“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” – Arthur Ashe
It was an early and cool September morning. I arrived at our small civil engineering office in Tulsa a little after 7:30am. The survey crew had just left the building to stake out one of our new projects. Thankfully they left a half pot of brewed coffee for the rest of us. I logged in to my AutoCAD station with my cup of coffee and started planning my day. The phone rang. It was my wife, Jane, on the other end of the line, who added, “You need to turn on the news, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!” Our first thought was our family in New Jersey, especially my brother-in-law who worked in downtown Manhattan at the New York City Rescue Mission. He took the Path trains and Subways in and often exited at World Trade before walking to the Mission. I wondered if he was there and if he was safe.
I quickly told the other engineers in the office what I had just heard. One of the offices had and old CRT style TV and we managed to get it to work. It looked a bit like a relic from the old Jetsons cartoons, complete with a bizarre looking antenna adorned with aluminum foil balls to somehow coax a better signal. It rarely worked. Thankfully however, this morning it picked up our local ABC station, and that was perfect. The World Trade Towers were full screen, with smoke billowing out of the North Tower. The entire office had gathered in the room. We were glued to the screen listening to GMA anchors Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson verbalizing the same questions we all had. What was happening? How could this happen?
As we watched, a second plane entered the screen and crashed into the South Tower! “We are under attack!” That was the general sentiment in the room. People started making phone calls to friends and family. Nearly an hour later and we were all still glued to the news. The Pentagon attack, then The South Tower collapsed, followed by the North Tower. We watched the unbelievable footage of first responders, firefighters bravely rescuing people from the towers, many sacrificing their own lives. Citizens were helping other citizens. All of us TV bystanders felt a tug to reach through the screen and join the effort. We couldn’t, so we just watched and watched and watched. For the next several days and even weeks, everyone around us seemed to be plugged in to the news feed. Offices, homes and even restaurants were all running the 24×7 coverage of the attack. The event had captured the entire conscious of the nation had awakened our hyper focus.
What was your experience on 9/11? I will never forget that day or the weeks following. It changed us. Yes, we were suddenly remined at how vulnerable we can be. But more importantly, it taught us how good we can be. In a crisis, heroes emerge. They enter the scene not for the drama or the recognition, but to answer the call to save and serve others. Many did so at the cost of their own lives. Would we do the same? Not that we will all be asked to run into burning high-rise buildings, but we can all answer the call to serve others, help each other, and carry each other through tough times. It’s a job that always has openings.
In case you are wondering, my brother-in-law never made it in to work that day. He had missed his train to accommodate some visiting relatives. It was a frustrating inconvenience that turned into a grace. He spent the next several months helping others, providing food, clothing and shelter from the rescue mission. He was a hero too.