Remembering September 11th, 2001

Originally published on September 11, 2006

As you know, today is a day of remembrance for us…our Pearl Harbor…a day as a country, we lost an unspeakable number of people in a short sweep of the hour hand.

It is a particularly meaningful day for me. I was in NYC, working just four short blocks from the World Trade Center on that day. In fact, my daily commute from NJ typically landed me in the lower level of the WTC Path Station. But just a week before, I decided to break up the monotony and change my commute to 34th Street. My company at the time, Thomson Financial, had offices throughout lower Manhattan and we lost a number of people in that tragedy.

Ascending from the South Ferry Station, throngs of people were already gathering just after the first plane hit – you could pick up from the mummers in the crowd that a plane had crashed into the first tower. I remember thinking to myself, “gee, that’s a lot of smoke for a Cessna”. Having seen a lot in NY, I went about my day and proceeded to the 27th floor of my building to get my day started. I just sat down when I felt the rumble of the second plane. Shortly thereafter, the fire alarms sounded and we were evacuating. I ran down 27th flights of stairs with a few hundred other people – not entirely sure what was going on. As I think back on that experience in a dark, noisy, chaotic stairwell, I can’t help but think about what a NYC firefighter, carrying 90 lbs of gear, going up, must have been feeling – thinking. At street level, it was total mayhem – traffic snarled, all public transit suspended, and people everywhere. Then the roar as the first tower fell, the smoke, debris, panic. I don’t remember moving much, I remember trying to process what just happened…how would it be cleaned up? How would I get to work? It didn’t occur to me that over 1000 people died in that instant. Cell service is dead, landlines are dead. What to do. My wife doesn’t know if I made it to work. Then the second tower…

I finally made it off the island and back home by about 6pm that night, only to get a page from my boss that I need to get back to the city and figure out how to get our data center back up and running. On September 12th, I made my way to 14th Street Union Square. The city was closed from that point south to everyone but emergency personal. Because my company was financial services and critical to the function of the markets, my team and I got a military escort from our rendezvous point to our building. The silence driving past Ground Zero was deafening. The dust and ash coated the street and cars like a winter blizzard snowfall, absorbing any sound. The smell was nauseating. The desertion was horrifying. No one in the streets, cars abandoned with doors open, storefronts smashed, scaffolding mangled.

That day I made four of those trips, moving our data center, a few server racks at a time from our downtown to midtown offices. Our midtown office at 11 Penn Plaza – across the street from Madison Square Garden – was evacuated twice due to bomb scares. 

In the midst of the panic, the death, the sorrow, the pain…that event was a defining moment for me. I had a job to do and I leveraged whatever internal resolve I had to make it my mission to not let the terrorists disable my business for one minute more. In my silly way, that was my contribution to the fight. Those moments also matured me, emotionally and professionally.

It was a good six months before life was even close “back to normal”. During that time, it seemed like a daily occurrence that I’d get confirmation of someone I’d known – some better than others – that had perished that day.

So as part of my annual catharsis during this time, I chose to share my story with folks I know and care for. And there you have it. Please join me I remembering this day, especially if you’re facing a challenge or hardship, and dig deep for the resolve to make those challenges defining moments for you in your life.

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