiday gatherings, with families window shopping, and with kids excitedly migrating uptown to watch the balloons being blown up—just as I used to do with my friends.
I don’t think a day of my life has ever passed in which I was not utterly thankful for New York City. Not just the city itself, but everything it symbolizes: diversity, the congregation of different cultures, industry, striving, progress, innovation, art, energy, hustle and bustle. As a child, I was acutely aware of the fact that I was lucky to live in New York, and I still feel lucky every time I walk the streets, stroll through Central Park, or glance across the Brooklyn bridge. This year, I feel both grateful that the city is showing its resilience in the face of Sandy’s destruction, and also terribly sad for those areas—Rockaways, Queens, Staten Island, and so many parts of New Jersey—that are still suffering and without resources. What a difficult holiday this must be for so many.
In the week or two after Sandy, I was of course really worried about D.C., New York and the surrounding areas that had been hit. But as many people have noted, the Northeast was not alone in its suffering. Many parts of the Caribbean were absolutely devastated, including Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba, and they received so much less of our attention than did New York and New Jersey. I was as ignorant as anyone: In worrying about my hometown, I initially forgot to worry about parts of the world to which I don’t have as intimate and personal a bond. A few days after the hurricane, I read my friend Jasmin’s post about Sandy—which was ostensibly about the impact of the hurricane on animals, but really a broader meditation on how the media presents us with a lot of visible victims after a natural disaster, and yet manages to keep a lot of victims invisible, too. I am definitely susceptible to paying attention when bad things happen to me or people around me, but remaining blissfully ignorant about the many tragedies that befall people and animals around the world every day—natural disasters, epidemics, hunger, exploitation, war.
It’s perfectly understandable to feel a particularly acute kind of pain and sympathy when tragedies hit close to home—literally or figuratively. But my concern over Sandy reminded me that confronting a tragedy on the home front should always evoke in us a sense of compassion for all living creatures who are suffering through tragedies, each and every day. This year, as I celebrate Thanksgiving in my wonderfully resilient city, I’m thinking of every part of the world in which pain and destruction is omnipresent. I am thinking about ways in which I can give back more this year. And I am also contemplating how precious the idea of “home” is in the first place. I tend to take “home”—place, dwelling, and people—for granted, as if it’s a stable and indestructible entity. But as Sandy and many other natural disasters have proven, home can be swept away at any moment. All the more reason to give thanks.
One of the things I most often hear when I tell people I’m vegan is “what about people? Don’t you care about people, too?” I have never understood this argument, which seems to presuppose that compassion is a finite and limited quality. The fact that I am concerned about animals and animal rights does not mean that I’ve turned my back on human suffering and human rights. If anything, veganism has made me so much more caring and giving than I ever was before. Becoming attuned to the suffering of animals has made me notice and feel a sense of outrage about all kinds of suffering and injustice. It has inspired me to direct more of my energy to helping others (human and non-human), in ways as small as volunteering and as major as devoting my life to caring for others’ health. It’s as if my own circle of compassion grows exponentially; the more compassion I feel, the greater my capacity to feel.
Just as confronting the injustice done to animals has inspired me to do more for all living creatures, so too has Sandy reminded me to be conscious of suffering everywhere—near and far. This year, I am tremendously grateful for how lucky I am, and I am also inspired to examine my sense of social responsibility. No matter how socially conscious I think I am, my somewhat myopic initial reaction to the hurricane—my hometown, my friends, my people—was a good reminder that it’s important to have a broad and far reaching sense of concern. Again, it’s only natural to have an intense response to when something terrible happens in one’s proverbial backyard. But I think it’s important for us all to stretch our awareness beyond our immediate horizons, too.
Such are my thoughts on this bright, beautiful Thanksgiving morning. As always, CR readers, I am so personally and profoundly thankful to you for reading and sharing your thoughts in this space. Have a wonderful, abundant, and delicious day!