9/11 – Looking Back

US FlagFor me, the miracle of 9/11 is that I only recognized two of those 2,976 names. You see, I lived just across the river in northern NJ and, up until June 2001, had been working in the financial industry for about 15 years.

In late August 2001, a bunch of my former co-workers and I had gotten together for lunch, for what we knew even then would probably be the last time. We had been a close-knit and congenial group, but since being laid off in a merger, we were slowly but surely going our separate ways. A few of us were still gainfully unemployed, others were moving on to new jobs, most in the booming NY Financial district.

We were all happy that Scott made it to the luncheon. Scott used to sit across the aisle from me – he had a wickedly-funny sense of humor and was great at his job, but the love of his life was his family, especially his two children.

Well OK there was another … he loved cars too. Scott was a walking database of car facts and trivia, and could talk car-talk for hours on end. He made some extra income detailing and selling peoples’ old cars. At least 3 of us in our workgroup had sold a car through him and in every case, even after taking his cut, Scott somehow delivered top dollar. We all joked that he could have had a brilliant career in car sales!

But if it came down to the cars vs the kids, it was no contest – those boys were his universe. His desk and walls were covered with pictures and it seemed every morning he had another story to tell about them. You couldn’t help smile, not just about the stories but because he was such an enthusiastic, proud and devoted dad.

That day, Scott had some great news: he had just landed an awesome new job which he would be starting in a couple of weeks. It was a job as a disaster recovery manager – which meant a big step up the career ladder for him, a big increase in pay to support his growing family and an equally big office with a fantastic view. Best of all, they had agreed to let him work 8-4 so he could get home early enough to spend quality time with his sons.

It was the perfect storm.

So that’s why on Tuesday, 9/11/2001, at 8:46 AM, Scott was in the office early – celebrating his birthday and his first full day on the new job in his bright, new office with a beautiful view of the Hudson river, on the 93rd floor of the North tower. I have no doubt that the first things he unpacked and put on his desk that morning were pictures of his boys. I like to think that they were the last thing he saw.

About a week after 9/11, the rest of us got together one last time. We didn’t speak much of Scott – we were all still in denial, certain that he would turn up in a hospital somewhere … or perhaps be found wandering around dazed in some used car lot. I don’t think any of us could have held it together had we known otherwise. Instead, we talked of the miracles. Of the many colleagues who worked in the towers who were not in the office that day. Of the ones who had been there for interviews just a few days earlier. Of the ones who made it out. Of the woman who caught that last NY Waterway ferry –the one where the captain put the pedal to the metal as the towers fell and headed for NJ as fast as that boat would take them. Faster than it was meant to go!

And we talked to Eddie – who weathered 9/11 across the street – hunkered down with his new co-workers in the Federal Reserve building, wondering all the while if they were going to be the next target, and witnessing things no person should ever have to see. Eddie was our touchstone that evening – his presence after the ordeal a spot of hope amidst unbearable sadness. Hope that we would all eventually pick up the pieces.

And despite the scars, life would go on.