9/11 sneaks up on me every year.
It’s not a day I look forward to, I don’t plan on doing anything particularly different on this day. But it’s impossible for many of us to not reflect on this day, certainly not me.
Today, 15 years from the day the unspeakable happened, I have a different view on how 9/11 impacted me.
I’m from NYC, born and raised. In 1998 I left New York to live in Atlanta. I stayed there until Labor Day 2000, when I and my new young family formed in Atlanta moved to Nashville, TN. If you know my story, you know that when I arrived in Nashville, I was waiting tables to take care of my family. Knowing that would not be sufficient to truly care for them in this new city, I started to teach myself to code.
By April of 2001, my second son Ciaran was born, and I got my first job as a software developer at Healthstream. I was really very happy with things and I think fairly content with what was a major shift in economic status. Living off tips to a solid salaried position with benefits is pretty strong for my first 8 months in Nashville. Sure, no job is perfect, but this one was certainly pretty solid and again, I was grateful for the opportunity.
Five months later, I’m at a gas station filling up before work, and the guy on the radio starts saying there was an accident and a plane hit one of the towers. I get stiff.
As we all know, the reports follow up within twenty minutes saying that it in fact is not an accident because a second plane has hit the other tower. Now I’m shaking. I call my manager and she says “Yes, go home. Everyone is going home.” I do just that.
I get home and I’m sitting on the couch with my family, trying to get my family on the phone. My entire family is in NYC at the time, and no one can reach anyone. All the phone lines are tied up. So I just sit there worrying non stop. Also, remembering that I took A+ tech certification classes two floors from the top of the North Tower before I left NYC in 1998.
That building was so tall it felt like a bridge to heaven. You were definitely separated from life on earth up there. That memory made me sick like I was up that high while I was sitting on my couch, especially as I tried to imagine what it was like for the poor people trapped up there.
Then the towers came down… and so did my faith in humanity. For a moment.
I stop watching, but I don’t stop calling. And nothing would connect until that evening. My parents were ok. My sister who worked in a building just a block down was ok, but had to walk across the bridge with thousands of others. And then came the reports of those who weren’t ok. Those who weren’t ever coming home.
The first was my cousin Leon Smith, who was the driver for the now legendary Ladder 118 and perished as he and his team were among the first to enter the tower to save people.
Then classmates started to chain call to report that 10 alumni from our high school, Poly Prep, also did not make it. Three of which I played football with: Mark Hindy was the year ahead of me, and Terry Gazzani and Joe Della Pietra who were behind me and on my line when I was a senior and line captain, lost their precious lives far too soon.
I’ve always been solemn on this day since, however I don’t think I’ve done enough reflection on how the events of that day changed me. Until today.
So here’s what happened next for me…
Eight months later, I left Healthstream for a much riskier job at Anode, and a year after that I left for an even riskier job at Emma, and four years later I left right when that job got stable to walk down the risky path of entrepreneurship. I haven’t looked back since. I’ve been leaving stable situations to live a full life, aggressively.
I think now I can admit that 9/11 was the first clear imprint of my mortality in my life. And only 30 days after 9/11, my younger cousin was shot and killed by the police in Wappingers Falls, NY in a circumstance that no one can really make sense of. I never had this much death of these many young people happen in such a short period before. And I knew that for all the connections I had to them, it could (and still can) happen to me.
I think 9/11 gave me a sense of urgency that I still act with everyday. I’ve abandoned the conventional wisdom of focusing on one thing at a time and waiting to do certain things when I’m older because deep down I know, I have no promise I’ll get any older. Of course I want to… I try to live a healthy life so that I can have a long, prosperous life, but Leon, Joe, Terry and Mark also wanted to live longer than they did.
So for them, and everyone else whose beautiful life was cut short on 9/11 and many other days for many other reasons, I’m going to live this life fully and boldly as if I don’t know when it will end. Because I don’t.