THE IMPACT OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2011

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.  This was originally posted in the BCCWF Member Newsletter.

Like most Americans, for me the tenth anniversary of September 11 brought with it a flood of emotions. At the time of this terrible event, I was the new director of the Center for Work & Family having started in my role there the week before. It was clear to me at that time that 9/11 was the most vivid example imaginable of the comingling of work and family. On that morning, our daughter Hannah, then nearly 4, was preparing for her first day of pre-school. Dressed well ahead of schedule in her favorite blue and white seersucker dress, she danced with excitement in our family room in anticipation of her big day. The phone rang about 9:00 AM and a friend of Annie’s suggested that we turn on our TV. The heart wrenching images we saw of the World Trade Center juxtaposed with Hannah’s exuberance will be etched forever in our minds.

In speaking to colleagues and friends during the weeks leading up to the anniversary, there seemed to be a split between those who felt compelled to focus on the day and what it marked and those who could not revisit those terrible events once again. I found that I fell into the camp of those that needed to relive and remember. Two things in particular stuck with me about 9/11/2011.

First, was an ESPN story about a former Boston College lacrosse player who lost his life on that fateful day (22 BC alumni died on 9/11). Thanks to a NY Times article, Welles Crowther became known to much of the country after 9/11 as the “man in the red bandana.”  Welles had been a trader in the World Trade Center and always carried a red bandana with him – a reminder of the one his father had given him as a small boy. It seems that a man who saved at least a dozen people’s lives in the South Tower on 9/11 wore a red bandana and that article of clothing became the key to his being identified. Others, including those he had saved, remembered him as the self-sacrificing hero who “gave the last full measure of devotion.” ESPN’s story recounted the events of Welles last hour so vividly and so well. When you have ten minutes, it’s well worth watching.

What struck me most about this story was what happened years later. In spite of being an equity trader, Welles had always dreamed of becoming a firefighter. As ESPN recounts, it was while in high school that he first volunteered with his local Empire Fire and Rescue in Nyack, NY. When he told his Dad shortly before 9/11 that he couldn’t spend the rest of his life as a trader and wanted to be a New York City firefighter, his father asked him if he really understood what he would be giving up to do so. After his death, when visiting Welles’s apartment, his parents found an unfinished application to the New York City Fire Department among his belongings. It seems he decided not to follow-through on his goal perhaps in part out of fear of disappointing his father. But on December 6, 2006 when Welles was posthumously made an honorary NYC Firefighter for his acts of heroism on 9/11, his father called it “the proudest day of his life.” It’s funny how even as loving parents and family members we may not always grasp the true source of our love and pride for those most dear to us.

Second, in recent months I had become quite discouraged by the deep divisions in the country and the partisan bickering and mean spiritedness that was on the news night after night. Then last Sunday, on a picture perfect morning that was so reminiscent of the terrible day a decade earlier, I watched as the family members of the 9/11 victims read the names of those who had died. As the photos of each victim were displayed at the bottom of the screen I, perhaps for the first time, fully grasped that the people lost on September 11th were as beautiful and as beautifully diverse as our country.

As the family members – who were also from all walks of life – came up two-by-two with an unrelated partner to read the names of the 3000 lost with such grace and dignity, I couldn’t help but be struck by the strength and character of my fellow Americans. At the end of alternating the reading of their assigned list, each person uttered a few words of love and remembrance for their own lost loved one. Very often this led to an understandable rush of emotion on the part of the speaker. But their partner, whether white or black, Hispanic or Jewish, Muslim or Irish-American, rich or poor, old or young, always seemed to offer just the simplest touch or gesture of love and support to bolster them. Watching this filled me with a great sense of hope for America, and the world.

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About BCCWF

The Boston College Center for Work & Family is a global leader in helping organizations create effective workplaces that support and develop healthy and productive employees. Please visit us at www.bc.edu/cwf
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