Hearts Across America

By Alex Cohen

“Hands Across America was a public event on Sunday, May 25, 1986, in which approximately 6.5 million people held hands for fifteen minutes in an attempt to form a continuous human chain across the contiguous United States. Many participants donated ten dollars to reserve their place in line. The proceeds were donated to local charities to fight hunger and homelessness and help those in poverty.” —Wikipedia

I was there that day with Larry, my boyfriend at the time. We stood on the West Side Highway with thousands of others, holding hands with the strangers next to us. We just thought it would be something fun to do, but when we got there and realized the enormity of the event, we felt like we were a part of something very big, a part of history—and we were. We were normal everyday people, coming together for a cause greater than ourselves.

I remember benefit concerts where celebrities also came together to raise money for a charity or a country in need, like USA for Africa where the song “We Are the World” was introduced. Not only was this successful in raising funds, but more importantly, it brought strangers together, who normally would not be found in the same place, but all felt connected somehow because they were all there for the same reason.

There are times we may feel like we are walking alone in this world. But sometimes humanity surprises us. Take the morning of September 11, 2001. We all remember where we were when we heard the news of the Towers. For the whole day, the entire world sat in sadness, disbelief, and a universal grief that some of us had never experienced before. We didn’t know these people—their stories, their families, their lives. All we knew is that a horrific event was unfolding before our eyes and this day would change us forever.

No matter who we were, what we were worth, what color, sexual orientation, size, age, race or religion, we could not tear ourselves away from the television. We sat in silence confused, trying to make sense of what was happening. In that very moment, the whole world was united in sorrow.

Days, weeks, months and even years passed, and we joined as a nation to remember those who lost their lives and to support their families and the first responders who were injured. We lost many first responders that day as they were trying to help, and others struggled emotionally and physically for years to come. We are still losing people to this horror today from cancer and suicide. We will never forget.

Tributes, concerts, and foundations formed, again, all for one cause, to help others and ease our own sorrow for humanity and its suffering. It was so long ago but is still fresh in our minds. The monument, the museum, the memorial, and the names of those lost are all there to remind us how resilient we are. Every year, we take a moment of silence, then hear the names of all those lost so we never forget them, and we hope and pray for a better future.

“Moments of silence: A moment of silence is a short time when people do not make noise. A moment of silence shows respect for people who have died. Many countries observe a minute of silence after a tragic event. Moments of silence often last one minute, but other amounts of time may be chosen.” —Google

These moments of silence speak volumes. When I myself take these moments, I use them as a time of reflection on something that happened or someone who passed. It’s usually emotional and it gets to me every time.

I’m writing this blog soon after Kobe Bryant died tragically along with his young daughter and seven other passengers in a helicopter crash. When I heard the news, again, time stood still. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t know Kobe personally nor am I a basketball fan, but I am a wife and I am a mother and the thought of losing my loved ones—not just in this fashion, but at all—terrified me.

As the shock wore off, my heart broke for his wife, surviving daughters, parents, friends, and even his fans. The impact of Kobe and his daughter’s death caused waves immediately. Tributes poured in, pictures flooded social media, and again, everyone came together for a common cause, our own sadness, our own pain, for their loss and for ours.

I found myself in tears every time I heard about the souls that were lost on that helicopter—the way people spoke, not only about Kobe, but his daughter and the seven others. The moments of silence they held all over the country at stadiums, schools, and memorials were all heartbreaking. I could not hold back my tears for people I didn’t know but still mourned for.

How is it that we can feel such intense pain and sadness for someone else’s suffering? It’s called being human, being a part of something greater than ourselves. I want to believe that human kindness and compassion is in everyone, but some are still too preoccupied with who they are, what they have, what they don’t have, what others are getting that they are not to see what is happening around them. They can’t appreciate how quickly things can change and how delicate the balance is until it’s too late or until it affects them directly.

How about we wake up every morning and have our own “Moment of Silence” to ready us for the day ahead as we have no idea what is in store for us. It could be a prayer, a wish, a hope, or just a moment to ourselves before life events take over. Then again, before we get into bed, we can take a moment to feel gratitude for the day, our family and friends, our bed, our home, and the life we still have.

We should never forget that, in just a moment, everything we know, everything we are, and everything we have can disappear—“poof,” just like that. If you don’t believe me, ask Kobe’s wife and the families of those who perished on that fateful flight. This is their reality and it happened—in just a moment.