On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in New York City giving an investment presentation to the executive team at Monster Worldwide.
Within a few minutes of starting that pitch, the 70 year-old Chairman Andy McKelvey was abruptly pulled out of the meeting by his assistant. We all looked at each other wondering what was going on. Some execs rolled their eyes and whispered to each other, chuckling and thinking the old guy was up to no good.
Then a crescendo of anxiety quickly rose as rumors of a small plane hitting the World Trade Center escalated into stories about one tower being on fire. Many of us left the conference room and went to the south side of the buidling.
We stood in a magnificent corporate office, 40 stories in the air, providing a clear view of the World Trade Center south of us. The towers were in fact on fire.
We stood mute, watching in disbelief. Then gasped and shook as each tower crashed before our eyes. There wasn’t a scream among us. Just a sudden gasp, hand covered mouth, eyes watering, quiet sobbing.
I remember trembling that only a week earlier, I had been in the south tower that now crumbled before my eyes, killing thousands as it collapsed. As my tears rolled down, I said a prayer of gratitude that I was a spectator and not a victim.
The city was eerily quiet that afternoon. I walked south to volunteer and turned around again and headed north. I did that at least ten times. Unsure of whether I could be of any help or if I should get home to be with my family. Torn. Guilty. Indecisive. Confused.
I went back to the office. I tried to rent a car to go home, but they were reserved for emergency personnel. All flights had been grounded. I headed to Union Station to try to get a train and found the station jammed with thousands of other would-be rail travelers. I had to leave my bags behind in that station so that I could squeeze into the last train out. It was a stinking, sweltering standing room only ride to Philadelphia. The next day I was on Amtrak headed across the country to Seattle.
On the week-long ride home, I had time to reflect on this experience and wrote a poem. Every year, I re-read this poem again. I feel the same now as I did then. The victims of 9-11 will not have died in vain if we learn to love fully. Those of us who did not die on 9-11 have received the gift of life. Every moment we breathe and see and hear is an opportunity to build a better world. It isn’t in the hands of our generals, presidents, or prime ministers. The opportunity and the responsibility to build a better world is in our hands.
One kind word by Michael Schutzler 9/11/2001
In one instant, all we knew
Assumed, hoped, or dreamed
So many aspirations, adulations, ruminations
And hard won stations
Washed away in a sea of fire,
Concrete and steel,
Dust and tears.
Haunting cries of electric armbands in the darkness
Screeching, shrill alarms
Sole witness and testimony
To heroes lost.
Twin towers of Babel
Monuments to the one language
That cowers humanity;
Brought down with blood of innocents;
Pride bedashed lying at our feet;
Stench of smoldering death
Draped on a late summer breeze.
Ten thousand eyes burned dry for life;
Ten thousand hands scraped raw moving rocks in vain;
Ten thousand hearts broken searching in the rain.
Cries of vengeance! Calls for revenge!
Tip-tip like rain on a thin glass roof;
The question WHY bursts in
Desperate, choking, breathless despair.
But the soul of the world knows
What is softly whispered in the quiet corners
Of our solitude:
Violence sown is violence reaped.
Oh the mother of hatred is an empty belly;
And her husband is neglect.
Yet one act of kindness
Born of humility,
Propelled by faith,
Marks the end of suffering.
The time to act is a twinkling;
A challenge that flickers,
Fleeting and swift.
It is our chance to reply
With one kind word,
Or help lift one burden,
Or ask forgiveness,
Or offer thanks.
Our moment is at hand!
Don’t waste it.
Say one kind word;
So it might flourish and grow.
For in an instant, all you know,
Assume, hope, or dream,
Leaving orphaned intentions
To wander in the caverns
Of broken hearts.