Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Another 9/11 Story

I thought about posting this yesterday, September 11, 2011, but it felt a little 'Me Too' for a day that probably doesn't need more stories to tell. This is not so much a story about 9/11, but more a recollection of that day - how personal connections manifest in the most unexpected ways.

At 9am on September 11, 2001 I was sitting at my kitchen table scanning the 'want ads' and wondering why I had voluntarily left a job just a few days before (another story). The TV in the next room was tuned to 'Regis and Kelly' just for the background noise (I swear!). As I sat there feeling a little bit worried for myself, the first reports started to trickle in as Regis announced that a small plane may have flown into one of the WTC towers.

Obviously, the rest is history.

For the remainder of that day and the days after, I was sucking up every bit of news like everyone else - trying to make sense of things that made little sense. We started to learn the names of the victims and that's where the story got a little more personal. For when the Canadian victims became known, I recognized one of the names.

I'll just call him Ken (and Google can provide the rest of the details if you need them). Ken was not my close friend and it had been a few years since I'd even thought about him. He was, at one time, a professional associate of mine. I was working for a large company looking to buy some technology and Ken was working for a smaller company looking to sell some technology.

I spent many months working on a project to implement the technology that Ken was providing to us. He was 'the sales guy' and we saw Ken a lot during those months. When we had a problem, when we needed something, Ken was the go-to guy. Like I say, we only had a professional relationship, although we did socialize from time-to-time over an expense-account steak dinner or maybe a round of golf (something at which Ken excelled while most of us IT guys did not).

When his name popped up in those 9/11 news reports, it stopped me cold. This was a connection, a human connection, to a tragedy so far removed from my everyday world. In the following days I would talk to my network of colleagues and get a little more context for this sad story. Ken had moved into a new job at a new company. He was having a breakfast meeting with his new management team - a meeting being held on the 106th floor of the North Tower of the WTC. It was the first tower to be hit by an aircraft that day, an aircraft travelling hundred of miles per hour when it struck the building just 10 stories below Ken. We learned that he managed to make at least one phone call while the smoke engulfed the top of the tower, and Ken knew he likely wouldn't be finding a way out.

Again, the rest is history.

So when the topic of 9/11 arises, as it has on this 10th anniversary of that destruction, I think about where I was when it happened and I think about Ken. I think about the man I once knew and I think about what his last minutes must have been like. I try to put myself in his place and imagine the terror and sorrow of knowing true inevitability. And I think about his family - his wife, his son, his daughter - and the grief they must carry every day.

In the end, I think about the connections we make in life and how they can surprise us in so many ways. And I remind myself that life really is too unpredictable and too short to be simply taken for granted, so we better make the very best of it while we're here.