It is hard to believe it has been twenty years. When you are young you hear older people talk about how fast time goes by, it doesn’t really hit home. It is often big moments that force us to look back or look forward and contemplate the meaning of time and the journeys we have had between these moments. Things like getting our driver’s licenses or graduating. Your first job or your first house. Often a milestone birthday or, on the sadder side, the loss of important loved ones causes us to stop and reflect, and hopefully, at least count our blessings and possibly have a new and hopefully more positive perspective on things.
September 11, 2001, was a horrible day. It didn’t necessarily start that way for me. It started like most any fall Tuesday. It was actually a beautiful day in New York City. Beautiful blue skies, though I wasn’t one to typically see that. I would arrive by subway from out in Queens most days. The train pulled right into the basement of the world trade center after a fairly long ride. I was typically one of the first people at work so it was often even dark when I went to get on the subway to head to work. That day I was focused on getting some reports done for a meeting that was going to take place with our sister company on a top floor of the north tower. The day would obviously change drastically for everyone.
As the years go by, memories fade and some memories even shift in y0ur mind. I have vivid snapshots in my head of certain moments from that day. I have visions that I wish I hadn’t seen and visions of heroism that restore my faith in humanity when I’m feeling low. I have a recurring few seconds video reel in my head of the heroic firemen ascending the stairs in the south tower as we all headed down to our own safety. I know what eventually happened to them. If I think about it too long I tend to go into a dark hole. Many of the details get a little fuzzy over the years. I tend to forget which floor our office was on. I know it was in the 50’s. I think 52 or 54, but I’m never certain when I say it. After getting out of the building to relative safety, many of my colleagues and I spent time at a small office somewhere, trying to call home and actually seeing the south tower collapse on a tv there. I have no idea where that office was or what the business was called but am appreciative they let us in. In the madness of the day there were places that didn’t let us in. I was able to finally get a call through to my grandparents to get word out to my family that I was ok from there. I had called earlier to let them know that something happened in the north tower, but I was safely in the south tower and they didn’t have to worry. Then they hadn’t heard from me since.
Every year it hits me a little differently. Of course, I think everyone that was in that building that day and was able to get out alive has some form of survivor’s guilt. Some years it seems to take over for a week or more and others it sneaks up on me. It is probably a factor of how many news stories and documentaries I see advertised or show up as the date approaches and to some degree how busy my life is at the time. I do think it is important to remember. I also thought it was important that given that new chance on life, I take advantage of it.
My lifelong friend Ryan joined the army shortly after that day, partly due to his friend almost being taken out by 9/11. He has served proudly in the army and police department ever since, doing tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. That day clearly had long-lasting ramifications for my life from worrying about Ryan’s safety on those tours to just focusing more on appreciating and getting the most out of life. A few years later I left that somewhat safe corporate job with a lot of people I liked to start my own business. Though that was a goal of mine, I don’t know if the path would have been the same without being forced to look at life a little bit differently that day.
Though 9/11 was a horrible day with so much unnecessary loss of life, I try to take as much positive out of it as I can. I try to think that being given another chance, the best way to honor those people that didn’t make it is to take advantage of the time we have here. I don’t succeed at that every day but it is something I try to live toward. It is unfortunate that it took an event like that to cause it, but I have never seen such a united nation as we were the weeks and months after that day. With the way things have devolved since then politically, I sometimes look back at that time and wish we could recapture that unity, without the horrible trigger that caused it. I have since had a successful battle with cancer. I should say my surgeon had a battle with my cancer, as he did the hard work. However, being faced with a rare cancer that didn’t seem to have good outcomes, I think my experience of getting through the emotions of 9/11 made me stronger for that.
Sometimes I have guilt because I don’t remember every minute of that day anymore. The common saying is that we should never forget. But it isn’t about remembering the details, it is about honoring those that we lost and living our best life while we have it. Remember to appreciate the loved ones around you. Remember to be good to each other and be kind. Remember to try to leave a positive mark on the world. Try to leave the world a better place because of how you have contributed to it.
I have a Zoom meeting this weekend with some of the colleagues I was with that fateful day in 2001. Some I haven’t seen since I left that company over 15 years ago, yet we always share an email each year to check in with each other. In that sense, it brought us closer. Hopefully looking back every year can bring us all closer, even if it is only for that one day. That is the best way to honor those that didn’t make it.