I can still feel the tremendous breeze flowing across my body. I stood as high as we could go atop the World Trade Center as my ears rattled. It was the late 70’s, and I was a boy anxious to soak up the view and all the world had to offer. I vividly recall life dreams taking shape on a canvas of blue sky.
I cannot begin to imagine the feeling atop those same buildings surrounded by a tornado vacuum of wind, flames, fuel, tears and screams. At that tragic moment on September 11, 2001, my friends, whom were never found, may have looked into the cool, crisp blue skies, anxious to end their view and never to again experience all the world had to offer. Their vivid dreams literally crushed or burned away…
Born in the Bronx, I grew up walking the streets of NYC as I visited family. Yes, I even ventured into Times Square before I really understood what all those XXXs meant. I often traveled to the Financial District and the magnificence of it all inspired me professionally. My career journey almost brought me back to World Trade Center plaza in 2000. Instead, my wife, Jenn, and I moved to Raleigh to achieve a balance of life and career. September 11, 2001, a seemingly ordinary day, a fall day once filled with hope, found me walking into my office to lead an investment committee meeting and watching, first-hand, as a second plane unleashed its fury on New York City. A City etched deep into my soul.
During the week following 9/11, I retrieved several pieces of paper mail as part of my afternoon routine at the office. Approximately four steps later, I froze and tears welled-up in my brown eyes. My heartbeat accelerated as I discovered the large legal sized envelope in my hands was postmarked WTC-Tower 1, the very building where my office may have resided. My mind journeyed back in time, I recall thinking that young boys and girls will never experience the view which meant so much to me twenty-years ago. Impossible, the buildings are gone! They are just gone!
Without hesitation, I boarded a plane to Boston the following month and experienced the German Shepherds, the heavily weaponed personnel, and the loss of naivety. Travelers and workers alike appeared to be on-edge but also numb in their existence. In December 2001, Jenn and I personally paid our respects at the site. During this visit, recorded only in our minds, I recall looking into the eyes of smiling faces…happy friends, relatives, and co-workers. Only these faces were taped, glued and pinned to a wall of hope–they were the missing loved ones gone too soon. I longingly stared at the pictures of fathers, mothers, and children and was lost in my own imagined sketch of their lives left an unfinished masterpiece. The smoke continued to rise above the ruble as Jenn crossed the street to offer her condolensces to an NYC police officer. It was dark and the silhouette of his form in the streetlights laid testament to a man who lost many brothers only months prior and now stood solo as guard to their memory.
I made a prayer promise to childhood friend, Rick, who at 38, was among the missing. He was an adored husband, father, brother and son. That promise: To always work hard with the blessing of life and to never forget. Each September 11th, I attach Rick’s obituary to the portrait of the Twin Towers that hangs in my office. Each day the very same portrait inspires me to pay tribute to all those lost in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. I think of those civilian and military heroes and their families who risk their lives for my family’s freedom and safety. My eyes well-up again as I think of dreams on a blue sky canvas, dreams I still have an opportunity to pursue.
In 2013, my wife and I experienced the memorial on Liberty Street with our three young boys. Our wish for them was to understand the tragic reality of the events and to also feel the power of hope and the strength of the human spirit. I urge you and your family to experience the spirituality of the Survivor Tree and to take your mind on a powerful journey of remembrance as you stand beside the twin reflecting pools.
The Tribute in Light is seen in the background of the 9/11 Memorial in September. (Jin Lee photo)