On that Tuesday and on the days after, something remarkable happened. All the facades, masks, and agendas were set aside.
It’s difficult for me to write about the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and always will be. But we must talk about the loved ones, the friends, and the acquaintances whose lives touched ours and whom we lost on that horrible Tuesday morning. To speak of them even when it’s hard is to honor them and to keep their memory alive.
So, to practice what I preach, I will remember David Rivers and Laura Rockefeller. David and Laura worked for Risk Waters Group (RWG), which held a major conference on Sept. 11, 2001, at the Windows on the World facilities of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
I had been covering Wall Street trading rooms intensely since 1997 and I used to write cover and feature stories for David, the editor who put Waters magazine on the map. He also was a driving force behind FX Week when that publication had its start. I also worked with him to develop news stories that were spinoffs from magazine pieces. He put everything he could into every issue. Many top Wall Street players were featured in the magazine, and he broke a lot of news.
As it happens, I also worked with Laura who freelanced with the conferences side of the business of RWG. I did not work with her in an editorial way. I found out that she was a theater professional – actress, beautiful singer, director, and more. Out of the blue, I asked her to direct a reading of one of my plays for a special night of new work at an off-Broadway theater. She did a great job and we stayed in touch. Among her many theater gigs was her work as a prop master for a well-known theater group; she got me into many free shows.
I left RWG at the end of 1999 when it had just been created from the merger of Waters Information Services and Risk. I certainly knew of other RWG staff members and had interactions with them; I mourn for them too. But I did not work closely with them as I had with David and Laura.
Beyond the RWG personnel, I also knew many industry participants that took part in that conference – sales, marketing, and public relations people for industry providers, industry consultants, and others who worked for banks and securities firms. As a journalist, you meet many people, and you learn quickly that it’s the information they have that makes for very valuable news. To say the least, it’s a dynamic of creative tension, especially if a particularly juicy story is involved.
Oddly enough, I had originally wanted to cover the Risk Waters Group conference that day because I knew a lot of the people scheduled to attend. I thought I could get a juicy inside story about Wall Street and trading technology to make my new bosses happy.
But a last-minute editorial change put me on a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic. The special event took IT management people out to sea for a few days to allow them to focus on key IT management issues during the day and to gamble at a casino at night. We were in international waters, so gambling was allowed. Many of the participants worked on Wall Street and welcomed the break.
But on that Tuesday and on the days after, something remarkable happened. All the facades, masks, and agendas were set aside.
On the ship, those who had satellite-supported mobile phones were able to get through and gather information that spread by word of mouth. A formal dinner requiring tuxedos and ball gowns was scrapped because of the day’s events. We all spontaneously sang “God Bless America” before we sat down for a very quiet supper.
Some people just suddenly broke down into tears. Others expressed how much they loved the USA. We talk, we cried, we comforted each other without judgment and with compassion.
As we rallied ourselves, the ship was literally casting about for a harbor because the entire Eastern seaboard of the U.S. had been closed to any vessels as a security measure. We didn’t know until Wednesday that we would be docking at Boston harbor.
Through the blur of work and sorrow immediately after 9/11, I tried to hold onto this new sense of humanity and unity. A source at a major investment bank told me on the record that a new trading floor had just launched before 9/11. The source immediately got frightened and begged me not to run the story because the source would have been fired on the spot.
I did something I had never done before in my years as a journalist – I agreed to withhold the information until it was safe to run with it. I suppose I could have stood on principle and run with the news, and let the source suffer the consequences. But after what we had just witnessed, I knew I couldn’t cling to my principles at the expense of my humanity.
It’s that loss of humanity that is my biggest fear now that 20 years have passed since that day. The U.S. and many others have scored many successes in the fight against terrorism, and that quiet war continues.
But, separately from the war on terrorism, we must be vigilant in maintaining our humanity despite what we have been through. I still hope that humanity is trending toward becoming kinder, gentler, and more introspective although that seems impossible when there are so many deep divisions. I’m hoping the divisions in this country and across this world are tough chapters that we must grapple with and reconcile before we can truly resolve our differences or at least agree to disagree.
Most of all, I want that unity of purpose and duty we had in the wake of 9/11 to return. I don’t want empty Kumbaya moments and gestures. I want good old-fashioned civility. I want us to renew our respect for ourselves and others. We need to get there fast. We need it to survive.
While I will start with myself and strive every day to be more civil, I will also treasure that I got the chance to work with David, an editor who inspired me with his passion for Waters, and Laura, whose love of theater and whose accomplishments set a standard I hope to live up to.