I thought that I was ahead of the curve this week, with the first paragraph of two columns already written by Sunday.
The first paragraph, after all, is the most difficult. Then, last night, I flipped on the television and public television was airing a special about the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11. You could see in their tears the anguish of the survivors and emergency responders. It tugged at my heart, and a whole new column wrote itself.
I can’t believe that this year marks the 15th anniversary of that awful, awful day. I remember it as if it were yesterday. No, I can’t remember what I was wearing to work that day or what I ate for breakfast, but the emotions run just as high now as they did in 2001.
When the documentary spanned a shot of the woods in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed, the tears couldn’t help but roll. We visited Shanksville several years ago, when it was still a pole barn and chain link fence memorial. Surrounded by beautiful woods and fields, several misshapen trees and a little dip in the ground in the distance left a subtle but eerie reminder of the horror that occurred in that spot. That visit somehow deepened our connection to the passengers of that doomed flight and all of the victims of 9/11.
I didn’t directly know anyone who died that day, but the professionals who managed the trades for the trust accounts I managed at the time were connected by telephone or computer throughout the day, every day, to financial professionals in the World Trade Center buildings, some of whom lost their life.
One of the hardest hit firms was Cantor Fitzgerald. It occupied the 101st-105th floors of Building One. The company lost 658 of its 960 employees that day. Because Cantor Fitzgerald had a policy of hiring relatives, employees didn’t lose just colleagues, they lost brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.
The leader of the firm, Howard Lutnick, was labelled as a Wall Street cut throat at that time. Certainly, you don’t build a financial powerhouse by acting like a shrinking violet. But, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, he was no different than those who worked for him – grieving the same for the untimely and inexplicable loss of family and colleagues.
Lutnick said, “The best way to show someone you love them is to care for the people they love”. (Business Insider, 9/11/11). Cantor Fitzgerald subsequently created a fund for the families of those who lost their lives in the attacks and still honors their memory. In a CNBC interview from 2015, Lutnick said that 51 children whose parents died at his firm on Sept. 11 now work for him.
On Oct. 2, 2001, my colleagues and I received an email from one of our company’s executives. He wrote, “Nothing will ever be more important than our spouses, our partners, our children, our extended families and our friends. All are treasure of incalculable worth, and to think or act otherwise for even a moment, would truly be a mistake.” He goes on to urge, “Now is the time to read to and play with our children, to have conversations with family members and friends, to work on behalf of causes we believe in, to act on the impulses of kindness that knit us together. Particularly during these difficult days, it is my deepest hope that none of us ever lose sight of the things that ultimately matter most.” I have carried a copy of that memo with me every day since Oct. 2, 2001 to remember that powerful message. Unfortunately, it still is hard to balance it all and prioritize. I’m somewhat of a “work in progress.”
We closed our office early on Sept. 11. I stopped by the grocery store on my way home to stock up on baby formula. Huddled around a television set were teary-eyed women with their eyes fixed. They looked up long enough, these women who were strangers, to hug me. I can only imagine that it is how people reacted on Nov. 22, 1963.
I wish that all of the lessons we learned from Sept. 11 could have been taught without the loss of lives. Yes, there were lessons that changed us, I hope, for the better. It gave Americans a sense of patriotism on an entirely different level. In the weeks after Sept. 11, you couldn’t step outside without seeing a flag on a car, a lapel or a front porch.
Because of that day, I remember to say a prayer every day for our troops and for their loved ones who await their safe return home, and taught my daughters to do the same. I see our soldiers and veterans getting louder cheers at parades than the beauty queens. I’m not embarrassed to belt out “The Star Spangled Banner” at sporting events, even when those nearby can hear that I’m tone deaf.
Now that my daughters are older, we’ll watch Sept. 11 documentaries together. They don’t remember the day, but they understand how it has affected their world. They see it at the airport when we go through the body scanner, or when we have to show our passports at the Canadian border or when we keep an eye out for any unattended suitcases or backpacks at the train station.
It was my daughters who pulled me up from sadness and fear on the evening of Sept. 11 and in the weeks that followed. We had tried to shelter our 3-year-old daughter from the news footage, but she caught a glimpse and said, “Airplanes are supposed to fly in the sky, not in buildings.”
Later that night while taking a bath, and oblivious to that day’s events, she loaded up her hair with shampoo to make it look like an ice cream with a curl on top. She made her infant sister laugh and laugh. We sang songs, read stories, struggled over bedtime.
Without even realizing it, she helped me find the resilience to power through.
That is what parents do every day – find the resilience to power through.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.