I’d been to New York City before, but the last time was just weeks before that dreadful 9/11 day.
My children were too young to fully grasp where we were other than in theory. They’d not lived through that day as adults did. They did not want to go to the 9/11 museum, newly opened, and I respected that. It’s something I’ll probably do on my own on a future trip.
But as we walked by the construction site for the new tower, and looked at the skyscraper already built behind it, I felt the gravity of the site. Even after all of these years, it had the power to silence me.
We were searching for some New York style pizza and my sister, ever practical, asked a couple of the construction guards where to go for something good. They directed us to a tiny restaurant, nothing fancy, across from the site.
We walked in and ordered. While waiting for our food, a group of construction workers trickled in slowly. It was a hot, sticky day and they looked like they were feeling it.
After we ate, I couldn’t help but ask a couple of them about the building that was going up. They explained to me how it was constructed, how tall it would be, why the design was unique, what was going underground. It was obvious to me they were proud of being on this crew.
When I said to them, “What a great building to be part of making,” they took a moment. Most then nodded, but the look in the eyes of the most reticent among them did not escape me. Caution.
When you see something great destroyed by hate, you try to replace it with a fitting memorial. Regardless of how you feel about what is going up at ground zero, the intention is to create a fitting memorial. A celebration of the lives lost and their contributions, as well as a nod to recreating a bustling hub in the mother of all bustling hubs, New York City.
But the loss of collective innocence that day, years ago, also means that these guys will probably never work on another significant building without wondering if it will last. And it seems to me they are thinking hard about the people that will fill this new building in a way they would not have pre 9/11.
About a month before 9/11, I was sitting in a plane on an O’Hare runway, awaiting takeoff. I did what I always did before a trip. I pulled out a wallet photo of my son, who was just barely one year old. I looked at it and said a little prayer for my safe travels and his safekeeping until I returned home. The businessman sitting a seat away asked me if the pic was my son. I said yes and he seemed touched by my little ritual. He asked how long my trip was.
It was just a day trip—a quick in and out. I met one of my firm’s London executives, briefed him on a talk he was to give at a conference. We met at Michaels with the power lunchers and celebs, which should have delighted me but it didn’t. I wanted to be home eating with my sweet boy.
I expensed a far too expensive lunch. We headed to the conference and then off to our respective airports when it was done. I saw Brooklyn, Central Park and some stellar shopping from the window of my cab. I’ll see it all another time, I thought.
I’m not sure what my airplane companion thought about my regret over even a day trip. No matter. It’s where I was. Even a day away from my son was painful for me. I was happy to get home to him that night and he had no idea I’d been 800 miles away from him that day.
I was lucky on the date of the conference. Lucky on the location. Lucky on my flight.
On 9/11, a London colleague died in the World Trade Center. She, like me, had accompanied one of our partners to a conference. She, like me, had briefed him beforehand. She met him for a breakfast event at the WTC on one of the top floors. They both died that day.
Did I mention her name was also Kristine? But Christine, not Kristine. She had small children and made no bones about the fact that she hated business travel because it took her away from them. I have to wonder if she carried their pictures in her wallet so she could peek at them before takeoff.
We traveled about a month apart, almost to the day, if I recollect it correctly.
So yes, I asked those construction workers about what they were building. Damn straight I did.
And that day, I walked the Brooklyn Bridge and made it to Central Park. Both were a long time coming.