All you have to hear are the numbers, the date 9/11, and it comes flooding back. That day we can never forget is etched in our brains and hearts as if it was yesterday.
I was getting ready for work when the first plane hit and I was sure it must be an accident of some sort. I got into the car and started driving to the office and heard of the second plane hitting a tower and I knew, deep in my soul, that this was horrifically intentional.
I was Vice President of Marketing at the time for a division of a large corporation and I realized I needed to begin to think about the office, the people, how I should approach the day. I thought of Amy, my young college grad who had taken off for her first business trip to Pennsylvania the night before. She was already nervous about traveling, what would this do to her?
We were having advertising firms come to town to do some “pitches” for our advertising account. I thought of and worried about them, were they in the air already? Were they safe? I wondered if any of our employees had friends or family working in the towers.
With all the TV’s on at the office, reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon and crashing into Pennsylvania were being discussed. I talked to Amy’s supervisor asking her to make contact with Amy, make sure she was ok and help her get arrangements to return to St. Louis.
I started calling the advertising agencies making the trip for the pitch. The agency from Chicago would get the team together and see what they wanted to do. They had been on different flights and they were still trying to track down each other. They ended up finding each other in the St. Louis airport. They had all landed before the airplanes were grounded.
The Chicago team was safe, though quite upset. I encouraged them to get some rental cars and drive back to Chicago to be with family and their children. This was only an advertising pitch, we could reschedule any time. I will never forget hearing the account manager whispering to the team “She seems really nice, I think she means it. We do not have to stay we can do this another time.” He turned back to me after a few minutes and said that they would like to stay and do the pitch today. He continued “Our families are safe, we have all checked in and we can drive home this evening.”
The advertising pitches we had that day were far and away the best pitches I have ever seen. There was a shared experience, a sense of humanity that was so profound and so much greater than any ad campaign, and we all knew it. Our focus was on the right thing, on the people, on each other.
I met some amazing people that day. The thing is, on any normal day, I may not have learned how spectacular they each were. On this day, in that moment, the pain of 9/11 was shared, the human experience was shared, the authenticity of the people, their families and their values were quite rawly on display, and it was beautiful.
I often write and talk about being radiant. In the wake of the immense sadness and horrific events, many would argue that 9/11 was and is the opposite of radiance. I offer that it is because of 9/11 that we were and are our most radiant American selves. Someone once suggested to me that radiance is about being “other-oriented”. Never are we more “other-oriented” to me, than on 9/11. We think of so many people; those we lost, the first responders, the leaders, the people walking the streets trying to help each other. We think of meetings, of where we were, of even advertising pitches that happened anyways – all because people were being “other-oriented” and were really focused on what each other needed. In that way, 9/11 evoked a radiance in all of us, a beautiful example of what it means to shine and care for each other. Much as we never forget this tragic day, let us never forget how radiant we were and are, in our shared humanity.