I arrived early at my publishing job in midtown Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. It was around 8:50 a.m. when I received a call from one of my prepress operators whose office was high up in a building near the Empire State Building. He told me a plane had just crashed into one of the Twin Towers but didn't seem overly bewildered by it. I assumed it was a small prop plane, not a Boeing 767. We talked about it for a minute and then spoke about business at hand.
While the office continued to fill up, coworkers with TVs in their offices turned them on. No one seemed overly concerned. And then, at 9:03 a.m., we heard screams come from the offices surrounding our rows of cubicles. Another plane had hit the towers, this time for all to see.
Everyone filed into the offices that lined our floor. We watched as camera crews scrambled to film what they could and as reporters speculated on what could have happened. And then, at 9:59 a.m., the South Tower crumbled into itself.
People knew people who worked there. My coworker's fiancé was a firefighter. She spoke to as he was on his way to the tower. He was not heard from again.
We cried. Men cried. People hugged. We were open wounds, watching the worst thing we'd ever seen. And it was happening a few short miles from where we stood.
After the North Tower collapsed, we were told trains and subways weren't running and we needed to evacuate our building. I lived on Long Island so essentially I was trapped in the city. A group of friends and I filed out onto 6th Avenue and began to walk north. Not sure where we were going. Just trying to get out of the shadows of the skyscrapers. Skyscrapers like the ones we'd just seen disappear downtown.
People were running. People were crying. People were trying frantically to make phone calls, but cell service was out. We wandered up and into Central Park and eventually met up with a friend whose apartment was nearby.
We sat in her apartment and watched footage of people jumping from the towers before they collapsed. Jumping from the towers. I will never forget those people I saw jump.
Mass transit started to run again. I boarded a train back to Long Island. As the train came out of the East River tunnel and into Queens, I could see the skyline of lower Manhattan from the windows. Endless streams of black smoke trailed out across the sky above Ground Zero.
Nothing about any of this made sense. There were so many questions. And somehow... some things became very clear.
The train was packed. And silent. So many people were just trying to get home to their loved ones after the scariest day many of us had lived through up to that point in our lives.
There was a man in a blue business suit standing in the aisle. His suit was covered in the gray dust we saw on people walking out of the wreckage on the news. He had commuted to work just like me that morning. He'd gone to work. He had been down there. He stood. Another man stood up and offered him his seat, knowing what he had seen earlier that day,
He took the man's seat but didn't speak. No one spoke.
I got home. I hugged my boyfriend and continued to be rocked, like the rest of the world, by the events of that day. As I still am. As we all are. But here's why I'm writing all of this to you on an insurance marketing blog today.
The people I saw jumping from the towers. They'd just gotten up and went to work that day. That man in the aisle, covered in dust on the train. Like countless others in Manhattan. Like countless others across the world. Like me. Like you. Like we all did today.
This is what became clear that day on the train ride home - it can all be taken from us. The people we love. The things we do. Our peace of mind. None if it is promised to any one of us.
What I felt that day was human. I didn't feel like one, singular person. I was part of every other person I saw that day. One tiny unit within a giant organism experiencing all of the same things, at the same time.
This is why it's so important to be what you love. To do what you love. To offer someone your seat. To offer someone your heart and your hand. To respect another's feelings. To honor where it's deserved. To hold silent space for collective pain. To speak with love. And to be a source of goodness when everything is crumbling.
We all learned different lessons that day. And we continue to learn them. All I ask is that you stand for the "man on the train" today. Every day, if you can. Because even if you can't see it, we're all covered in dust in one way or another.