14 Years After 9/11, I Remain Hopeful
I was sitting at my desk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working on a proposal with my colleague, John Devanney, when the first news arrived. A young coworker called from lower Manhattan moments after the first plane hit the first tower. She would be late to the office, she told John, as “debris was falling all over the place.” John told her to be safe, not to worry about getting to work.
Trying to process what he was saying, I turned to my web browser and hit refresh over and over until something confirmed what she had said. Five minutes later, CNN.com revealed what happens when a commercial airplane and a NYC skyscraper collide. I remember saying to my wife on the night of 9/11 that we would measure each of our days from the horror of that fateful morning. In many ways, we have.
For me, the twin towers echo back to my youth. In the 1980s, my father was a successful real estate lawyer who proudly held the corner office on the 100th floor of the north tower. Looking out his window at the Brooklyn Bridge, you could feel the building sway in the wind. I remember sitting at his desk as a little boy, how my ears popped on the elevator ride up. I remember lunches at Windows on the World, sitting next to famous baseball players during father/son events with the NY Mets. I remember walking outside the towers and hugging the building while looking straight up to the sky. I’d get dizzy from the view and almost fall over.
Years later, on a cold snowy Saturday afternoon in the winter of 2000, I stood between the twin towers inside Tobin Plaza. I dropped to one knee and asked Nancy Harvier to marry me. She paused dramatically, and then said “yes.” Moments later, we were having drinks at Windows on the World, soaking in the context of our commitment.
The twin towers were never just buildings to me. They were and remain iconic and dreamy markers connecting me to youthful pride in my dad’s professional accomplishments and the heart-stopping moment when you ask a pretty girl to spend a life together. My father never lived to see the towers fall—something my family remains thankful for to this day. Nancy and I have been married for 15 years now, and we have been joined by two beautiful children with whom we slowly and carefully share the story and lessons of 9/11.
Two Major Lessons Learned Post 9/11 and War
Dr. Linton Wells from the Department of Defense once explained to me that 9/11 was a “forcing function” for our country: it enabled big ideas trapped within our government to surface and take root. Global strategist Thomas Barnett explained that 9/11 would cause “a rule set reset” in nearly every way we interact with government, commerce, and security. This reset is a reminder of how quickly freedom can be traded away when we are unprepared for threats.
If 9/11 represented America’s under-reaction to a slowly emerging threat, then our actions for the last decade have often represented an over-reaction. Our policies have shown we have little notion of what moderation means. The war in Iraq will forever be debated for its weak ties to 9/11. Should America be attacked again, I wonder how we would show thoughtfulness and wisdom. The economic cost of our political reactions to 9/11 is only now being felt. We financed our anger on a credit card. The bills are all now due.
The current generation of U.S. military men and women has borne an enormous sacrifice that is not well understood by every American. They have performed masterfully for a decade. Their lives and relationships with friends and family have been permanently altered. And, when they need help to reintegrate into our society, they face a wall of economic uncertainty. We owe them a sustained commitment to reintegration. We cannot leave our veterans living on the streets, forgotten.
My Hopes For The Future
9/11 will remain a beacon for all of us who coalesced around our televisions and wept for what we saw. The content was consumed en-masse, and it pounded our psyches with permanent scars.
My hope is that we are somehow smarter, wiser, and more balanced in our response to those who seek only to frighten and kill. Let us hope and pray that, if we are attacked again, America will pause and draw heavily on the lessons that painfully began unfolding fourteen years ago.
I hope that when my children visit the new plaza outside the Freedom Tower near where I once proposed to their mother they will turn their thoughts towards love and the magic that day brought us. That years from now, when they are grown and have children of their own, they will take them there and re-tell the stories of our family’s experiences within such a historic space—while never ignoring the lessons we have so painfully learned as a country. And I hope that one day, my grandchildren (should I be so lucky) stare up at the side of the Freedom Tower with humble eyes and get dizzy with dreams of their future, just like I did as a child.
Authored by Daniel Forrester, CEOReturn to Blog