Tragedy Brings Us Together

When I worked in synagogues, I was amazed that regardless of pressing assignments, we dropped everything when a community member or congregant's relative died. All other responsibilities faded as we rushed to address the needs of the mourners. Messages were drafted and triple-checked for wording and name spellings before emailing the community about the death, the funeral and burial details, and where and when the mourners would welcome friends offering comfort and condolences. Food packages and school pick-ups were arranged so the family would not need to think about these mundane details. Indeed, the community quickly came together in multiple ways to support the family and mourn their loss with them. I was so impressed by our unexpected expediency and level of care that I joked "we did death well."

I rarely had personal connections with the deceased who were nearly always older and died from natural or medical causes. As a young professional living in a safe neighborhood, death to me was the realm of unknown others or those in my parents' or grandparents' generation. I never expected to be faced with a sudden unnatural death of one of my peers while in my 20s. But then the reports came out that Taylor Force, a fellow student at the Owen Graduate School of Management in the MBA class below mine, died from a terrorist stabbing on Tuesday while on a student trip to Israel.

I didn't know Taylor well, yet I am part of the community coming together in the face of this tragedy. Community. We saw it materialize in the wake of 9/11 when America unified to mourn and we New Yorkers reached out to care for each other. We saw it after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy as Americans came together to help rebuild. We've seen it in the aftermath of every school shooting. Tragedy causes us to come together.

This tragedy also amplifies our sense of community at Owen. Emails were sent to the entire university, colleagues posted on our class Facebook group asking what we could do, our Dean kept us updated about the other students on the trip and upcoming memorials, a classmate relayed info about a campaign to raise money to support Taylor's family, people began replying "going" to a memorial to be held this week at school, coffee in the school lobby to bring students together, an email informed us his sister asks that donations in his name be sent to the Wounded Warrior Project®.

While I did not know Taylor well, I had seen him in the hallways at school and met him a few times over the last 7 months; he was more than just a name and a story. I was amazed, therefore, when speaking to an Owen alumna who had never met Taylor, she asked to be kept informed because she and other alumni from the class of 2014 wanted to make donations in his honor.

The heightened sense of community following this tragedy is far-reaching. It not only spans the Owen community and Taylor's personal and professional networks, but much of the country. This has circulated through media and social media channels because it touches all of us. We connect with Taylor and are in shock at what happened. Taylor was a fellow American, on vacation, a husband, a friend, a colleague. Like many of us he wanted to be more. He was a West Point graduate, a veteran who served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was pursuing higher education.

After a tragedy, everything is seen through a larger perspective and in this wider view our personal woes lose their immediacy. We put aside our differences and come together in our sadness. Tragedies make us recognize how precious our friends and family are. Petty disagreements fall away as we realize how random tragedy can be - Taylor was in the wrong place at the wrong time - how easily he could have been elsewhere or it could have been someone else. The outpouring of support for Taylor's family is moving and completely appropriate.

We should not need a tragedy to come together. On an ongoing basis, we need to shed our differences, to reach out and build our communities, to always make sure people know how important they are to us.