In a note that preceded the publication of the messages that arrived in response to the call, the editor said, "Sept. 11, 2002 -- Perhaps you will be as surprised as we were by the varied responses: an emotional tribute to a firefighter, a political commentary, a letter from a man who will be on active duty on this 9/11 anniversary, flashbacks to one year ago, and a dose of 'business as usual.'"
The shock of those events still haunted my psyche and influenced the words that I chose to submit in response to the call. Today I not only share those thoughts with you but also solicit your input about what you were doing on September 11, 2001 and how you will be remembering that day.
All in the Course of a Day
September 11, 2001 awakened as any other day for a solo practitioner/consultant. The crush of work and administrative issues that were left undone impatiently waited for attention, with their new siblings - the To Do list for the new day.
One dawning news story was different from the rest. Although the newscaster reported that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, there was something just not right about the report. It was surprising that the newscaster didn’t catch it. The site of the accident is extremely visible. The likelihood of not seeing the tower was like not seeing an elephant on a plain in Kansas.
In the time it took to register that thought the next one demanded an answer. Was that a passenger plane or a private one? If a passenger plane, this was as horrible an event as The Challenger.
Within the next 90 minutes, the toll of crashes and lost lives mounted as both towers crumbled and came crashing down on all humanity beneath and within them and as the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania added to the destruction toll. All those souls who went about doing their usual routine on a Tuesday morning. The carping about wages, hours, the difficult co-worker or supervisor. Attending to the mindless opening rituals of the day and fully expecting the workplace to be a safe environment, these people experienced an earthquake jolt in their sense of what and where is safe. Little did any of us anywhere appreciate the far-reaching ripple effects of the attacks on the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon, and the aborted attack on the White House.
But as a solo practitioner, there were appointments and projects that had real deadlines and penalties for missing them. So life was still business as usual - press on to meet the commitments and deliver.
As the day wore on, little resembled normal. Public transportation is my sole means of commuting. On September 11, transports seemed to take even longer than usual. At the first juncture, I finally gave up waiting for the bus and walked the uphill mile to deliver one document. The intention was to then speed my way to the downtown library to use the resources necessary for the project – the only place where those resources were available. I was stopped. The manager at the site informed me that bus service to downtown was terminated for the next several days and all of downtown was closed.
I was forced to slow down that day and take an even closer look at the humanity that passed around and about me, to listen more carefully to the stories these people told. Some were completely oblivious to the events and continued in their microbial worlds. Others sublimated. A hush hung over the city as people numbly waited, waited for some piece of reality that said none of these horrors had actually occurred.
For me, life and business could not stop and ponder any longer than taking lunch and walking back to my SOHO. Clients and businesses were still depending on my performance. Bills still needed to be paid, deadlines still needed to be met through alternative means.
As the ensuing weeks wore on, many considered whether there would be other attacks and projected the locations of the next likely sites. I stood on bus stops and waited in lobbies and wondered if I and my fellow waiting companions would become the next attack statistics. Victims merely because we happened to be standing where the shrapnel or debris fell to snuff out our lives as well.
Racial tensions took four ratchets up on the scale of intensity. A new class of people became targets. Hate and incendiary speech proliferated discussion boards and meetings, born of the shock that needed mitigation. My determination to create acceptance of diversity and others as individuals intensified.
In the end, everything has become part of the new reality. The United States tasted the bitter gunpowder of warfare in her own bosom and gained a new understanding of why some countries hate. Some ponder how there can be acceptance of living in a state of wondering from minute to minute, hour to hour, whether their home or workplace, school or shopping center will be the site of a missile that turns it into a shambled heap of debris and death. In the long run, we learned that it is impossible to live in that type of fear. United States citizens took a step into appreciating what that type of life is like. We were given an opportunity to identify with the issues of other countries gripped in the vice of warfare not only on their homeland but in their everyday lives. The reality is not comfortable. A means of surviving and overcoming the fear needs to be in place. Life has to keep going.
So, on September 11, 2002, there will be no planned observation of the day, no recollection. I’m still a solo practitioner and consultant. I still have deadlines and commitments that grow like bacilli in a Petri dish. September 11, 2002 will be a matter of getting as much done as possible in a day. It will be all things that are now normal in the course of a day.
- Yvonne La Rose
Additional Content of Interest:
- Workplace Safety Measures
- Talent Genius
- Leadership in Dangerous Situations: A Handbook for the Armed Forces, Emergency Services and First Responders