“Carrying the torch of optimism into your social relationships is probably the best thing you could ever do to start feeling better about humanity. If you see people as smart, caring, interesting and helpful, they tend to show up that way.” ~ Brendon Burchand
As I read that quote yesterday it hit me that 9/11/2001 did just that. As horrifying as the attacks were; as scared as we all were; as disgusted as we all were and as numb as we all were, we found optimism in the stories of people saving lives. We found optimism in the bravery we heard about. We found optimism in our united spirit, one country. And we all showed up smart, caring, interesting and helpful.
As everyone who was alive that day, I remember it as clearly as if it occurred yesterday. I was at work in Newark, New Jersey. I was the Head of Human Resources for our sales force and only in that particular job for 3 weeks. I didn’t know the associates that well and barely knew my way around the building I was now working in. Three weeks prior I was sitting in our Woodbridge New Jersey building, fat , dumb and happy! We were just beginning a strategy meeting with about twenty of us in the room. I was sitting next to a pregnant woman who I was just getting to know. We were chatting (those who know me well know that I can be disruptive in meetings by chatting with the people on either side of me) and she was telling me that today was her wedding anniversary. She was looking forward to a beautiful evening with her husband of about 7 years. She was pregnant with her first child. She was smart, funny and we were beginning to bond.
A gentleman we worked with came into the room late and shared that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. We all reacted with shock but made the assumption as so many did that this was a commuter plane that hit and was a tragic accident. Our meeting continued. Seventeen minutes later, someone else came into the room and shared that a second plane had hit the second tower. Total panic took over as we all realized this was not a tragic accident but some type of attack. We adjourned the meeting and everyone started to leave the conference room to get to their offices, check on their families and their co-workers and find out what was happening.
The woman next to me was pale. I asked if her husband was in New York City and she shared that he was not but that they had many friends working in the World Trade Center complex. She was panicking. I helped her up and got her to her office so she could try to get in touch with her husband. She and I were forever bonded from this day. I helped her to stay calm and she helped me keep my mind off of all the craziness I could have been thinking about. Instead I was helping. No time to brood, be scared or panic.
I worked for a woman at that time who was amazing in crisis and helped the organization stay calm. She and I worked for hours to help associates who could leave and get home do so. We found car services in Newark to get people home who had taken mass transit to work given that system was shut down. We helped people find hotels. We spent hours helping people make phone calls and calming people down as we watched the events of the day unfold. Again, caring and helpful, which only multiplied that day. My assistant shared with me that she would stay and help that day if I could take her home as she took the train. Of course all hands were welcome and she was again a caring and helpful soul who was there for the employees. Our drive home was eery, as we were the only car on the road at 3:30 in the afternoon. We were quiet in drive, both reflecting on not only the horrors of the day but the love and help we witnessed.
That day, we all saw the worst of humanity. Terrorists killing thousands of innocent lives. No care for human life at all. We also saw the best of humanity. The people who unselfishly helped others. The people who instead of running away from Ground Zero, ran toward there to help in search and rescue. The people who took care of those running aimlessly on the streets of New York City. We heard “Let’s Roll” from Flight 93 and knew that those heroes lost their lives saving thousands of others. We watched the events in Washington DC and saw heroism in action during that search and rescue operation.
For many weeks after we were united in our anger but also in our compassion and care for each other. We showed up carrying the torch of optimism. We would rebuild from this ash. We would be a stronger nation because of this. We continued to help each other, to care for each other.
We carried the torch of optimism for quite a while after those attacks. We saw each other as caring and helpful, and therefore we showed up as caring and helpful.
Humanity needs optimism today. I, for one, will keep this quote close to me now. I will use it to remind me that I need to carry my optimism into my social relationships so that others can show up that way. Perhaps if we each do so, the ugliness and hate of today will disappear and we will live in a more beautiful world filled with love and caring. That is my hope and my prayer for today.