Guest opinion: 20 years ago, I lost a friend on 9/11
Per-spec-tive: “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something.”
Perspective helps us understand. Sept. 11, 2001, is a day I understand very well.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was on the phone at 8:45 a.m. with my friend and business associate Morton “Morty” Frank. A salesman at Cantor Fitzgerald, Morty was at his desk on the 101st floor of World Trade Center #1. We were discussing the wedding of a mutual friend we had attended three days prior in California.
I had arrived at the hotel Friday, Sept. 7. Checking in before me were Leonardo DiCaprio and Gisele. Above the mood music in the lobby, I could hear Morty’s distinctive laugh traveling from the bar. The weekend was off to a magical start.
The reception was spectacular. I shared a table with Morty and his wife Jessica. We had a wonderful time, feeling, as Leonardo DiCaprio famously said, that we were “the king of the world.” Our life’s arc would soon mimic the tragedy in the movie from which that line came. In June, Morty and his colleague had flipped a coin to decide who would vacation before the wedding and who would vacation after. Morty won the toss, and chose the week before.
We flew back to New York on Sunday, except for Morty’s colleague John. John lost the coin toss but won his life by remaining in California. Our perspective would soon tragically change.
Sept. 11 was crisp and cool in NYC. The skies were as blue as the Great Salt Lake is salty — it felt like a great day. I picked up the phone for my usual 8:45 a.m. call with Morty. We reminisced about the weekend, then I heard a commotion in the background. He dropped his phone and it hit the desk. The wheels of his chair squealed as he jumped up. I heard him say “everyone calm down.” In the background I heard someone say “there’s smoke, there’s fire, a plane, a plane just hit the building.”
Relieved, I assumed a wayward small plane over the Hudson River lost control. I hung up that open line to Morty. In jumping to that conclusion I lacked perspective. Minutes later the first images appeared. The hole was immense and the smoke billowing out was so acrid I felt like it choking me.
I believe I was the last person outside that building to talk to Morty. In shock at my desk I desperately hoped he would survive. At 9:59 a.m. tower #2 fell and my spirits followed. Roughly 30 minutes later Morty’s building fell and I knew I had lost my friend.
In Manhattan we held out for a miracle, for a loved one to emerge from a subway or cab, and stumble in with some dust on their face. Union Square Park was covered in messages of hope scrawled in chalk for loved ones who would never be seen again. An immense wax memorial emerged from the candles that were lit in remembrance. It was less immense than our grief.
Last month we withdrew from Afghanistan. We debate whether we should have been there or not, often without perspective. What is not debatable is the manner which we left, which was atrocious. The risks to which we exposed diplomats, civil servants, Afghan allies and U.S. armed forces was shameful. We invested in change in a part of the world where women and girls, and people of every color, creed and religion, live in fear.
Change requires commitment and patience. Americans are currently not good at that. 75-plus years after WWII, we still have troops in Germany, Italy and Japan. That commitment has paid off with freedom and prosperity. Could we expect to effect lasting change in Afghanistan without an equal commitment? Without change we can not extinguish the threat that will visit our soil again someday. When that someday happens, you too might hang up on your friend for the last time.
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