When the Unthinkable Follows You Home from New York to Pittsburgh

Throughout my life, I’ve lived in five cities across three different continents. Out of all the places I’ve lived, nowhere has been as warm and welcoming as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’ve always been proud to call Pittsburgh my hometown; a tough yet kind city built on blood, sweat, and steel. Pittsburgh is the place that taught me the importance of hard work and how to treat others with kindness. It’s where I learned the values of teamwork, community, and helping others. Pittsburgh is full of people with open hearts and perseverance stronger than steel. Pittsburgh is the place that’s made me who I am.

Saturday morning, my husband and I were in the middle of deciding a brunch spot for a date day when I got the news alert from NPR on my phone. As soon as I saw “Pittsburgh” in the headline I was sure the notification was a mistake, why would NPR be sending me a notification for local Pittsburgh news? Then when I saw the words strung together next to “Pittsburgh” in the title – “active shooter”, “shooting”, “casualties” my heart sank.

The unthinkable actions that took place in Tree of Life synagogue were rooted in opposition to every value I’ve ever seen demonstrated in my hometown. Following the news, I felt waves of sadness and anger come over me. Anger and sadness for the victims and their loved ones, and for the larger community and city of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is as far as you can get from this ugly hatred it’s now inadvertently associated with.

Hours before the events took place, I had just returned home from a stressful week in New York, where each day started on-edge with the ongoing suspicious packages popping up throughout the city. Over the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on a heartfelt conversation I had with my uber driver on the way out of the city to head home to Pittsburgh:

Through the course of an hour and a half in traffic trying to crawl out of downtown to the airport, this otherwise stranger and I found common ground in various areas of our lives. He was in the process of planning his wedding with his fiancé and shared stories and sentiments that mirrored Mitch & my wedding planning process. We nerded out together about psychology and a mutual admiration for reading and learning. We agreed upon the importance of travel, getting out and seeing the world and meeting new people. At some point, our conversations turned to the events over this past week in the news and the suspicious packages found in the city, the state of our country, and the overall division in our nation.

It was then he told me how every morning he makes a conscious decision to never live a day in fear. Evil can happen anywhere, but so can kindness and strength. We talked about the evil in the world, and about all the good. About how this entire past week during my travels, I had come across kind, warm, and welcoming people. All of these people living their lives differently in every way from one another and myself, yet all connected by a sense of familial kindness.

He shared with me a quote from one of his favorite authors about evil being louder than kindness, as a trick for us to think that’s there more of it. Of how we must never forget that there’s still so much good happening all around us too. We cannot let the evil drown out the kindness.

Hearing about his experience was both inspiring and heartbreaking. Although he’s putting on a brave face, he admitted he’s ready to leave the US behind him and wants to return to the Dominican Republic. He doesn’t see much potential for the future he’s dreamt for himself here. There’s more opportunity for him in the Dominican Republic than the U.S. To him, the land once synonymous with freedom and opportunity has now become the land equated with unfounded judgment and fear.

These same sentiments are the same ugly themes on the news a few hours later after a man committed an act of such unthinkable hatred. A man that’s an American. A man from the same city that I am. For some crazy reason, I felt more at ease returning home away from the big city. But unfortunately, as we all know too well, evil can happen everywhere.

As we followed the news coverage, coming to terms with our confusing and overwhelming emotions, those words echoed in my head – we cannot live in fear. We cannot let evil trick us that there’s more of it out there just because it’s loud. We have to remember all the love in the world. Together, we will not let the evil drown out the goodness in the world, and especially not in our city of Pittsburgh.

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