For 26 years I have worked at the United Nations.... in the Pension Department. Everyone who works more than 6 months (under most circumstances) has to chip into the kitty for pension.... that also means that after 5 years of contributions... without regard to your age at separation... you have the option of eventually drawing a monthly pension once you reach retirement age.
From 19 March 1979 through mid April 2005 we (with the exception of about 6 months for renovation in the early 1990's) lived in somewhat serene isolation on the 7th floor of the Secretariat building on 1st Avenue and about 43rd St...... that kind of flat-ish rectangle that is part of the recognizable UN complex. Everything was located in the building: a stocked cafeteria, cafe, newsstand, post office - with UN stamps - bank, credit union and underground garage for those who live far enough away and stay on a waitlist (it took me 20yrs to get my permit!).
That all changed in mid April. The entire department - both the participant and investment components - moved en masse to 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 2nd Avenue between 47 and 48th Streets. For me this adds a good 10-15 min both coming and going to work to get from the 3rd basement of the UN over to my desk on the 37th floor of our new digs... between security one place and the next, crossing 2 NY avenues and walking a few blocks.... I did not embrace the change with anything that would vaguely resemble enthusiasm.
If anything, I AM grateful that the change took place in the spring when the weather has been temperate (well, pretty sticky the last few days) for the most part. The single luxury in both the morning and evening traverse is that I cross between avenues on 47th Street. The extremely large - and fairly new - Trump World Tower is there on the north side, along with Holy Family RC Church and daycare center, another office building and The Japan Society. The south side of the street is populated by D.H. Plaza, a boulevard that was enhanced when the roadside that went eastbound was paved over. Now only a single lane of vehicular traffic is allowed westbound. Abutting the sides of the buildings on the southside is the Katherine Hepburn park.... several lit fountains, flowers, shrubs, etc. A cafe - "The Patio" sprang up a while ago, but I'm not sure when. It occurs to me I was building-bound when I was in the Secretariat. Now I get out and do a novel thing for someone who drives to work.... I w-a-l-k. This area really reminds me fondly of sections of Paris.
Scores of dogs, pulling along their walkers, meander through every day, and the pooper scoopers are ever at the ready. Wednesday there springs up (from spring through fall) an abbreviated farmers market with fresh produce and baked good (and I think I saw a sign for homemade sausage, too).
I am painting a restful, pleasant picture because that is generally exactly what the environment is like.
Except Monday night. I left work at about 6:10 and was taking in the sights when I heard a blood curdling scream.. "MOMMY..... WHERE IS MY MOMMY??? MOMMY???!!"
A young, tiny child of oriental lineage - with no adult nearby - slowly turned around and around in circles, veering toward the westbound curb and then coming back. Her face was crimson and she screamed louder and louder "MY MOMMY... MY MOMMY... WHERE IS MY MOMMY???
Slowly, many adults stopped in their tracks and turned, gravitating toward the tiny figure, by now shuddering, tremling. Singles and couples, unplugging their i-Pods, halting conversation, doing a pedestrian U-turn; they came near the bench where she was holding on to an armrest-- not too close, not touching her... but very attentive, most getting down on one knee to her level to listen and attempt to calm her. This- in midtown Manhattan on a Monday night. Amazing.
The scene still burned in my memory this evening. I have heard screams before- wailing in grief, hysteria in losing possessions. Yet the sound of this single child's panic cut me to the quick. All these years I have worked for an organization that tries to protect the defenseless, inspired UNICEF, etc. And it crossed my mind that in acts of genocide, war, torture, this single child's voice saying the same words in hundreds of different languages has screamed thousands of times and THIS was the first scream of its kind I had ever heard......
As it turns out, this young girls mother had continued onward about 2 buildings-worth with the stroller, the dog and another young child feeding the pigeons. One of the bystanders directed the lost girl toward her mother who, in one motion, turned, tied the leash to the stroller, put the baby in the seat and bent down to greet her distraught child. And what a welcome it was!
How truly isolated we are in our minute speck of the world when many of us have never heard what the voice of absolute terror sounds like......
What words of comfort, what cup of water, what protection against the elements have you offered lately to "the least of these"? They are everywhere. Do THIS in memory of me.