Remembering 9/11

Posted: September 11, 2011 by Chuck Matthews in People

Just about everyone born before 1987, remembers what he or she was doing on September 11, 2001.  For literally millions of small business owners across the country, time would seem to stand still that day as the horrific news made its way from New York, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA.

Just another business day…

Like so many that fateful morning, I was going about my morning business unaware of what was fully in store.  By 8 a.m., the dog had been walked, my wife had left for work and both of our daughters, then 11 and 14 were in school.  I was at home packing for a late morning flight to New York connecting on to Brussels for a meeting with colleagues and Board members of the International Council for Small Business (ICSB).  I remember taking my suitcase out to the car and coming back in and turning on the television while I glanced at the paper and sent a couple of last minute emails confirming arrangements.  I had just made plans with a colleague from St. Louis University to take the train from Brugge, Belgium to Regansburg, Germany for part of Oktoberfest before flying home later that weekend.

Maybe I will catch an earlier flight…

Running ahead of schedule, I called my wife to let her know everything was okay and that I was going to try to catch an earlier flight to New York to possibly meet some folks for coffee before our afternoon flight to Brussels.  As I hung up the phone, the first vague news reports of a plane hitting the North World Trade Center Tower were emerging.  I turned up the volume and thought my fight might be delayed.  I called Delta and was using the automated phone system to check flight times when the second plane hit.  I just kept staring at the TV screen, until I was jolted back by the sound of live Delta representative on the phone.  I had literally forgotten I was on the phone. I didn’t know what to say – I apologized I had become distracted by what I was seeing on the TV and lost track of checking flight times.  When I told her I was flying to New York, she said that due to a plane striking the WTC, my flight might be delayed.  When I said a second plane had just hit the South Tower, there was stunned silence.  She had only known about the one plane. She commented I knew more than she did at that moment, but that flights might be cancelled and to check back later.

Everything changed

As I hung up the phone, I immediately called my wife to let her know I had not left yet.  She was relieved.  After I spoke with her, I picked up the phone to call my Dad. I dialed the first two numbers and stopped.  My father had died just three weeks earlier.  I wanted so desperately to call him, to talk to him about what was happening.  I took a deep breath and began calling my colleagues around the U.S. scheduled to join me in Brussels.  None of us were in the air yet, but many of our European colleagues were already on their way to the meeting.  They would have to meet without us.

Ten years have passed.  I remember saying at the time that the very foundation of our free enterprise system was under attack.  I would come to learn that fifteen million square feet of office space was lost that day at the WTC, more than three times the amount of space at the former Sears Tower in Chicago.  Sixty companies in the WTC lost people, with over 1,400 from the North Tower and over 600 in the South Tower.  Cantor Fitzgerald lost 658 employees.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we take a moment today to reflect on all those whose lives were lost, their families, and the attack on our way of life.  I read that the fires at ground zero burned for 90 days.  The memory of lives lost will always burn in our hearts.

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