Twelve years ago today, I was in a hotel in Boston trying to decide if my cousin and I were going to drive to NYC for the day because we had some extra time on our hands. I had accompanied her to Boston on family business. Only hours before, we had landed at Boston’s airport. Little did we know, within hours of our flight touching down, a plane carrying innocent people and the terrorists would take off from the same runway and have a tragic demise. Given we were on the east coast, we were watching the Today Show live that morning; a luxury for us west coasters who are always on tape delay. I vividly remember Matt Lauer being mid-interview when he interrupted the guest to say that there was breaking news. I had never seen breaking news interrupt the Today Show. The image on the tv quickly transitioned to smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center and my cousin Kristin and I settled back onto our hotel beds and watched with disbelief. We watched live as the second plane hit. We watched live as both Towers fell. Our families back in San Diego were still sleeping because of the time difference. They awoke to their tv’s telling them of the tragedies that had already occurred. We had seen it all live as it played out for the world to see.
As Matt Lauer and Katie Couric tried desperately to make sense of what was going on for the viewers it felt like they were reporting in quick sand. The events were unraveling so fast that they couldn’t keep up. Next was the reports from the Pentagon and then the report of the plane in the field in Pennsylvania. Very quickly, my cousin and I realized that San Diego felt like a very long way from Boston. Our phones started ringing as our relatives and friends were learning of the news. We felt both safe and unsafe in our hotel room. The silence that fell over the city was palatable. I remember that day being very quiet apart from the breaking news and flurry playing from our tv. We eventually made our way to a local library, where we hoped to have access to the internet. Back in 2001, not every hotel had wi-fi! Together, we sat at computer terminals in a neighborhood library in Boston and hoped that by reading the news it would all make sense. I had a friend living in New York City, who I had emailed the day before to discuss us connecting in the City during our visit. There was a flurry of emails between friends because no one had heard from Marjoel. She later resurfaced and said that she was on the Subway when the planes hit and when she came up from underground, she was blinded by smoke and debris. Not being able to reach her for hours was heart stopping. It was my small sliver of experiencing what the friends and families of those directly impacted must have felt.
We had dinner the next day with a friend of mine in Rhode Island and I recall every tv on in the restaurant with the coverage. You couldn’t escape it. When President Bush addressed the nation for the first time, there was a hush that came over the restaurant. Everyone felt lost and was hoping President Bush would give us direction. You can decide if he did or didn’t.
With Boston Airport closed, we eventually had to drive to Connecticut to fly home. We were the first flight out on the day the airports reopened. It was the first time I had ever seen police carrying machine guns in an airport. Again, silence was every where. No one dare cause a fuss or alarm. There was a lightness to the plane as it headed West. Somehow, just the thought of being home, became the reassurance we needed to cope. We fell into heavy embraces as we saw our families for the first time. Our parents relieved that we were far from the tragedy but unprepared to tell us that any of us were really safe. 9-11 was the day everything changed.
Hard to imagine that enough time has passed now from that fateful day that my niece and nephew now learn of those events through textbooks instead of direct experience. They only know a post-9/11 world. They only know that the flags now fly at half-mast on 9/11 because something really terrible happened. They don’t have the emotional connection to that day like the rest of us do. Every generation has their day when they knew exactly where they were and what they were doing when “it” happened. I dread to know what Ian and Elyse’s day will be.
Twelve years from 9/11 and I am more resolved to run a company that is based on a philosophy of enjoying recess, family experiences and unique events. Tragedy has reminded us that life is too short. I’m sure there isn’t a person that was lost on that day that would have said they wished they would have worked more and been far more serious. If we can take anything from the day the world changed, let it be that life should be celebrated and experienced. We can honor the innocent by being resolved in our commitment to create community, cherish experiences, travel the world for better understanding and to always make time for those we hold most dear – both the family we were born into and the one we have chosen.
Where we you on 9/11? More importantly, what is your takeaway from the experience we all faced? Let us know!