When Tragedy Forces Us Together

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Michael McLean, 50, Construction Worker
Lives in Upper West Side, Manhattan

I think America is at its best under turmoil. Not war, although we do respond very well to war, but when there’s a need—there’s a crisis. We are the most giving country in the world, as far as philanthropy, so when there’s a crisis, we’re at our best.

An American is someone who bleeds and is willing to defend our country. Somebody who realizes the big picture—you’re only a piece, part of the whole. Someone who can put aside their biases, their personal, political opinions, and realize what's better for the greater good.

John Moody, 35, State Farm Agent
Lives in Charlotte, North Carolina

I think America is unfortunately at its best when there are events that force us to come together—9/11, major storms, catastrophic events—are what really brings us out together. Kind of like the church shooting we had in Charleston, South Carolina. We were living in Columbia, South Carolina, at the time and it really kind of brought everybody together. There wasn’t any kind of violent protest or anything like that. People were just hugging and kissing.

Carlos Alvarado, 45, Production Manager
Lives in Riverdale, Bronx

Right now I think we live in two different countries. You have the urban, cosmopolitan lifestyle. And then you have a rural life that thinks that we’re all liberal elites or whatever. I think if we all just talked to each other, we could see that we have a lot in common. You know? America is at its best when we’re all together. I’m not sure if it’s a good example, but when 9/11 happened, we all became Americans. It wasn’t white, black, Spanish. We’re all Americans. So I’m not sure if a tragedy would get us together, but maybe. When we’re together is when we’re at our strongest.