9 |11 | 2001 was the worst day in my personal record. I was not in New York but hundreds of miles away in Chicago. I remember the call while I was getting ready for work. My dear friend in Colorado called me and said, “Al, turn on the t.v.” Nothing for me or our country has been the same since. I saw the second plane crash into the Twin Towers live as it happened and my shock and terror was beyond my own personal experience or comprehension. As I drove into work I was caught at a stop light. As I slowly crossed the street, a woman passing in the opposite direction looked at me and I looked at her.
Both of us were in tears as we acknowledge one another, sharing a tragic moment. In one fleeting moment we gave each other a nod which spoke volumes of understanding, sorrow, fear, love, and support. We both knew that it would have been okay to pull over and comfort one another while America was in the throws of a full terror attack. We didn’t have any other form of communication available to us but our eyes and deep understanding of being human…and being in solidarity with one another. As we passed I shot her the peace sign (a ridiculous thing to do in retrospect) in hope she would know that we were…in that moment…together. Two people who would never meet or speak or share anything ever…but that brief moment on the morning of 9-11.
I started teaching a class on E-Business at Columbia College recently…and one of the topics was how their lives have been changed by the Internet, Tweets, Facebook, texting, and the world of wide webs. It dawned on me during discussion that we are all so plugged in that it is very possible that we can’t unplug long enough to enjoy or pay attention to anything long enough to make a positive change or a real connection with life, friends, family, politics, or the real reality of living.
During and the days following 9-11 there was a collective mind think in America. We were going to get through this attack as a nation. We were going to support one another from now until the end of our days…because that is what America is made of and that is what we do. America [good and bad] is built on survival, being good neighbors, integrity, sweat, hard work, and the ability to build anything we wish based on designs created when our eyes were closed. Now we are plugged in. Internet, t.v., video, magazines, crappy reality shows, and more. A constant bombardment for our attention…just another bright shiny object to take us away from long work hours, a box full of bills, and good government gone bad.
In 2001 America had optimism, belief in our future, and paid a whole lot more attention to things we really should pay attention too. We were not as plugged in during 2001 as we are now, ten years on. We, as a nation, were more aware of one another as human beings and more aware of others as our fellow men and women. We still made eye contact when in passing, slight smile, or even a full blown “hello” or “nice day isn’t it?”.
We have somehow become so detached, so distracted, with every little electronic message, advertisement, and t.v. episode featuring the rich, the stupid, the narcissistic, and the depraved we may be slowly loosing our own humanity. I hope I am wrong…I hope that we come to the realization that while the Internet the one of the most important inventions in human history it should not rule our ability to be human.
Words like respect, humility, courtesy, and kindness should not be reserved for holidays and days of collective remembrance. Maybe we should unplug a little more and a little longer in order to reflect on our own mortality, humanity, and wonderment that is life. 9-11 reminds me of the very best in human nature and the very worst. September 11th is a day that we will always know where we were and exactly what we were doing that day. For those who raced toward the burning wreckage, and for those who protected America from a hijacked jet let – they are the constant reminders for me…of what truly being human can mean.
I hope we don’t loose ourselves completely and hold onto the greatness of life. It is short and fleeting for certain. Back in the 1960’s Timothy Leary said, “Tune out, tune in, drop out.” His meaning of this was to be aware of your own biological self, engage with the world around you, and commit to self-reliance, acquire sense of self self, and commit to change.
I live and breathe the world of search and I take great strides to tune out as it is one of the great gifts of being human. During this day of remembrance we should all take stock of what we have. And moving forward from this day always remember your own humanity.