Fifteen years later, remembering a time of terror . . . and unity

By Scott White, president

Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of one of the most tragic days in our nation’s history. I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

Our new agency was less than two years old and we were still trying to get our feet under us. My previous agency had operated an office in the middle of Manhattan for several years and my teenage daughter had made many trips there and had fallen in love with the city, even celebrating the turn of the millennium with friends in Times Square.

k11172288So when I heard on the radio that one of the World Trade Center towers was on fire, I called her from the car and told her to turn on the TV while she was getting dressed for school.

We were chatting about the fire when she let out a startled scream. She told me that the other tower had exploded. A few moments later told me the TV replays showed that a plane how flown into the building and it looked like it did it on purpose.

The rest of the short drive to the office was a blur as we talked about was happening. I pulled into the parking lot and went into the office only to be reminded that Monica, my new business partner, was in New York on a business trip with her husband. And a former employee who had married one of my best friends (a life-long New Yorker) earlier in the year was working for American Express in the building adjacent to the Twin Towers. Of course it was impossible to reach any of them.

The rest of the day was spent watching the TV as the tragedy unfolded in New York and elsewhere, half in disbelief that this was really happening, and fearing that this was just the start. Everyone was wondering which city would be next.

Of course, there wouldn’t be another attack of that magnitude. Rather, the nation responded by coming together from coast to coast in a way that I had not experienced in my lifetime up to that point and haven’t since.

In the days and weeks that followed, for the most part we all rallied together in a wave of support for our country, for the victims of the tragedy and for each other.

The nation’s leaders played a major role in bringing everyone together, burying their differences in a show of true leadership and proving the impact that strong messages can have in a time of crisis. Leader after leader stepped up to assure and inspire the country.

Commentators remarked on more than one occasion that if anything good was to come out of this tragedy, perhaps it would be new sense of unity among the people and our politicians.

Which brings us to today, just a decade and a half later, and a time when our nation seems more divided than it has been in decades with two of the most polarizing presidential candidates we have had in decades.

What happened?

Time.

It really didn’t take long for politics to again replace leadership, shrillness to again replace statesmanship, and despite all the hope for a better and more unified future, for most of us to go back to being ourselves.

Perhaps that is the good news — that we are resilient enough to withstand a tragedy such as 9/11 and return to normal. It’s sad to think, however, that only unspeakable horror can bring us together.

On Sunday there will be tributes and moments of silence and a remembrance of that time of sadness by a lot of people. And there will also be some of us that will do our best to remember that it was also a time that proved that despite all our differences, we really are capable of coming together for the common good.