Ten years ago today–though already well into our twenties–we were still kids….innocent, earnest, falling in love, at the very beginning of our careers and lives. Some of us had just begun to live on our own, had just begun to make our own money, had just gotten engaged and in some cases married. We didn’t appreciate then that much more of our lives and our potential lay ahead of us than behind us….
We had graduated from elite colleges and elite graduate programs into a prosperous, peaceful, seemingly certain and safe, forward moving world, highly innovative, and packed with extraordinary opportunity….we were working at elite firms like Cravath, Goldman or McKinsey, or had started our own companies, some of us making millions upon millions upon millions in the process. We barely noticed it when the internet bubble popped…we just kept going. We partied a lot, were not always serious, had a lot of fun while working very hard….we were young, just kids, and most of us had never known, seen or experienced true suffering, let alone the evidence of extreme hate.
It was pouring rain the evening of September 10th. But that didn’t deter me and two of my best friends from going out to celebrate one of their birthdays. Over a delicious sushi meal, we talked about their new husbands, and my then new boyfriend–the man whom I was so sure I was going to marry (and am quite glad I did not). We planned triple dates and vacations and other outings. We talked about our careers and the families we hoped to have. Rain soaked yes, but there could not have been a more magnificent night, such a celebration of our youthfulness and our future….we had no way of knowing then that in some ways, that perfect night with such dear friends, would punctuate the end of our innocence and naivete.
I woke up the next morning, as so many people did, in wonder at the most perfect, crisp fall morning. The light, the air, the sunshine, the sky….; such a messy night gave way to such an extraordinary, hopeful day. Exultant that choppy market conditions resulted in the cancellation of negotiations (which would have been held in a building across the street from the twin towers), I went for a run instead of going straight to work. Such a perfect morning for a run. I felt so alive, so energetic, ready to conquer the world.
I was just finishing up my five miler (one of my best timed runs yet) when I saw the explosion. It was so eerie. How could there be an explosion that high in the sky? Shouts of “did you see that?” Nobody knew what was going on. So, I ran home…. what we’d just seen just didn’t seem right.
Turning on the television….more confusion. Called my mother, assured her that I was not downtown–told her that of course I’d get in touch with and find my sister. But I wasn’t worried about my sister yet–because, well, there didn’t seem any real reason to be concerned. No one had said anything or even speculated about a terrorist attack; we didn’t know about the Pentagon or Flight 93–just some small plane that had lost its way. My gut told me it was far more serious than that…but still, my imagination hadn’t yet caught up with reality.
A good, dutiful Cravath soldier, I got dressed, put on my new gray Armani suit….just picked up from the tailor. Headed into the office. Was getting breakfast and looking out our Worldwide Plaza cafeteria window while paying the clerk when suddenly the towers were no longer in the sky.
Stunned. I went back to my office.
The buzz, the hum, the machinery came to a stop. I ambled out of Worldwide Plaza in a state of utter confusion and disbelief…..and suddenly, deeply saddened. I’d not only had classmates, and spouses of colleagues who were working in the buildings when they fell, but a housemate–she was also in the towers….and later that day….we learned she and so many other friends hadn’t made it out.
I remember that walk home–worried about my sister and friends, worried about my parents…..seeing expressions of such utter despair, uncertainty and creepy bewilderment on so many people’s faces; ….downtown office workers in expensive suits now coated in white debris, wondering if they’d ever be able to wash it out of their skin and hair…..the sound of the sirens that didn’t seem to stop….and the smell that had already begun to permeate the air throughout the city….
I’m glad I found my sister, and that other of my friends who were supposed to be down there, like Shea, were safe….Kafi, Debbie and I, along with a few other folks I gathered (like stray cats) in the street on my way home, holed up in my apartment for what seemed like weeks, but was actually just two or three days….watching the news, trying to understand, trying to reach our families….comforting each other. Calling my mother, over and over and over again, assuring her we were okay…and that we would not do as we were raised to do–to go and try to help. When not on the phone with my mother, I was on the phone with that guy….the one whom I and my family subsequently fell in love with….only to discover a few years later that a marriage to him would be one I’d regret.
It’s a day that will stay with me forever. How can I ever forget?
The days after….they are much less crisp than the evening before and the day of….all I remember was anger, fear, sadness, that smell, those sirens. An uncomfortable relief that my meetings downtown were cancelled that morning. And then. Quiet.
I’d never known deep anger or hatred in my life until that moment. I would not have thought myself capable of such exceptional rage. But more bizarre than such alienating, foreign feelings, was how quickly they dissolved into compassion and forgiveness. How could I feel sorrow not just for my friends and the emergency workers, but also for the perpetrators of such horrific violence?
We could not (and I still cannot) comprehend what had happened. How it was possible. Our sense of security vanished, friends and colleagues forever lost. So much gone, but not our dreams. Not our hope.
And maybe that’s what it was….that sense of hope, that there would be a tomorrow, which enabled me to forgive….perhaps it was suddenly understanding that hatred is contrary to hope….that hatred keeps you rooted so deeply in the past, paralyzing you and your capacity for judgment, rendering you incapable of forward movement. Whereas hope on the other hand–it compels us to move forward. Hope requires action.
Perhaps remembering is not as important as honoring the sacrifice of those who perished and responded, of those who went off to defend our freedom, our values, our nation….honoring them by moving insistently and deliberately into our future to sculpt the world we hope for and need.
Since September 11, 2001, I have not always moved with such insistence. Successes aside, I have made numerous mistakes and poor decisions–many which I seriously regret. My actions have not consistently conveyed courage, compassion or selfless, unconditional love. I have, at times, unwittingly betrayed my own values. But today’s anniversary, and the emotions which are still so very much at the surface for me, are an incredible reminder….we can be defined by our mistakes, our failings and shortcomings….we can be defined by our hatred and fears….or, we can move forward, ever insistently, ever deliberately, with great love, great hope and great joy, promoting human dignity, seeking always the fullest expression of our humanity and grace.