Today, we will read dozens of heartfelt remembrances of 20 years ago. I’ve already read a few from friends who were supposed to be in those buildings at the time. Their writing brings back stark memories.
I spent the first 12 formative years of my career in Manhattan. Through the 80’s much of my time was spent “downtown” in the financial district. For a couple of years, I actually had an office in Tower1. Windows on the World was a favorite gathering spot. The conference center on the floors immediately adjacent were places both Kookie and I spent lots of time.
On September 10, 2001, I returned from a 3 week business trip in Sub-Sahara Africa. It was my first time to that part of Africa. I had been helping a client set up their distribution network in the region. We traveled all over, meeting with dozens of distributors, developing business plans, kicking off their selling programs. I met so many fascinating people and had experiences I have always treasured.
On the morning of September 11, I was sitting in my office, catching up on 3 weeks of stuff that had piled up. Kookie came running into my office saying, “Turn on the TV!!” It was shortly after the first plane had hit the tower. Over the ensuing hours, we witnessed the tragedies millions of others were seeing at the same time.
We were on the phones calling friends, relatives, colleagues in Manhattan, checking in on them. Others were calling us, asking “Are you still in Manhattan?” Dozens of calls and messages came in from my newly made friends in Africa. Many were Muslim, saying, “I hope you don’t think these actions are representative of what we feel….”
Over the ensuing days, we learned we had lost 3 colleagues. They were people who had worked for Kookie–they were at a conference and had no chance. In the months that followed, all our friends and colleagues in Manhattan had friends, relatives that were in the buildings, emergency responders, or in the area. The list of people we knew directly or indirectly grew.
One of the things I remember so vividly of that period is how it seemed to bring people together. Some in anger around how this could have happened. Some in remembrance of friends and relatives lost. Most just needing and offering support.
But what I remember were people working together, trying to make sense of things, trying to move forward in their lives, trying to understand. There were disagreements in the ensuing months, vigorous debates. But somehow, one got the sense that underlying these things going on, not just in my community, but across the country and world, we were trying to come closer together. While there were differences and disagreements, we found way to come together and move forward.
Fast forward to today, 20 years later. On reflection, I question some of the things that were done in the months/years afterwards. In the moment, they seemed more right than wrong. But with 20 years perspective, it causes one to think.
But more importantly, I look at where we as a society are. Polarized, intolerant, unable to have disagreements and respect differences in perspectives, unable to even agree on facts/data. We are in a world where, “I’m right and you are wrong” dominates, with no attempt to learn, understand, and perhaps shift our positions. We want to move forward, but sadly, not together. As a result we are moving, not forward, but further apart.
We are facing our own tragedies–Covid, Storm/Fires/Other Climatic Events, Racial/Gender/Religious and other divisions. Economic/social disruption, and more.
But instead of trying to come together, we seem to be pushing each other away, often very violently. In moments, it leaves me feeling empty, sad, disillusioned, and hopeless. This morning, though, as I reflect on the events of 20 years ago, I have some sense of resilience. We found ways to put aside differences and come together then. We can surely find ways to do so now.
I hope on September 11, 2041, I can write my reflections on today, saying it was a time of great turmoil, disruption, tragedy, and disagreement. But we found ways to come together.
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