Vita Brevis

In the News…

By Marcus McGee
June 25, 2021


We all awoke yesterday to the news that a “upscale” condominium in Surfside, Florida, collapsed with 163 residents inside. Later in the day we saw the video. It did not look good. We watched a huge section of the 40-year-old Champlain Tower South fall flat at around 1:15 a.m. To our eyes, it seemed a first section on the left fell, destabilizing the rest of the tower, followed by the first floor of a second section on the right, causing a cascade of crumbling reaching up the building’s 12 floors, which fell flat, like a pancake, trapping or killing nearly everyone inside beyond a growing billow of dust.

It made no sense. This was not some low-rent inner-city project with a negligent super and dispassionate owners who had stingily deferred building maintenance. Rather, it was an upscale condominium with and oceanside view—a 136-unit condominium where the owners were likely residents, where a three-bedroom, ninth-floor unit recently sold for $710,000. And wait—scratch 12 floors. while the plans submitted by the developer to the city initially called for 12 floors of residential units, this developer decided to add a penthouse, increasing the building’s height by 15 feet, which was above the town’s height ordinance upon completion, a footnote that may have factored into the collapse. Thirteen floors—is anyone superstitious? And why the penthouse? Well, a 4,500 square-foot penthouse closed for $2.8 million a month before the collapse.

Over the weeks, months and possibly years to come, there will no doubt be efforts at accountability and blame, there will be lawsuits, penalties, explanations and assurances that no such thing will ever happen again, but we should never forget the real tragedy—five people dead and 151 missing (quietly presumed dead). How and why it happened and who should be blamed will not change that. It happened.

Life can be hard that way. No doubt there will emerge stories from victims’ families with regrets about something more they could have done, and there will be stories from residents who, for whatever reason, were elsewhere at 1:15 in the early morning of June 24. In the best of times, we sometimes convince ourselves that we have a modicum of control over our lives and over the lives of those we love, when we don’t. It’s the nature of tragedy. None of us can ever be immune to it. It sucks.

Tragedy can strike in any place and at any time. There is no place we can hide, no amount of control that we can exert over it. We can’t protect ourselves, let alone those we love. All we can do is attempt to live our best lives and believe there is a reward and protection in that, whether from God or from karma or from wherever we might put our faith.

And we can begin by finding appreciation in every day we live, and in the people we care about. Yet sometimes it’s not enough to feel an internal, unstated sense of appreciation. We have to share it, externalize it, express it—and sometimes shout it… before it’s too late. If you love someone, find a new way to express it every day. And hugs! Covid-19 has made physical contact awkward for some, but hugs are incredible. We need them. So find a safe way to hug the people you love, and hold them tight.

The collapse of the Champlain Tower South in Surfside was a tragedy that will touch us all for some time, whether we realize it or not, and that is because we are all connected—we’re all in it together. We only have to look to human-induced climate change and the extreme hot weather we are all experiencing. It doesn’t matter whether we believe in it or not. If it’s getting worse, we will all be affected.

In the words of Dr. King: It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. What affects on directly, affects all indirectly.

We should all take a moment to mourn this disaster, for the families who have lost loved ones, for all of humanity, and for ourselves… but hold on to the people you love—and if there is anyone who you think might not be absolutely certain about how you feel, go to them or call them and tell them that today.