September 11, 2011

9/11 AND THE END OF INNOCENCE | #911plus10 #sept11

The Twin Towers (2008) by CasshimeeThe Twin Towers were very special to me. I don’t like heights but visited the World Trade Center twice. The last time was in 1987 when I was working for Metropolitan Life. This time, I was brave enough to go to the windows and look out. You might yawn but this was a victory for me.

9/11 changed my world in a way that nothing else has. The end of innocence. The terrors that happened in other countries were now on our shores. Forever.

Today’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11. This is the first time I’m telling my story.

Where Were You?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was on stage in Halifax, Nova Scotia unveiling my biggest initiative ever, the SaveTax Project, which gave advisors personalized, functional websites.

Something was wrong.

I was going through my content too fast. Way too fast. Elsewhere across Canada, my audiences were smaller and carefully picked — generally 20-50 advisors. That lead to more questions. Here I was on a stage in front of 100-200 advisors. That's too many for spontaneous questions. By the time I figured this out, I didn't know how to slow down and interject questions for them.

The moderator was standing at the side. I didn't know why since I had so much time left. That affected my pacing too. I finished my 60 minute session in a record 38 minutes. The moderator then told us that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

My presentation no longer mattered.


I was dazed. So was everyone else. Some were watching TV in the lobby. I went to my room and turned on my set. The newscaster was saying something about a second plane, other attacks and the shut down of airspace. I couldn't understand. That couldn’t be right. Why were they reporting this? There was talk of terrorists. Everything was getting shut down. Trains weren't running. Car rentals were blocked.

I tried calling home and got through. My wife and seven year old son were safe. They didn't know what was happening. Life seemed normal. I told them to turn on the TV and that I'd phone back once I found out how I'd get home.

How would I get back to Toronto?


I changed into my street clothes and went down to the lobby. No one knew what to do. There was more speculation about terrorists. To stop their communications, the Internet and mobile phone networks might be shut down. Was that even possible? To stop them from transferring money, the banking system might be shut down.

US flights were being redirected to Halifax. All hotel rooms were now booked. Since I hadn't checked out, I was told that I couldn't be kicked out. Several colleagues had checked but could not get their rooms back.

In a daze, I went down the street to a banking machine. I figured that I'd need cash if credit cards wouldn't be accepted. I don't know how, but I managed to insert my card into the wrong crevice. Now I had no bank card and little money. I went into the bank, which had tellers but no customers. I explained what happened. Would they believe me? They seemed numb too. Without question, they retrieved my card. I withdrew $500.

Like ET

Back at the hotel, arrangements had been made to rent two vans. This was possible because our host had a personal connection. We were going to be charged mileage. The cost was over $2,000. I don't remember if that was per vehicle or in total. It didn't matter. Capitalism thrives during crises.

I got something to eat but didn’t have much appetite. The roads were eerily quiet. We drove home with minimal stops listening to AM news radio. Sometimes we got a signal right from New York City. No one said much. We just wanted to get back to our families. For a while I was seated in the last row and not beside a door. I couldn't get out. I felt choked and claustrophobic. The rear air conditioning vent wasn't working (what you expect for $2,000?). I had trouble breathing until I calmed down. I didn’t tell anyone my predicament.

At the next break, I grabbed the front passenger seat and took turns driving. I don't know how I stayed awake and on the road. After about 20 hours of driving, we were safely home.


In 2002, I was in Washington DC:the SaveTax Project was nominated for an eFusion award from AM Best. There was so much security. Even getting into my hotel required a security check. Vehicles entering buildings were checked. You could no longer enter the Washington Monument with a bottle of water or pocket knife. These reactive measures felt like installing a security system after the jewels are gone: well-intentioned, expensive and ineffective.

I went to the 9/11 exhibit which had opened at Museum of American History on September 11, 2002. When I saw items from the World Trade Center that had melted from the extreme heat, I was moved. Movies show more extreme spectacles but this was real. And unreal. The exhibit brought me peace in a way I can’t explain. The next step was visiting Ground Zero in August 2009 and talking to New Yorkers who were personally affected. The final step in the cathartic process is this post.

Your Story

You'll have your own 9/11 stories. I may have some facts mixed up. Can you believe that 10 years have passed? Days turn to minutes and then distort into memories.

9/11 already feels like ancient history. It's easy to forget the powerful emotions we felt at the time. Time moves forward. Our lives get busy. Details fade. That helps us deal with tragedy.

Video Tributes

Here are two musicians with close connections to New York City.

Bruce Springsteen sang My City of Ruins weeks after 9/11. You’ll find better quality recordings but this one has a special intensity.

Both of Peter Gabriel’s daughters were in NYC on 9/11. Neither was injured but he didn’t know because he couldn’t reach them. He expressed his feelings in I Grieve.

Lest we forget.


Podcast 134 (8:05)

direct download | Internet Archive page | iTunes

PS This weekend, life looks quite normal. A mobile phone company is shooting a commercial several houses away. Life carries on and on and on.


Christina A. said...


Thank you for sharing this.

I love that you included this Peter Gabriel song, which is a favourite of mine.

Where was I on 9/11?

In Tuebingen, Germany in my university dorm room, chatting on MSN with a friend in Sweden who had CNN running live. I thought he was playing a prank when he told me about the first plane until I pulled up the news station online and began to follow myself.

I had been outside at the observatory area on top of the towers only about two weeks earlier. My mother's side of the family is all in NYC and my uncle missed the disaster by about 20 minutes; he was still on transit on his way in to work.

In Germany, all of the American citizens on exchange were called into a meeting at the university and told not to leave the city and not to reveal their citizenship in case of attacks on Americans abroad. Some of my American roommates showed up late for the semester - they had been in the air en-route to Europe that morning and got stuck for weeks trying to fly out of the US.

The entire country was draped with black flags of national mourning. The attack was felt among the German people.

10 years later?

I wonder what would happen if more of us could forgive and maybe forget just enough to heal and allow life to carry on?

Paul Nazareth said...

I was just saying to a friend tonight that I should have arranged a meet up as I felt the need to listen to stories and share how much this event meant to me, I was sad that I didn't see many stories like yours today Promod. But it was exactly what I needed.

My life wasn't as profoundly changed in a physical way but I feel that the context of our lives in North America was changed forever.

Tonight, ten years later I went for dinner with a close friend. When we parked I realized that I was right where I was standing when it happened.

At the YMCA in Toronto where I was supposed to attend an Association of Fundraising Professionals session, but I was dazed and confused and just went home to listen and try to understand what happened.

I have visited the World Trade Centre a few times, my father went to school there in the 1970's. I consider New York to be Toronto's older sibling, the city we look to. It's loss that day was my loss.

Your story is moving and profound, insight into the amazing guy that you are Promod.

Again, thanks for sharing.

Joe said...

Powerful post Promod. Your story brought back memories of the aftermath, where all of us seemed to be in a collective daze. It took a while to laugh again after that day.