Richard Cohen: Common plight helps unite polarized people – New York News




I once had a very close friend named Charlie. We spent every day together, much of the night, too. I got to learn about his family and old neighborhood, and he got to learn about mine, and then one day I saw him no more. I went my way and he went his, and it has been many years but I remember him still. We had been in the Army together.

What provoked this thought is Houston and its devastation — and now Florida and the Caribbean. We have been repeatedly told and shown how people have pitched in to help one another. The poor helped the rich and the rich helped the poor, and people of all races rescued each other. In Texas, this was called the Texas Spirit, and while my inclination is to mock and question everything about Texas, I will take a pass this time. The stories were convincing.

The storm, the flooding — the utter disaster — gave people a common problem and a common goal. It also reduced them to common socioeconomic status. After a while, people in trouble all look the same — wet, dirty, tired, often dazed. The storm throws them together and reduces them to the essential: people needing help, people looking to help. People. That’s it. People.

The Army did the same for me. I was 23, an erstwhile claims guy for an insurance company who had been plodding through college at night, six credits a semester. At Fort Dix and later Fort Leonard Wood, I got thrown in with country boys who had never had a toothbrush (the Army gave them false teeth) and tough city kids who strutted the barracks by day but cried for their mothers in their sleep at night.


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