Remember 9/11 Forever

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Photo by Yvonne Stepanow from FreeImagesIt was the kind of Tuesday that can’t make its mind up if it’s Summer or Fall. In that way, it was a textbook “on the cusp” day. The skies were clear and crisp that morning. If you woke up early enough, you could feel the dew, smell the moisture, and immerse yourself in a cocooning blanket of warmth.

You can’t imagine a more pleasant beginning to a practically perfect day.

In a moment, in a series of unbelievable moments, the world changed.

There are two seminal occasions in our lives that most late phase Baby Boomers finally felt accepted, recognized, and part of what this nation is all about. One was good, the other wasn’t. And we captured this feeling vicariously, through the powerful triumphs – and poignant tragedies – of those within our age cohort.

The first event occurred on the afternoon of Friday, February 22, 1980, although many wouldn’t know until later that evening. That was when a rag tag group of amateur young men born between the years 1955 and 1961 achieve a miracle on a frozen arena in Lake Placid New York.

Those were our friends, our teammates, our countrymen. When the US Olympic Hockey team defeated the favored Soviet Union, it wasn’t for the gold medal (that would come two days later when we beat Finland), but it was for something bigger.

At a time when our once fabled economy had stagnated terribly, honored World War II veterans were losing their jobs, and a backward Middle Eastern nation was holding dozens of Americans hostage with no end in sight, this Band of Boomers symbolized the hope, courage, and determination that had long defined our nation.

That game brought all America together, no matter age, creed, or any other demographic.

We won. More important, America won. Most significantly, though, we won for America. We finally moved from being the kid brother of the nation’s largest generation to being the cohort that would lead our country into a bright future.

And lead we did, in many fields, in many arenas, from entertainment, to technology, to entrepreneurial zest.

No field stood out more than the field of finance. So many of us, no matter what we majored in, dreamt of Wall Street. (This is perhaps best represented by the character – for good and ill – played by the young Charlie Sheen in the movie Wall Street.)

Wall Street was both a destination and a metaphor.

But it was mostly a destination.

The real Wall Street stood as the pinnacle of finance. It took a while to get there. The older Baby Boomers still held the prime spots. But we worked late, we worked hard, and we worked in creative ways to earn ourselves a seat at the table.

By the end of the twentieth century, as we entered our 40s, we had finally made it. We were ready to make a difference again. Full of potential. Full of excitement. Full of ambition.

Then it happened.

It was a picture-perfect morning. A little after a quarter to 9am, a client called asking me about reports that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. I immediately turned the TV to CNBC (that was back in the day when CNBC just talked about stocks). The announcers weren’t sure what kind of plane. Some thought it was a small private plane.

My client and I talked about it briefly, mostly in terms of the time that B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945. The plane hit between the 78th and 80th floors. It killed 14 people but did no structural damage to what was then the tallest building in the world.

The B-25 accident occurred on a very foggy day, very different from the clear skies on September 11, 2001. We thought it an odd thing, but that’s about it.

Then, a tad more than 15 minutes later, a second place hit the other Twin Tower. At this point, we thought it best to end the call and pay attention. When the towers collapsed, we feared the worst for our friends, colleagues, and the many who provided services to our business (which is investment management, for those who don’t know).

Indeed, one friend in particular, and old roommate, had just been promoted. He worked in an office above the 100th floor in one of the Towers. It took a while, but we found out what happened to him. Normally, he’d be in the office by 8:30am. He would have been on that day, too, but halfway to the office (he walked from his apartment), he realized he had forgotten something he needed that day. He went back home and started again on his way. This time, when he was again about halfway to the office, he saw the first plane strike. He immediately turned around.

Others, including those from our own community, were not so lucky. We spent hours and then days holding hope for then, then much longer grieving for them.

Between New York City, Washington DC, and an open field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the horrific act of Islamic terrorists stunned and disheartened our entire nation.

That tragedy brought all America together, no matter age, creed, or any other demographic.

Each generation remembers it through its own unique lens. For those born towards the end of the Baby Boom, it was particularly distressing in its own way. Just as we all felt a member of the team that successfully challenged the tyranny of the old Soviet Union during the 1980 Olympics, so too this time we all felt a member of the team that was purposefully targeted by a different kind of tyranny.

The bright lights of the big city that had once beckoned us, that once promised we’d become, in the words of Tom Wolfe, “Masters of the Universe,” now made us a target. No longer were we rugged individuals charting our own way. Our ambition had us soar into the realm to the kind of success that inspires jealousy and envy among global zealots who failed to achieve on their own.

In a way, just as the Greatest Generation had the Nazis to vilify them, we now had (and continue to have) hordes of evil extremists seeking to destroy our way of life.

This holds true for all Americans. Just as much today as it did twenty years ago.

That some continue to provoke tension within our nation means only one thing: the perfect is the enemy of the good.

And the bad guys are winning.

Perhaps it’s too late for my generation. Maybe it’s time to pass the baton to ones more worthy, more invigorated, more interested in sustaining the ideals we once stood for, and who have the fortitude to stand up against those who seek to divide.

Remember the feeling we all had on September 12, 2001 – the day after our homeland was attacked by foreign adversaries?

Let’s get back there.

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