|Photo by Pete Burke|
Today is a cool, almost cloudless, September day, very reminiscent of the weather this day back in 2001. At the time, I was the general counsel of a firm named Euro Brokers, which had its offices on the 84th floor of 2 World Trade Center. As our CEO and COO were in London at the time, I was planning on being in to work early, by 8 or 8:30. But, as I walked out the door, the day was so gorgeous that I changed my plans. First, I walked over to our local polling place and voted in the primary election that was being held that day (I originally was planning on doing that in the evening). Next, as I walked back to the subway at Broadway and 110th Street, and began descending the stairs, I thought, “no, I want a cup of coffee,” and turned around, and went to the nearby Starbucks to get a cup. Then, I went back to the subway, coffee in hand, where the first train was so crowded that I let it go without trying to get on. I’ve done that before, though. But I also let the second train go by (I’ve done that a very few times) and the third train (I can’t ever remember doing that – and there was room in it, although I still would have had to stand). I finally got on the fourth train, got a seat, and settled in with my coffee and newspaper. We pulled into the first express stop, at 96th Street, and there was a very un-crowded express train, waiting across the platform, a switch I normally make, as it cuts significant time off of the trip downtown. But I was relaxed and comfortable where I was, sitting, reading and drinking, and literally thought, what the heck, I’m already later than I thought I would be, what’s another 15 minutes?
I arrived downtown, where through subway announcements and re-routings, it was obvious something was happening, and got up to street level at 9:05 a.m., literally minutes after the second plane hit the Euro Brokers tower. Later, I learned that the plane’s wingtip literally went through my 84th floor office window.
So I was incredibly lucky – and by the grace of God or whatever forces were affecting me that day – survived. Many of my colleagues did not. We lost 60 out of about 300 employees in that heinous attack. Most were in their 20s or early 30s, full of life and vigor.
I was fortunate in another way, too. At a time when the whole world wanted to respond to the attacks and help in whatever way they could – but without there always being obvious paths to do so (remember all the lined-up blood donor volunteers who weren’t needed?) – I was immediately thrust full-bore into the middle of trying to help a firm survive and rebuild: finding new headquarters, rebuilding a trading floor, hiring new employees, bringing in counselors for our surviving employees, setting up a public charity to help the families and loved ones of our lost colleagues, and much, much more. It was a huge challenge, and often emotional and exhausting, but ultimately it was incredibly satisfying and meaningful work. All of us who worked together during that time forged a lifetime bond of mutual appreciation – as we all strived towards the same goals of recuperating, rebuilding and doing the right thing for the surviving families. And, by most measures, we were successful, to the point where Cantor Fitzgerald (which had been even more devastated in the attacks) sought out and bought our revitalized interdealer brokerage business in 2005.
And one of the things I’m very proud of is the role I played during this time in conceiving and overseeing to completion a first year anniversary remembrance book of our lost colleagues – which obviously didn’t change the horror of, and sadness and anger over, their deaths, but was a needed pact, with both those living and those gone, that we would remember, and never forget.
So today, for me, is always a day for remembering my lost colleagues, as well as the families and loved ones they left behind. But I also try to take time to reconnect with my former work colleagues who survived and, in the aftermath of the attacks, showed amazing strength, character and perseverance in their shared commitment to rebuild and give new life to our firm. And, not least, I give thanks – for my own family and friends and all the other blessings that I have.
So what does this all have to do with my cross-country bike trip?
Well, by now, the connections may be obvious to you. These are all clichés, but they represent truths I have always felt more acutely after my 9/11 experiences. Life is short, and you can never know what lies around the next corner. Postponing dreams often means never accomplishing them, let alone attempting them. Cherish your loved ones and relationships. Live in the present, and try to make the most of each day. Set yourself challenges, don’t coast. Help others, and try to treat them as you would like to be treated yourself.
Like everyone else, I have varying degrees of success in trying to keep these precepts in mind, let alone live by them with any degree of consistency. But dreaming of, planning and then executing this cross-country bicycle trip – and, in doing so, meeting and engaging with people from all walks of life across America and, I hope, inspiring some of you to reflect upon or rekindle your own dreams – represents, in my mind, a pretty good effort.
Thanks for reading, and may peace be with you on this day.