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Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Years Later

Something that I've forgotten delayed my morning drive to work by an hour. I was stopped at a traffic light only half a mile from home when a radio announcer reported that "an airplane" had struck a World Trade Center tower. I assumed it was a small aircraft like a Cessna 172: definitely news, but not catastrophic. Usually I don't listen to radio on my morning commute, so I switched it off and drove the 25 minutes to Nortel in silence.

In those days a video studio was located around the corner from my office. For convenience of employees they provided a large-screen TV in the corridor and set it quietly to CNBC. As I approached my office that morning, the elevator opened to a hundred colleagues – some crying, some frightened, some angry – who strained to watch the TV that had been changed to CNN at full volume. Having seen what was happening, I walked into my office, shut the door, and opened the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. My colleagues outside shreaked as one tower and then the other fell.

I knew people who worked in the former New York Telephone headquarters building directly across Vesey Street from the WTC. Were they dead? I had stayed at the WTC Marriott Hotel on business. Was any friend a guest there? By the afternoon my questions were more practical: how would Gail and I discuss this with Ryan and Eric, who were 15 and 11 at the time? Should I activate plans I had made for an emergency, such as withdrawing cash from a bank? How could Nortel carry on its business without airline transportation?

My Myers-Briggs is INTJ, so it's understandable why these first reactions to the attack were "T" instead of "F". That evening, as it became clear that America was not under continuous attack, I got more emotional. In the weeks that followed, I learned that I did not know anyone who died at the WTC, at the Pentagon, or on United 93. However, I knew people who did lose a loved one, a colleague, or an acquaintance. Raleigh has close ties to New York and Washington. Everyone in Raleigh seemed to have at least a second-degree connection to the tragedy.

Since 9-11 I have come to admire Rudy Giuliani for powerful leadership in crisis, although not necessarily his politics. He recently remarked that Pearl Harbor is confined to history, but 9-11 is not; the terrorist communities that spawned 9-11 still have the desire to do America harm. We must rectify both their desire and their means to attack. After many lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, perhaps we're on the verge of eliminating their means. I'd like to think so. Problem is, means can be replaced. I don't believe we have done much to attenuate their desire.