by Gerald Abualy – CEO, Captus Systems
I was born and live on Long Island, but anyone who hears me speak knows I am a lifelong New Yawker.
NYC has had an oversized effect on my career. As a buyer, merchant and 1990’s retail systems executive, being in NYC meant having access to everything the world had to offer without having to travel too often. The world came to us.
For the last 22 years, and counting, my career brought me directly into NYC on a regular, if not, daily basis. I have built my professional career in the city I love. And there is a lot to love.
At the turn of the century (I can’t believe I just wrote that) I was at what I thought was the pinnacle of my career. I was working for (the 3rd largest) global software company, that provided me with all the resources and technology I needed to be successful. It was one of my hardest jobs but also one of the most rewarding.
Then 19 years ago today, in an instant, everything changed – forever – for everyone.
I don’t share my personal memories, experiences and reflections from that day often. And I won’t share them today. The wounds are scarred over and loss has dulled with time, but they did not heal completely. They are woven into who I am, and this is not supposed to be a sad story. (Spoiler – There is a Simpson’s ending if you make it that far).
In April of 2001, I had planned a long weekend to Boston with my family. There were some inexpensive (downright cheap) local flights from LI to just outside the city. But when the flights were delayed by over 6 hours, we decided to make it a “local” weekend in NYC. We called Marriott and moved the reservation. The only consideration was the Marriott needed a pool. Marriott World Trade fit the bill.
My daughter was 8. We hadn’t spent many, if any, overnights in the city before. This was going to be our first opportunity to visit the city as tourists. I could introduce her some of my favorite spots. We would see a Broadway Show or two, eat pizza, visit Central Park and go to the Top of the World.
This was of course going to be the first of many opportunities; and you never forget your first. So the fact that we visited late at night and the picture, out the window, I took (with film) was blurry didn’t matter – we would be back!
We never dreamed it was our last and only opportunity to get to visit The World Trade Center together.
In the months following 9/11, I watched the rescue effort, turn to recovery, then turn to clearing the pile. The smell of chemical burning was everywhere.
From my office on the 49th floor of 140 Broadway, I could see the unbelievably brave workers, climbing into the still smoldering, stories high, tangle of steel, concrete, wire, dust, rubble and remains. This went on for months, in all weather.
It was surreal to watch hundreds, all stop working simultaneously, when the remains of a victim was found.
The victim was draped in a flag and brought past a procession of workers, fireman and police officers.
Then after the ambulance left the grounds they went right back to work. Many knew that the air was not safe. Though they didn’t know just how bad it was. Their safety was secondary to the job at hand.
The term Personal Protective Equipment – PPE had not yet been coined. But no matter. These HEROS did this work because it was the right thing to do. Honor. Service. Greater Good. Shared Sacrifice. Were the terms of the day.
We all did our part. Special note: The original 9/11 fund was made up of small individual payments that many Americans contributed to at stores across the county. It was intended to help the survivors of the attack. It raised over $600 million in the weeks following the attacks.
There was national, if not, international grief. But also, an understanding that we were all in this together. We were all New Yorkers. Amazing.
I was on the Plaza today. I hadn’t even realized the date 9/10/2020 until I had parked my car. Strange.
But then as my meeting was ending, I looked down at the 9/11 Memorial and it all flooded back. The memories of the Summer lunchtime concerts on the plaza. The white marble lobbies that rose above the heights of some of the nearby buildings. The tourists who were there to take in the grandeur. The plastic card with the logo of the WTC, the security desk provided so you could access the elevator banks. This was a special place.
Then as I walked back to my car, on the deserted streets of lower Manhattan, with more police officers than tourists, I realized the emotion I was feeling wasn’t a wound being ripped open by old memory. It was a déjà vu that we are, again, facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
These last 19 years have been extremely formative for me. Personally, and professionally. I believe(d) we grow from adversity. The adage “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” resonates still but maybe a little less than it used to.
Today, I wished not to be stronger through adversity.
Today, while walking down Liberty Street, with the fresh smell of clean air and rain I wished (prayed) for a shared sensibility to get us thru this new challenge.
I believe the answer to the questions we all seek is in our shared memory in the weeks and months following 9/11.
E Pluribus UNUM was another meaningful term of the day that I continue to repeat to myself because we can achieve anything if we all work as One.
I am an optimist by nature. And a New Yorker by birth.
On this 19th anniversary of our shared New York citizenship I see more strengths than I have seen in many years. We just have to all see them together and at the same time.
September 11, 2020