Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reflecting on 9/11

I was sitting in the computer lab in a quiet, infrequently used part of the building.
It was quiet and I could work for hours uninterrupted, totally focused on the project needed to be completed. It was a 3D CAD model of an object which a customer was having difficulty converting to the final step so it could be used to generate a physical model in a rapid prototyping machine—a device colloquially known today as a 3D Printer. The customer made the error of creating their model as a surface model, not as a parametric model. This resulted in mathematical “holes” in the skin of the object, and therefore could not be used to create the pattern the machine needed to follow.
I really needed to focus on what I was doing. The silence and isolation of the lab made it a perfect working space.
I wasn’t supposed to be in the office at all that day. I was supposed to be traveling. Part of my job was to teach customers how to create models for rapid prototyping. Most of the time they came to the factory and I would train them in this very lab. But sometimes I traveled to give seminars where potential customers could be educated how to use the budding technology of rapid prototyping and thereby encourage them to buy a machine from us.
One group out west wanted me to come out and do just this for their consortium. But, they never quite got their act together. Just a few days before, the CEO of my company made a decision to cancel my travel plans. Since the consortium never got their program worked out, there was no need to go through the expense of flying me out there.
It was a bit before 10 AM when I decided it was time to stretch my legs and step out for some fresh air.
The lab had no windows. But as I left the corridor that connected to the lab, I could look out the windows and see it was a stunningly beautiful Tuesday outside.
When I got downstairs, I noticed it was too quiet. Even in a high technology company, there was always some kind of noise going on. There was not a sound. Nearly everyone seemed to be missing. The people I saw were walking around like zombies. About the only sound in the building was a radio with a newscaster blathering on about something.
One of my coworkers who worked tech support sat at his desk staring at the wall. Something was definitely not right.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“A plane hit the World Trade Center,” he answered with a flat voice.
I glanced out the window at the flawless sky. As a pilot, I knew that weather system of clear air extended entirely around the northeast, including New York. “How is that possible?” I asked, incredulous.
“It was terrorists,” came the monotone answer. “They flew planes into both towers.”
I absolutely could not believe it. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could have done such a thing in this day and age.
There was a shout. I found the rest of the company’s employees packed into the conference room watching the live broadcast.
The South Tower had just collapsed.
Thirty minutes later, the North Tower succumbed to the damage and collapsed.
The rest of the day was a blur.
The myriad of connections I had with that event would slowly reveal themselves over the following weeks and months.

  • A friend from high school was supposed to be making a delivery of exercise pads to a health club in one of the towers. He was held up in traffic, and therefore wasn’t inside the building when it was struck by the jet.
  • Similarly, someone else I knew was on his way to his worksite at the Pentagon and was caught in traffic, delaying his arrival and thereby saving his life.
  • Another had just taken a new job a week before 9/11. Previously, he worked in one of the 80th floors in one of the towers.
  • One of my relatives had attended firefighting school with one of the men of Ladder 6.
  • A friend had worked as an intern with Daniel Lewin of Akamai Technologies.
  • The CEO and Sales Manager of North American Sales of my company were in New York that morning, across the street from the World Trade Center. On a whim, they decide to take a boat across the Hudson to meet with a potential new client. They witnessed the jets hitting the buildings.

It would be many months before the last connection with 9/11 would finally sink in to me. Something that creates solemn reflection and renews my belief that no matter how bad things may seem to going, I will never allow myself to be dragged down by hopelessness or despair. Rather, I will strive to move forward as best I can, trying to improve what I can little by little. Things could always be worse.
While I was with that company, whenever we traveled we always took the first flight going out in the morning.
If my trip to Los Angeles, California hadn’t been cancelled, instead of sitting in the computer lab creating 3D models, I would have been sitting as a passenger on Flight 11.