Remembering 9/11

Blue sky. Family.

That’s what I remember most about September 11, 2001. I remember walking outside at work, looking up at the blue, blue sky. It was the same blue sky that had been hanging right over me all spring and summer as I rode my bike and went for walks every day. But lost in my thoughts of not wanting to be laid off anymore, I hadn’t really been looking then, or really riding my bike. Now I was afraid to look away.

That morning I had just settled into a new office and a new technical writing assignment, glad to be back in a cubicle. IT had issued my new computer and I was eager to hook up to the company network, get my email setup, and get back online. My biggest issue before lunchtime, I thought, would be navigating the maze of network links and corporate naming conventions to default to the printer sitting a couple feet from my desk.

When the morning greetings and everyday office banter I was so glad to rejoin first shifted to hushed orders to “get on CNN,” I held back. I hadn’t even been given my first new assignment, how could I start surfing the Web first thing in the morning? I did, of course, eventually log on and look with the rest of the world. Then, much later, after watching the images unfold minute by minute, I wanted to stop watching, but didn’t quite know how. No forced shutdown and system reboot would ever make this day go away. That’s when I headed back outside into the parking lot.

“The sky is still blue. My family is OK,” I reminded myself over and over. “Don’t blink or it could all be taken away.”

Five years later, the sky was once more a beautiful late-summer blue where I sat in Central Park. I remembered to notice it as often as possible while I helped to greet  hundreds of families gathering for a memorial service. I was there as a volunteer organizer for the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, checking family members’ names and the names of their lost loved ones as they took their seats. I remember squinting as I looked up to their faces, framed by the same brilliant sun blocked out for them five years earlier. I remember having to hold my list steady in the warm breeze with one hand as I checked off names with the other. The list of names was, actually, more of a booklet – alphabetized, stapled and many pages too long.

I didn’t lose any loved ones as a result of the tragedies on September 11, 2001. I remember that with gratitude every day. Instead, I was in Central Park because I had gained someone – someone who, otherwise, I certainly would have never met. I was there for Edie Lutnick. Other than the fact we both lost our mothers and fathers at an early age, our backgrounds and lifestyles couldn’t have been more different. What began as a series of serendipitous circumstances bringing Edie and me together (see my “Come and Meet Those Dancin’ Feet” posts) had grown into a special soul connection, bringing me to Central Park five years later to help her help her families.

“It takes a broken heart to heal a broken heart,” Edie said to the memorial gathering, summarizing her life’s work over the last five years. As she did, many of the 1,500-plus attendees nodded in unison, each remembering how she had proven it true for them. On September 11, 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees lost their lives when the terrorist attacks destroyed the company’s headquarters on the top floors of the World Trade Center’s north tower. With more than two-thirds of their entire New York workforce gone, Cantor became the most profoundly devastated company among the WTC tenants. Edie’s brother, Gary, and many of her friends were among those killed. The offices of her labor law practice, also in the north tower, no longer existed. The reasons for Edie to give up on that September morning were staggering. But she chose to go on ─ to work with her brother, Howard, and the rest of the surviving Cantor employees ─ to help others pull through as well. Under Edie’s leadership, the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund had since provided over $175 million in direct financial assistance and support services to those who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks. As a result, over 800 families and 950 children from 12 companies have received support and financial assistance.

I remember my amazing friend Edie and her families each September 11th, and always. I haven’t seen her since that day in Central Park and, unless and until the time is right again, I won’t. I’m about as far now, geographically and mentally, from that parking lot I walked around in 2001, as I am from New York City. No matter, though, we walk in stride. And as I think of her and her work, I remember to look to the sky, to be glad I have both feet on the ground.

My patch of blue sky is now in Rangeley, Maine, as it was early in September a couple years ago. I was walking by the lake, not consciously thinking about the approaching anniversary, just appreciating the late summer day. Words floated into my mind in a way I’ve learned to recognize as coming through me, but not from me. They were for Edie and her families…inspired in Rangeley, sent to New York by way of, I believe, a connection that binds us all.

A September 11th message for Edie and Howard Lutnick and the Cantor families:
Today, I will put my hand on my heart and know the loss and healing that connects us all.
Today, I will pause in silence and hear your comforting words and the harmony of the world’s finest voices rising above the haunting echoes.
Today, I will see the people around me – truly see each coworker and friend – the color of their eyes, the way they smile or can’t smile, the familiarity of each beautiful face as it adds a new focus to my day for one special moment.
Today, I will hold my family close and feel your hugs and the strength and softness we share in memory of those we can hold only in our hearts.
Today, I will speak of this anniversary – mostly in present tense – of those who mark it moment by moment, day by day. I will tell the stories behind the statistics – of the sisters, mothers, sons, husbands, daughters, wives, brothers and fathers who honor those taken on this day by over and over taking the small, courageous steps that bring them through another year – whole and strong enough to hear their loved one’s name read aloud one more time.
Today, I will breathe deeply, lift my face to the sky and let the wind and sun remind me that I never walk alone.
Today, and always, I will remember.

(Given to each family member attending the Cantor Fitzgerald memorial service on September 11, 2008.)

— This story continues with 9/11/11: A Time to Share Edie’s Story.

5 thoughts on “Remembering 9/11

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