Have we honored 9/11?
I didn’t listen to the morning news as I drove to work on Sept. 11, 2001. The annual fundraising golf tournament for the John C. Lincoln children’s programs was set for the next day in Anthem, Ariz. There would be a lot to accomplish on this cool, clear Tuesday in order to prepare for Wednesday. I needed time to think.
Oblivious to what had occurred in New York City and Washington D.C., I arrived at the office early. Our office coordinator met me at the door, breathless: “It’s been crazy already…we’ve received tons of calls…there are tons more to pick up on voice mail…mostly, people want to donate blood. What do I say? We don’t take blood! Should we call….”
“Whoa, whoa whoa. Why are all these people suddenly calling to donate blood?” I interrupted.
“Oh…you don’t know.”
She quietly took my hand and led me into our TV room to see the news. As I gaped at the TV, trying to comprehend what I was seeing, the North Tower imploded and a gigantic column of dust rose where the North Tower had been.
Our hospital had a decision to make. It might have seemed small compared to the events of 9/11, but it was gigantic to us. We had been planning the annual golf tournament for more than a year. Would we hold the tournament, or would we cancel it in the wake of 9/11? What would be our logic, our justification for a decision either way? If we cancelled it, how would we tell people? If we didn’t cancel it, would anyone show up?
Most poignant of the questions our team faced: had our liability insurance been completed? It was being coordinated by a woman whose office was in the North Tower. Someone found the paperwork – was it possible that this woman’s last professional act was to fax us our liability insurance?
Finally, our CEO made the decision, “This tournament is for the kids. I’m not giving it to terrorists.” He took a tremendous amount of flak during and after the tournament, but this was merely one of tens of thousands decisions made by individuals trying their hardest to do the right thing for America on 9/11.
The tournament was held underneath the gray and eerily silent skies of Sept. 12, 2001. Nearly everyone who had registered came – not to play golf, but to be with each other and to do something positive in the wake of tragedy.
Although I’d always been a hard worker, my career had mostly been a sideshow to my personal pursuits. Given the choice to pursue rock climbing or a career that might impact people’s lives, I chose rock climbing. So much more interesting, I thought. But, now I knew of a woman who might very well have died after accomplishing an ordinary daily work task – making sure we had the necessary insurance to hold a golf tournament to help children.
In fact, most of the people who died on 9/11 became American heroes not because they had committed to risk their lives by joining the military or the police corps or the fire department. They became heroes because they were stockbrokers and secretaries and lawyers and insurance coordinators and all kinds of ordinary people who decided to show up for work that day and perform everyday tasks.
In Rudy Guiliano’s first speech of 9/11, he said that while we didn’t yet know the number of people who died, we knew it would be, “more than we can bear.” It was in that moment, I decided to change course and give my career everything I had.
Ten years later, and it's Sept. 11, 2011.
Ten years later, and I completed a second degree and earned a position as a director at an excellent health care organization, where I have the opportunity to impact people’s lives positively.
Ten years later, and my son graduated from Chapman University in May, moved to Chicago and began work in his chosen career and passion – theater.
Ten years later, and our nation has brought the perpetrators, chief among them Osama bin Laden, to justice.
Ten years later, and magnificent tributes to those who died on 9/11 have been built.
Ten years later, and let me ask you this: Do you feel good about what we as individuals and as a nation have accomplished since 9/11?
Ok, I’ll answer first: I don’t.
Please, don’t misunderstand – I’m extraordinarily grateful to all those who helped me achieve my personal goals, I’m proud of my son, I’m glad our nation brought the perpetrators to justice and I believe we are all honored by the hard work of creative Americans who designed and built beautiful memorials to those who died.
But, let’s turn our frame of reference about 9/11 toward our economy: the recession, the sputtering recovery, the collapse of the housing market – especially here in Arizona, the lack of capital for growth, the number of jobs lost since 2007.
Ten years later, and our economy is as eerily fragile as the silent, gray skies on Sept. 12, 2001. Have we, as individuals and as a nation, fully honored the hardworking lives of those who became heroes on 9/11 with the economy we currently live in?
I argue that we have not. I also believe that together we can fix it.
Just as we focused the last 10 years on bringing the perpetrators to justice, let’s decide now to commit everything we have in us for the next 10 years toward bringing the American economy back to its fullest potential.
And let’s not wait for the government to fix our economy for us. Let’s stop blaming everything on our elected leaders. For starters, we elected them. And, after all, this is America.
As individuals and as a nation, let’s start instead by committing a singular focus toward creating intelligent, productive work. Like the tens of thousands of individual decisions made on 9/11, let’s make the tens of thousands of individual decisions we need to make right now to create meaningful, valuable and creative work that will drive our lives, our families and our nation forward.
For those who died on 9/11. For our children. For our country. In the words of Todd Beamer, “Let’s roll.”