Seven years ago today…

It’s taken me five days to finish this post that I started on 9/11.

I remember so vividly the crisp fall morning, awakening early to what literally started as a most idyllic day–and quickly morphed into something quite different–from the freshness of having just learned that Erica was pregnant two days before, to enjoying a cup of morning coffee while overlooking the morning sun and blue skies as well as the Manhattan skyline from our apartment a few blocks South of the WTC (pictured above).

And I remember the walk into the office, arriving first to the office at 8am–abnormally early by Manhattan start-up company standards–while feeling a strength of excitement to my event-filled day with Exec’s from planned meetings throughout the day.

And then I got the call from my friend commuting into the City, whose frantic plight was among the earliest acknowledgments that something was terribly wrong.

And the day, as everybody knows, turned horrific from that moment on. Each of us has a story of where we were, the people we knew affected, and the resulting impact from this day many years ago.

And for six years I awakened on this memorial day with an almost methodical remembrance of the anniversary of this days events, with a customary moment of silence during each of the major attacks, along with numerous phone calls to those with whom I shared the day from years back.

Perhaps this year it was a culmination of being on the West Coast, where I expect there exists some direct relationship to distance and discussion, though perhaps it was also the factor of time that had passed as well as a harried and busy calendar for the day.

Yet on 9/11 I felt like something was missing from the day, an intangible that I couldn’t–and still can’t–quite express.

Now today, five days later, when I read a touching 9/11 remembrance article from the Wall Street Journal that my dad emailed onto me, copied and pasted below, it struck the chord that I seemed to miss from this past Thursday.

Wall Street Journal
September 13, 2009

‘They Are All Better Than Me’

The taxi driver did not want to take me to Brooklyn. Stephen, a very tired-looking man from Ghana, muttered under his breath when I got into his cab on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village and asked for Montague Street — just over the bridge.

He was just starting his night shift. The ride downtown was one of those passive-aggressive, stop-and-start affairs that cabbies use to punish inconvenient fares. But the driver’s mood softened when we reached the site of the World Trade Center.

On the eve of the seventh anniversary of 9/11, the lights — two soaring, vertical columns of blue-grey mist representing the Twin Towers — were projected heavenward, as they are each year. We had just passed the stretch between the Village and Tribeca when the two of us were caught off guard south of Chambers Street. We were directly under the light beams, at the base of operations, as it were, near the construction site that is still a mess. The annual civic display was both less romantic and more impressive up close. Bugs swarmed in the electrical glow of Big Machinery. The wattage was alarming.

We lingered in the phosphorescence, stuck in traffic, mesmerized by the shockingly muscular beams. He stopped the car. This, we agreed, was a big deal, and must have cost the city a lot.

“Where were you when it happened?” I asked, glad that he was no longer mad at me for dragging him to Brooklyn. “Don’t ask me, please,” he responded. “I’m getting tears in my eyes.” The New Yorker in me suspected this intimacy might be a bit of theatrical tip-seeking. But I soon felt terrible for thinking so.

“The night before it happened, I dropped a fare right here at a hotel under the Twin Towers. I don’t know what happened to them.” Back then, Stephen had just recently left his day job . . . at the Twin Towers. “I worked for a freight forwarding company,” he said, and I thought that the very African way he pronounced “freight forwarding” made it sound as vital and noble as it actually is.

“Two people I knew died,” he continued. “I had recently quit working there in the day, because of my kids, to work nights driving a taxi, to make sure my kids were OK, to get them off to school. We had problems with babysitters.” He seemed energized when I asked what he thought about Osama Bin Laden. “Those people!! So wicked! So smart! So Samaarrrt!”

Moments later, he handed me a color photo as he turned on to the Brooklyn Bridge. A lineup of dark-faced, pastel-clad kids, several girls and a boy, all gorgeous, strapping and smiling broadly. “The oldest girl is so pretty,” I said, stupidly. “That’s my wife,” he confided. “She died two years ago of throat and neck cancer. I can’t believe it’s two years.” I asked him for a pen.

“You’re doing an incredible job of raising these happy kids,” I told him, wanting to write down his words and make him feel better. “What do your kids do?”

“See that one in the green shirt?” He asked the question without turning around. “Master’s in psychology.” He slowed down in the bridge traffic. “The one on the end? She’s the oldest, a teacher.” There was a boy in his second year at college, and yet another accomplished girl. “They’re all better than me” he boasted. “Psychologist . . . cab driver!” I told him he was wrong — he gets credit for raising them. “Teacher . . . cab driver!” he boomed. “They are better!” Tears welled in his eyes as he added that he missed his wife terribly.

We arrived at my home. Stephen politely accepted my tip and I got out of the cab. Then he headed back over the river toward the lights that had, at least momentarily, bridged the differences between us.

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3 Replies to “Seven years ago today…”

  1. Who really knows why God allows situations to happen in our lives that drastically change our direction in life. I do know that everyday is precious and we need to accept to live it to the fullest. Everyday you should tell those you have feelings for about your feelings. This past year I have lost many family members due to many different situations. Now all I have are memories. Just like 9-11 is a memory that we should never forget, the holocaust will always be a reminder in my family. We strife not to dwell on those situations but strife to make sure they never fade away from memory.
    God Bless

  2. FYI
    Rich, your timing is perfect, for some of us this is our High Holy days. We take time to reflect on how we have been this past year and how we have treated others. Then we go to anyone that we may have offended in anyway and ask for forgiveness. Then we petition God give us a renewed influence and structure for this coming new year. This just the tip of the iceberg of the High Holy days, there is much, much more. So Rich may your name be inscribed in the book of life for this coming new year.
    Le-shana tovah tkatevu Rosh Ha-shanah

  3. Hey Raz, Yes I am catching up on reading your blogs today! A beautiful day it is. 70 degrees at noon in DFW and watching the Oklahoma Texas football game. Life is beautiful and as I am getting older I am truly learning to appreciate everyday and the people in it!

    I remember the day clearly; I was getting ready to get to my office in Dallas. I was excited about the day because we landed a software implementation-consulting contract for a firm in NYC. I had few consultants who just arrived there few days ago and had started the initial work. We were making some great headway with a company that I had founded with another partner and was excited about the future rewards!

    Fast forwarding to today. Learn to live in the “Present”, the “Now”. I would say that was the biggest personal lesson for me that came out of 9/11. It was a very tough time in the natural, but there was a higher power working even at that time as it is today and always…

    Lot’s of miracles came out of 9/11 and I have learned to be a better person. I still have a ways to go, but it started that journey for me…

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