When I Remember September 11: Every Day
When I board my flight today bound for New York, I will be certainly aware it’s perhaps the safest day to fly. You see, September 11 is always a part of me.
On a warm, sunny morning in September 16 years ago, I was prepping for my monthly cross-company privacy team call at Harte Hanks in our Greenwich Village office.
As we opened the call shortly after 8:45 a.m. — my colleague peeked his head in the door of the conference room, “I just saw a plane hit the World Trade Center.” I paused the call for a moment, went to my office, and saw smoke and what seemed to be a small hole atop the north face of the North Tower. It was crystal clear outside, there were no weather issues, how could a plane hit the tower? I returned to the conference room, and asked meeting participants to postpone the call until later.
As I re-entered my office, that’s when I saw the second passenger jet flying low heading south over the Hudson River. I knew something was not right … Please, please, please do not hit another building. It actually passed the World Trade Center, and I was shortly relieved, but then I could see it banking right to make the return at an angle to collide into the South Tower. We are under attack, here in New York.
I remember throwing my fist into a file cabinet in futility, not quite understanding the tragedy unfolding, but realizing this would change everything forever.
My office mates and I stood mesmerized and shocked as we watched the hell play out one mile south of us.
Then one by one, we did our best to take an office head count, get in touch with loved ones, take inventory of who was supposed to be where — and as the day wore on, our hugs and collective tears gave us strength, each began the long trek home. I asked my colleagues to leave their office doors open, so I could stay and answer incoming calls to let those calling know the person they sought was okay, at least physically. Then at day’s end, I walked home alongside New Yorkers.
It took me 15 years to to muster the strength and courage to visit the September 11 Memorial. I’m very glad the civilized world has this extraordinary site, to honor those persons from 60-plus countries who died that day. In my heart, I have never accepted this was an attack only on America — I’ve always believed this was an attempt to undermine global peoples striving to live harmoniously. I remember President Bush, in perhaps his greatest moment, being quick to call out this attack in such perspective.
To this day, I see the “other” as those who try to disrupt such vision of harmony. These “others” in my life are not only radical Islamic terrorists, but also those who parade down the street in Charlottesville, shoot black men without provocation, use power to build walls instead of bridges, and accept no moral responsibility for refugees or children born in this country. Domestic or foreign, these “others” are all measures of the same thing to me: fear and hate. Where fear and hate are used to deny people freedoms and rights, and to erode principles which build our nation, as well as those enshrined in the founding charter of the United Nations, it’s then that I see the “other.” We should learn to identify the “other,” even in ourselves. I, myself, am not always so loyal to this vision.
September 11, it was a tragic day — but it is also was a day that solidifies for me one beautiful, hard truth: only love can win in the global competition of ideas, and it takes persistence and patience and a whole lot of courage and communicating to get there. No terrorist, no fear, no hatred can change that truth.