September 11 – Looking Back 20 Years Later
It is very hard to think of the day September 11, 2001, and not look at it as pragmatically as I can. Personally, we all STILL need to make sense of it. Some who were part of that day, can understand what I feel. 9-11 irreversibly changed our lives. 9-11 changed how we live, how we interact, and how we go about our daily lives. I was very close to what happened that day. My life was never the same as a result. But as you will see later, like many – I put it together and moved on. This is a story about my memory of September 11, 2001.
I grew up in New York City (NYC), lived a short distance away in Somers, part of Westchester County, NY (A bedroom community 45 miles north of NYC). I loved working in what is now ground zero, running a few projects there. My job at the time did not require me to travel into NYC daily, but I did make regular trips, and the World Financial and World Trade Center was where I worked. On September 11, 2001, I was scheduled to meet with the General Director of a prestigious funds management company. He wanted to move their IT services to Cap Gemini. I was at the time the Director of Information Management Systems. Closing that contract would have been a great addition to our portfolio, and guaranteed ongoing business. I was looking forward to it.
In An Instant – My Life Changed
Unfortunately… That meeting never happened.
As I was leaving my home that morning, I remarked to my oldest son (as he left to get on the high school bus), I would see him that night to celebrate his brother’s 12th birthday (Yes, he was born on 9-11). Remarking that I was going to the World Trade Center but expected to be home by 3pm. Normally I would park underneath Building 1 of ground zero.
John Lennon wrote “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” No truer statement can be made. My life will be altered in the next instant.
While packing to leave, I received a call altering the course of the day, and the rest of my life. The Director had a change of plans. His secretary called to reschedule; a last-minute pressing appointment in the New Jersey office. Had I driven down to my meeting in the World Financial Center, I would have arrived in the lobby about the time the first plane hit. Quite possibly, I would not have come home that day.
Luckily, deciding to work from home that day, everything changed. September 11, 2001 began as a picture-perfect day. Turning on the television, I watched in horror an attack occurring in real time. Most of what happened next was a blur. My oldest son in a school assembly was told about the attack. Calling home upset, my wife reassured him I never went to the city. Unfortunately, some of his school mates were not that lucky. My wife told me that night, as we were awake, eyes wide open, she had never felt so blessed.
People Touched By Events
Even though I knew roughly 20 -30 people who perished that day, scores more were impacted. Friends from my old Bronx neighborhood were among the first responders – police and firemen. Brave people I know that saved lives. Many never made it home. A relative’s friend lost her husband – who worked for Canter Fitzgerald. He returned to work for the first time in months, his daughter had just died a month earlier, and they held a welcome back party at Windows on The World– he never made it home.
Another was a close friend of Todd Beamer’s (Let’s Roll), starting their careers together. Living in the area many people affected touched you. While almost 3,000 people seems like so few in a city of over 4.5 million, the relationships and degrees of separation bring them right to your door… Becoming a tiny world.
Communications stopped. Many telephone lines were down. Some did not know if their loved ones would ever arrive home! Some had no clue if their relatives, even husbands or wives, were alive. Many not until they got to their train station, or walked in through the front door. Sometimes a day or two later.
Survivors relaying what it was like at Grand Central, at Union Station and other train hubs describe shock. People crying, shook up, but thankful they were among the survivors. Many they knew never made it past that morning. I remember people hugging one another when they came across people days, months and even years later. Some of them had only spoken to each other casually during their commutes, now they became friends forever. The train stations became a community, where people were thankful- they were alive. Every American alive that day remembers where they stood on September 11th.
Thankful / Tearful Reunions
Looking back, passengers were thankful to be alive, and reached out to train conductors and those in the ticket offices. Almost immediately, strangers became people with whom the victims could share their experiences of that day to familiar faces seen daily for many years. The generosity of listening would tie them forever. Most conductors kept those conversations to themselves, but many I spoke with saw them as angels. Making a significant difference in the lives of many – too many to count. While almost 3,000 died that day, millions needed to get home, and did not know how to get there. These people helped them get home.
Train conductors I met when I traveled regularly on the North East corridor over the years, chatted with me about their experience and we became friends, tied by a single moment. I sometimes saw people that would come to them and thank them, even years later. The survivors remembered them, not by their name but by the friendly face or compassionate voice.
My Life – Could Never Be the Same
I consider myself very lucky. Why my schedule that day changed for me, only God can explain. However, even though my career (as I knew it), ended in an instant – I have been alive for the last twenty years. It was my blessing.
Learning to live on, I would hold my family closer. Out of necessity I was forced to create a different career path than the one I was on. The path included unscheduled stops and planned stops along the way. It was not a smooth transition. My forced job change (Cap Gemini moved the IT support operations to Toronto), was not easy, deciding to move operations out of New York. I was asked to let everyone on my team (50 people) as well as myself go by the end of the month. Without business ties to New York, I decided to move my family away. We headed to Maryland – Our best decision ever.
Moving Forward After September 11, 2001
While I had opportunities over the years to move back to NY, Maryland was now home to us. We have been raising our family here for twenty years. My wife and I were obligated to build a new path for ourselves and our children. My dreams never stopped, because I was still alive. We never looked back, we move forward. Struggles that would seem insurmountable, under the circumstances, were just obstacles to be overcome. I’m alive, while many of my friends and colleagues were not.
Moving past the rough time, the result was our family’s strength. However, I knew too many people who could not move forward after that day. I knew many families that lost not one but two parents. Some I knew could not reconcile why or what had happened. Some picked up and moved away, needing to put the past behind them. We never spoke again. I helped, and counseled others. Many suffered insurmountable grief. I attempted to be a friend to those who needed me, those who reached out.
America After September 11, 2001
In conclusion, it was a rough time for all. The memory of that day exists until this day. For instance, the cleanup, and the aftermath went on for months, even years after the destruction was eliminated. However, some scars remain. More importantly, it is up to survivors of that day to make sure people recognize and remember what the impact would be to all of us.
Keep in mind, 9-11 MUST be remembered for what it did to the fabric of American life. Unbelievably, the enemy hit us at home, but we did survive. Unfortunately, like the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, we were never the same again. Twenty years later, some seem to forget what a family Americans actually are. Those who lived through that day, will never forget the national pride that permeated the landscape. We didn’t care about heritage, religion, skin color, where you came from or what your orientation was… If you needed a hand someone reached out to provide it. THAT was and always will be America.
I think we forget over the years that Americans always care for each another. ALL OF US ARE AMERICANS. Making that choice daily, I choose to be an American first.
I never forgot what happened that day, and I promise, I never will.