"I remember where I was . . . I remember who I was with."

(An updated version of this entry is posted on “Escape from Averageness” every year nearing the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks)


“What is it that you remember most about 9/11?”  Whenever I am asked that question, my answer is invariably, “I remember what I can never forget.”

On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, I was in the offices of Fidelity Homes, in Venice, Florida, just starting a process mapping engagement that would give this start-up builder a state-of-the-art set of business processes.  SAI’s involvement was part of a large pro bono effort, sponsored by Professional Builder, that included a number of top consultants then serving the homebuilding industry.

I was the Process Architect for Fidelity Homes.

Sitting across the table were David Hunihan and Todd Menke, two young builders, eager to take their experience in homebuilding and pursue a National Housing Quality award.  To this day, I think David and Todd represent the entrepreneurial spirit and personal courage that makes this country and this industry great.

We had barely started, when David was pulled away by a telephone call.  It was his wife, Lauren, asking if he was aware of what was going on in New York City.  As the events continued to unfold, in New York City, in Washington DC, in western Pennsylvania, we eventually found that it was impossible to focus on mapping processes, and whatever we were doing did not seem all that important, anyway.  We cancelled everything for the rest of the day, and, in our own ways, watched and processed what was happening.

Bill Lurz, then a senior editor at Professional Builder, joined us the following day.  We finished the project two days later, and I drove back to my family in Ponte Vedra Beach through a tropical storm. The hugs had more conviction than usual.

The articles were written for Professional Builder.

I still consider this to be a matter of remaining, unfinished business for this country.  Time has not changed my feelings one iota.  We were attacked because of who we were, and because of who we remain;  evil is still the enemy of good, and evil still has a face.  In the face of that evil, I wonder if we have failed to clearly state what war is, and why war is never to be entered into lightly;  I wonder if we have too readily dismissed the concept of utter and complete destruction of an enemy.


On the lasting meaning of 9/11, I think WSJ’s Bret Stephens said it very well, in contrasting the 10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor with the 10th anniversary of 9/11:

[on December 7, 1951], “Americans could look back to Pearl Harbor and see its bookends in VE Day and the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri.  In that light, Pearl Harbor may have been a day of infamy but it was also, for the intelligence failures and military defeat it represented, a day to live down.

“The war that was begun on September 11 has no bookend.  We don’t even know whether we are in the early, middle or late chapters — or whether we’re still in the same book. Perhaps that’s why dates like November 13, 2001 (the day Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance) or April 9, 2003 (when Baghdad fell to the U.S. Army) go down the memory hole. I doubt many people can recall the exact date Osama bin Laden was killed.

“So 9/11 remains a date and an event unto itself, somehow disconnected from everything that still flows from it.  No doubt that helps draw a line between our feelings about it and [its] controversies . . . But it also strips the day of any context, intelligibility or a sense of the greater purposes that might flow from it. This is how an act of evil and of war has been reduced, in our debased correct parlance, to a “tragedy”.

“There is something dangerous about this.  Dangerous because we risk losing sight of what brought 9/11 about.  Dangerous because nations should not send men to war in far-flung places to avenge an outrage and then decide, mid-course, that the outrage and the war are two separate things.  Dangerous above all because nations define themselves through the meanings they attach to memories, and 9/11 remains, 10 years on, a memory without a settled meaning.

“None of that was true in 1951.  We had gone to war to avenge Pearl Harbor.  We had won the war.  We had been magnanimous in victory.  The principal memorial that generation built was formed of the enemies they defeated, the people they saved, the world they built and the men and women they became.  Our task on this 9/11 is to strive to do likewise.”


In the years that have followed, lives and careers have changed.  But, I will never forget where I was, or who I was with.


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