Sharing My Personal 9/11 Experience
I feel there is no better way to share my thoughts with you on 9/11 than through my own eyes and an email (found below) written to friends just after I arrived home on that tragic day.
I remember sitting in my apartment on Thursday September 13th, thinking I had forgotten something, that I needed to be somewhere. And as I recalled that I was late for a meeting, that I had registered for a conference taking place that morning in the Twin Towers, I broke into tears, as those beautiful symbols of American capitalism and opportunity were no longer there. As I realized that my life's path was possibly altered by a mere 48 hours and as I thought of those whose fate was also determined within that time-span, I wept uncontrollably.
We all witnessed it, but for those of us who smelled the fuel of the fire, whose eyes filled with smoke and hair filled with soot, for us, it was life altering. Before 9/11, I consistently worked until 10 pm on weeknights, and never left the office earlier than 9 PM. I worked most Saturdays from 12 pm through 12 am and many Sundays through the winter. My friends would telephone me from bars on Saturday night and call me crazy, but they knew why I was so crazy. You see, I was living my dream, working on "Wall Street", but I was not earning enough yet to cover my educational debt expenses and cost of living. I was determined to succeed in the endeavor I set forth on from childhood. What seemed like a mountain to climb, just making it to downtown NYC, was just one step in the mountain range that lay before me to attain my long-term goals.
All that hard work eventually paid off, as I was promoted into a special role within my firm, and I achieved success as evidenced by my performance. I was proud to say that I achieved that success without a moral or ethical sacrifice. I followed 40 companies as a sell-side analyst, without an assistant, when most of my peers on the street followed 12-15 with one or two junior analysts providing help. To do that properly, you either make personal sacrifice, as I did, or you make a poor ethical and moral decision to take shortcuts like many of my colleagues did and all of my supervisors. I was unwilling to violate the fiduciary responsibility I owed to our clients. You see I was raised right, and I turned out to be an honest guy with strong ethical values. I was viewed as a threat to many of my supervisors because of my high moral standards. I would call them on the error of their ways and refused to be a "yes-man", and that led to a degree of dislike and mistrust from some of them. However, I would not change a thing.
I remember walking from my office on Broadway one late evening, tired and frustrated with the slow rate of my own personal financial progress, and at that moment, as if designed by God, I looked up. Before me was a street sign and it read "Wall Street". I became overjoyed, so much so that I screamed "I work on Wall Street!" Nobody heard me but a homeless man and a couple of other fools who probably needed to hear it anyway. Sometimes we become so enthralled within our daily struggles that we forget about how far we have come. It was an epiphany for me.
After 9/11, I rarely worked a Saturday again and never on a Sunday. I still had my all-nighters before leaving for vacation and an occasional late night, but regularly left by 7:45 to catch the last Mario's Van Shuttle up the East Side. Although I was one of maybe five hard-working, good analysts in the office when I left, I still felt like it was early. I needed balance in my life, and I found it. Soon after, I met a great girl who I married, and have since altered my thinking quite a bit. Before 9/11, I would have considered getting my first Wall Street job the greatest accomplishment of my life, whereas now, I'm sure it will be the birth of my first child, however basic a human event that may be. It is still a miracle beyond any other.
For a good while after 9/11, many of my friends and colleagues used alcohol as a crutch, but I'm happy to say, they all seemed to make it through that tough period. We made it through together. Our friendships strengthened and our priorities changed. Now I will conclude this post with the unedited email I wrote to my friends and family after that horrible day. I wish the families of those lost my deepest sympathies and an assurance that they shall never be forgotten. They were my peers. They were regular people who got up to go to work one morning and were targeted by barbarians blinded by their cause. As I told people on that long walk home that morning, they have awakened a sleeping giant and they will regret the war they so naively sought.
The unedited email I sent to friends after 9/11:
"I'm ok. I was in a cab with 3 other people on the highway staring at the smoke coming out of the first tower, wondering if it was really happening and what had happened, when we saw the second airplane hit the South Tower. The ball of flame that came out was just unbelievable. I wandered around,watching the buildings burn. talked to people that were inside and got out, even one guy from 99th floor. talked to a guy who was covered in soot, who was alive only because he was inside his car when debris hit it. I was breathing dust and there was a coating all over everything. a woman was crying cause her son worked inside one of the buildings. I hugged her and told her I would pray. I was gathered around a car radio with a bunch of people when someone screamed the tower is falling!!!! I heard a rumble and looked over the building in front of me waiting for the building to come and crush me. My building is about a 5-10 minute walk to the WTC. I decided to walk north along the river. as I walked I saw people running toward me with a dust cloud chasing them. they were panicked. we were too far from the building, but if it was falling sideways, it could knock others down toward us. I kept going through the dust with others, north, not toward the building. I reached an open area and waited to see what was left of the WTC. as I stared up there into the dust, I noticed an American flag waving; I could have rewritten the Star Spangled Banner right there and then.... and before my eyes, the second tower fell into nothingness. my eyes still have dust in them. I felt very angry that someone was rejoicing somewhere about the murder of innocent civilians. I expect major and severe retaliation against the responsible cowardly enemy. I am more than ready to enlist against that enemy, or any that would do something like this. No question, this is the first attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, and now, I understand war. I walked 90 blocks home and got here at 2pm. only now do I cry, as I think about the people I saw jumping to their deaths, exchanging burning for a quicker, less painful end. I always thought this was possible, but today, it still felt surreal. God help us get through it. We will I'm sure, just as that American flag did.
God Bless America"