Measured in time, the difference between these two dates is nine years, eight months and 11 days. Measured in distance, the difference is approximately 1,300 miles. Measured in the minds of NYC Expats, the difference was unexplainably complex. And in my personal response, the difference was unpredictably dramatic.
Just after 9:15am on 9/11, I stepped out of a crowded subway station just a mile away from Ground Zero. Like a paused scene from a zombie movie, thousands of New Yorkers provided an unbelievable juxtaposition: they packed the city streets, yet kept it quiet enough to hear a pin drop. They stood still, looking up at the Twin Towers with their mouths open in awe.
I finally went inside my office building just minutes before the towers collapsed. Therefore, I only witnessed the aftermath.
On 5/22/2011 my adventure began while I rested on my comfy couch 1,300 miles away from Freeman Hospital. The scene of my wife and me isolated in our apartment provided a stark contrast to the scene of me in a city crowd on 9/11.
In the aftermath of 9/11 my family was frantically calling me, unable to get through.
In the aftermath of the Joplin tornado I became the panicked one, making nearly 50 phone calls in fewer than 30 minutes.
On 9/11, with the phone lines down, Internet not loading, and work cancelled for the day, I did what I thought any tough juvenile would do: I faked calm, collected swagger. I grabbed a friend and we simply walked into the clouds of Ground Zero. We got close enough to be turned away by security guards covered in ash. We just walked back home.
On 5/22 I was far from the disaster, and felt helpless. But was aggressively seeking an outlet. I was so physically distant that my emotional proximity was magnified. Gone was the little boy who only thought about volunteering on 9/12/2001. Gone were his apathetic attempts at calming his family, and his general lack of understanding of how and even if he could help.
Perhaps subconsciously, the witnessing of a changed world in the years after 9/11 made him realize the necessity of more caring behavior. The entire country’s collective 9/11 experience had triggered a more aware and empathetic response, from both him and the entire world.
A detractor may say it was simply an increase in age and the supposed accompanying maturity. He or she may also say it was most likely as simple as Facebook being invented, allowing immediate, worldwide, reliable contact with real people as they experienced the situation.
But times had changed. I had changed. The years of involuntary guilt for doing too little in NYC after 9/11, and for being so distant from my home town for over a decade, had turned me into a panicked yet much more productive philanthropist.
Both cities were unified by tragedy. Both cities unified a world through tragedy. And the tragedies together changed me.
As the videos below prove, 9/11 in New York, and 5/22 in Joplin both are heart-wrenching to witness, no matter how far you are, or how long it has been. Time and distance are said to heal wounds. In this case, time and distance exposed the wounds.