On Saturday, September 29, 2018, The Global Poverty Project held their annual Global Citizens Festival concert in New York City’s Central Park, as part of their ongoing effort to end global poverty. When my son won a pair of passes, I volunteered to go with him. He is 15-years-old and, really, how many more concerts is he going to be willing to be seen at with me? This was maybe my last chance.
We arrived late and, as a result, were towards the back of the audience. We’d been there for about an hour, and were happily sitting on the grass, listening to Cardi B and discussing whether or not global poverty actually could be eradicated via hashtags, when, suddenly, my son and I saw a crowd of people who had been standing closer to the stage rushing our way.
When I say a crowd, I don’t mean 10 people. I don’t mean 100 people. I mean close to 1,000 people, all running towards us and yelling.
Let me pause here and tell you something about myself: My husband says I am way too quick to accommodate to hard situations. Where other people would resist, I resolve to make the best of it. “You’re given crap,” he says, “and you insist on making crap pancakes.” I tend to go along, to do what I’m told.
But 9/11 changed that; some people in the World Trade Center’s second tower were sent back into the building, and ended up dying there. On that day, I was on the 34th floor of a tower many blocks from the World Trade Center, where we were told to stay put. So I did — until my husband came by to get me. He wasn’t taking any chances. After that, I promised him that, in all future even vaguely emergency situations, I would get the hell out of there, no questions asked.
So when saw the crowd bearing down upon us, I told my son, “Run!”
I ran, too. I didn’t know what was going on, but I ran. Later, I learned that a fence collapsed and caused those next to it to mistake the sound for gunfire. An alternate story was that someone stepped on an empty plastic bottle, and that sound was mistaken for gunfire. There were a lot of alternate stories.
The possibility of gunfire never crossed my mind. I’ve written before about how, statistically speaking, I am much more afraid of my kids getting shot by cops than in school. So I wasn’t thinking about the Las Vegas concert shooting, or the Paris concert shooting, or the Manchester Arena suicide bombing.
Based on the way the stage was lit, and the heat of hundreds of bodies, my first thought was: fire! I’ve worked in production. I know how hot stage lights can get. My mind went immediately to one of them falling, setting the grass on fire, and it spreading uncontrollably.
My other fear was trampling. So when I ran, I ran not with the crowd, but perpendicular to it. My son ran ahead of me. And then he ran away from me. He abandoned me in a stampede. And I couldn’t be more proud of him.
My son is faster than me, and he has more stamina than me. So my son did the right thing, saving himself instead of sticking by me.
I realize we are entering Jewish mother joke territory. You know how it goes, the stereotypical martyr, telling her son, “No, you go ahead, enjoy yourself, don’t mind me, I like sitting in the dark, hungry and alone.”
I am not a martyr. I have, very often, made my children do things they didn’t want to do, and put my needs ahead of theirs. No one has ever confused me for the self-sacrificing type. I’ve literally written a Kveller post called What’s Easiest For Mama is Best For Kids.
But this was different. I was proud of my son for not arguing. I was proud of his self-preservation instinct. While I ran to get out of the park — don’t listen to the NYPD patting themselves on the back for how wonderfully they handled the situation; people in uniform were the ones whipping up the frenzy, telling confused people to “run” and directing them out of the concert area, only to later refuse us reentry — my son used his head. He sprinted only far enough to duck behind the police vans, avoiding the bulk of the rampaging crowds.
I emigrated from the Soviet Union when I was 7-years-old. Crowds, especially those in the grips of mass hysteria, are very, very triggering for me. I’ve been in way too many throngs with desperate people trying to get somewhere; pushing, shoving, stomping, separating kids from parents.
My biggest fear is that my privileged, cosseted American kids lacked the survival skills to flee when told to flee. But on that frightening day, my middle child, at least, put my mind at ease. I told him so: I told him he did the right thing. (I also told him that I don’t want him, 20 years from now, to lament to a therapist about how he can’t maintain a relationship because he left his mother behind in The Great Stampede of 2018. He’ll have to find a better excuse.)
When I told my son to run, he ran. What more can a mother ask for?