Hurricane Sandy, Senseless Tragedy and Never Forgetting 9/11

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I'm not sure about New Yorkers, but the past week triggered some of the same feelings I experienced on and after 9/11.

I lived in San Francisco in 2001.

On the morning of Sept. 11, I was taking a bus to work downtown when the first plane hit. By the time I arrived at the office, it was clear what had happened. However, it wasn't clear what would happen next.

On 9/11, everybody in America, to varying extents, felt like a target, particularly if you lived in a great city with iconic landmarks.

Reports of unaccounted-for aircraft potentially targeting the Golden Gate Bridge or Transamerica Building terrified me. In the moment, sitting in a San Francisco skyscraper, I gave little thought to what people in lower Manhattan were going through. I was concerned with my own skin.

I took the bus back home to what instantly felt like safety when I turned on the telly and quickly pieced facts together. New York (and Washington, D.C.) was under siege, not San Francisco.

At that juncture, I experienced the once-in-a-while, but comfortably uncomfortable moment where I feel my feelings transitioning from one extreme to another.

From fear to relative calm to a sense of surreal awe and heartbreaking helplessness, tinged with persistent guilt.

It's the stuff internal conflict is made of: I was grateful to NOT be in New York on 9/11, but guilty as hell for not being there.

I wanted to help. But, more than that, I couldn't stop thinking: "Why them and not me?"

Living in earthquake country, I experience these competing emotions frequently.

Why does Haiti or Japan or Mexico get rocked, but Southern California is spared? Does God, "destiny" or whatever dictates our fates favor one region of the world or one set of people over another?

It's all too difficult to process, particularly the brutality and randomness.

My standard responses to stuff I can't make sense of: One, put it out of my mind. Two, be a heck of a lot nicer to those around me.

Basically, I want to hug the people who are hurting.

In the last week, "current events" put many of us (I'm hardly the only one) through the psychological ringer.

On Friday morning, I woke up to news that a trusted nanny senselessly murdered two young children of CNBC executive Kevin Krim and his wife, Marina.

It's not humanly possible to explain the magnitude of what happened or speculate on how the Krims must feel, so I won't try. Most people condensed their reaction to No Words. I'm right there with most people.

I don't know the Krims, but I'm a parent. More apt, I'm a human. Plus, the fact that Kevin Krim works for CNBC activated six degrees of separation.

Krim joined Bloomberg, replacing my current boss at TheStreet when he left. Many of the people I am getting to know in this small world of the financial media know Krim and were shaken by what happened. That's too close to home without happening there. Too many connections.

Makes you think more about the unpredictable nature of precious life and being grateful versus feeling guilty.

The aforementioned conflictual emotions rumble.

Then Hurricane Sandy happened.

The only "good" things about destructive weather, relative to 9/11 or the suddenness of sad and pathetic loss of defenseless life, is that (A) we see it coming a week away, (B) we have time to prepare at some level and (C) the aftermath can stimulate economic growth but, more importantly, often births new beginnings.

That's my stretch for a bright side.

There's probably one thing, however, we can all agree on.

On a relatively light note, the other night CNBC's Bob Pisani did a good job explaining how, in New York, the subway is "the great equalizer." Practically everybody uses the system. Rich people. Poor people. Everybody in between.

The first time I visited Manhattan, I shared a subway train with Cynthia Nixon of Sex and The City. Most New Yorkers and tourists probably have similar stories.

Searching for more bright sides to soften recent tragedy, I think about the "good" the came out of 9/11 (as much as I hate positioning anything related to that day as "good"). Maybe tragedy is the nation's "great equalizer."

As a nation, for what turned out to be an ephemeral period, we united. The United States of America had the type of group hug that could make almost anybody feel like things were going to be alright even when we all knew they weren't.

On a smaller scale, that's how I feel when I talk to family, friends and colleagues about the more recent tragedies and disasters. As it continues to tie the seams that connect us, Twitter makes that circle so much bigger, yet ironically more intimate.

We share experiences across a wider net. Our unity becomes more meaningful.

You'll be hard-pressed to find anybody -- in the flesh or on social media -- who doesn't feel the same way as you about the Krims or Hurricane Sandy's path of destruction and subsequent victims. You can say the same for 9/11, as long as you set aside politics and consider only the unfathomable waste of life.

As with 9/11, politicians came together after Sandy.

President Obama and Mitt Romney stopped campaigning. Obama noted that the election would take care of itself. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appeared miffed at questions about the election, putting its meaning into perspective and going so far as to laud President Obama and Washington's seemingly efficient support.

That's meaningful stuff.

By no means will it bring somebody to justice or provide answers to the unanswerable. It will not bring the dead back to life. It won't clear out subways, rebuild people's homes or reconstruct beaten boardwalks.

That doesn't mean, however, that our unity is not meaningful.

If any sustainable good comes out of all of this, our group hug -- our unity -- will last much longer than it did after 9/11.

I can't make sense of what happens in the world and why, but I can hope for that much.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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