- I know we had the first football game of the season yesterday, and I know it did not go well. I was there. We will spend all week going through it, on The Audible and in this space. The first week of the NFL season is important, but there are things that are more important. I hope people will grant me a little leeway to leave the game on the side for a few short minutes of your time on this Monday. I want to make sure I acknowledge the anniversary of the tragic attacks our country endured on 9/11 sixteen years ago today.
- I understand there are folks reading this that might have been too young to have completely comprehended the significance and horror that transpired on that day. I was working on a trading floor in Bethesda, MD at that time, and for those that know, there were brokerage houses in the Twin Towers. Traders of all commodities would speak to those brokers constantly, over open lines and in real time. Everyone has their memories from that day, and we hold them dear to our hearts so that we don’t forget. In addition to being on open lines with those folks, our trading floor (like pretty much all trading floors) had every news channel on, spread across screens all over the floor. I’ll never forget seeing the second plane hit the South Tower live and hearing those phone lines turn to static. I’ll never forget that my good friend who sat next to me was helped off the floor and out of our building—because his sister worked in the World Trade Center on a floor above the plane crash. News of the Pentagon strike hit us hard, because of the proximity of it to D.C. as well as the fact it was happening simultaneous to all of the rest of the nightmare. We started getting reports (that turned out to be bogus) of planes flying in nearby airspace that were not supposed to be there. Confusion reigned. I can’t recall when the news of Flight 93 crashing got to me, because there were other erroneous reports of crashes coming through and for a while—if even for 30-60 minutes or so—it felt like as bad as things were, it was on the way to getting exponentially worse (if you can even imagine).
- The South Tower collapsed just before 10 AM EST, and Flight 93 crashed just after 10 AM EST, after the passengers made a heroic attempt to thwart the hijackers. Reports suggest that the passengers on Flight 93 found out about the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and fought back. The 9/11 Commission reported its belief that the target for that flight was likely to be either the U.S. Capitol or White House. The North Tower fell just before 10:30 AM EST. The Pentagon had a five-story collapse on the side of the impact due to the fire just before 11 AM EST. Another 47-story building that was part of the World Trade Center collapsed at 5:20 PM EST that evening. As we sort through hurricane relief and the catastrophic images left behind by Harvey and Irma (still being left behind), it really hits a nerve on a day like today. Innocent people made to deal with extraordinary circumstances thrust upon them with little to no preparation...I get that we are talking about different scenarios entirely, but the human suffering sprayed across 24-hour news channels certainly draws the comparisons. Unlike the hurricanes we face today, for which we are aided by an army of meteorological instruments and scientists, on September 11th, we had no clue if it was over or not.
- I have no memory of finishing up my job that day. Working in the energy sector, we had been given a mandate to ensure that the power plants we managed were secured and the work associated with them (for me, that meant scheduling power generation) was completed. My best guess is that I was done around 2 PM EST or so. I imagine the scene where I worked was mirrored all over the country, as people did their best to get their job done—with all of us understanding that the work we were doing was nothing compared to the work already being done at the crash sites. Staying on top of the news that day while also trying to square away your job was difficult for every reason you can imagine. I walked home that afternoon completely numb. As a single guy (I was engaged to St. Megan at the time), I walked into my small Bethesda apartment and did what every person in the country probably did: I turned on the news and I never went to bed. No matter how many times you saw it—any of it and all of it—it simply didn’t seem real. And yet it was. I don’t know how to explain how different the world seemed all of a sudden. I don’t know how to describe the way that everyone seemed to intuitively understand—all within 24 hours—that we lived in a new reality.
- I want to make sure we all take a second and remember those that we lost on that day, even as we pause to mourn for those we are losing today due to the storms (and the further loss of life we surely face as the storm situation continues). Those first responders knew what they were getting themselves into. The looks on their faces as they headed into the Towers told you they knew it was likely they weren’t coming back out. The brave souls on Flight 93 saved COUNTLESS lives. There is no other word for them than “heroes.” The everyday citizen that immediately transformed into disaster responder—from frantically digging through rubble for survivors at the crash sites to providing water and support to those able to walk away from the scenes—is reminiscent of the way ordinary folks rushed to the scene to aid Harvey and Irma victims.
- I’ll leave you here with one more story that I always keep. The CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald (one of the aforementioned brokerage/financial services houses in the World Trade Center) survived the attack despite his company occupying the 101st through 105th floors—above the plane crash impact zone. My company did considerable business with Cantor, and many of those empty phone lines were from their desks. Howard W. Lutnick’s company suffered the greatest loss of life of any company that day (as reported), losing 658 members of its 960 employees. Lutnick survived because that day was his five-year old son’s first day of kindergarten, and the CEO and his wife wanted to take him to his first day of school. He learned of the attacks that would decimate his company and take the lives of so many of his co-workers from inside his son’s classroom. I didn’t have kids at the time, but I do now. I drive my kids to school every day for a variety of reasons. I love that time with them each morning. Their school’s location and start time makes taking them to school feasible for me and my work schedule. If I told you that Howard W. Lutnick wasn’t on my mind on a very large portion of my daily drives to school, I would be lying. The simple act of driving my kids to school keeps 9/11 alive and active inside me more than most things, and I wouldn’t change that...ever. Different days evoke different memories. The images of folks disappearing into the advancing wall of ash, rubble and smoke after the towers fell; the fires raging at the Pentagon as literally every able-bodied man and woman frantically fought to save lives; the emotional devastation that became more and more real as we learned about the passengers of Flight 93 and their families on the ground; the parking lots full of cars whose owners were never coming back to get them; the cell phones ringing from within the rubble in New York; the seemingly endless amount of funerals my co-workers and others attended for Cantor employees...we say we will never forget. The truth is we aren’t wired to forget. Though there were hours that first night that left me completely paralyzed—unable to get to my feet even to feed myself—we’ll always be the nation that got to its feet and handled its business. We’ll always be the nation capable of rising to whatever challenge presents itself because we have to...because we won’t ever forget what it is we are fighting for: each other.