My Memories of 9/11

I will remember, always

I stepped out of my office and looked down the hallway as Rob walked by very quickly and said, “They’ve just bombed the Pentagon”. He kept walking. That is my first memory of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

A few minutes later, most of the employees at SciQuest were huddled around a television in the break room, watching intently as the story unfolded. I remember seeing the live footage of the plane hitting the second tower. I know it was live, but I just kept thinking, ‘this can’t be real’.

The room was filled with a combination of news commentary and an eerie quiet. There were occasional gasps of disbelief, some comments and questions, but for the most part, I think we were all stunned. Tears appeared for some. I remember walking slowly back to my desk. I sat and tried to think about work, but it was no use. I called my wife, she was okay.

A little later that afternoon, Ann from HR walked around to everyone’s office. In a calm, somber tone she explained that it would be okay if we wanted to go home and be with our family. I left work, feeling numb and unsure what would happen next. Was our nation about to come under a full scale attack? My daughter Anna was three years old.

On the drive home, I kept hearing Don Henley’s, The End of the Innocence playing in my head. Thousands of innocent lives lost. Unbelievable acts of courage. Thousands of more lives changed forever.

In 2003, I had the opportunity to travel to New York for business. I made it a point to extend my stay just a bit longer. I wanted to visit the site of this horrific event and see first hand the remnants of what I watched on TV.

I had also reached out to Brother Rick Curry, founder of the National Theater Workshop for the Handicapped and author of the book, The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking. His office was in Soho, not far from ground zero. Brother Curry ran the workshop and partially funded the operation with a bakery up in Maine. After seeing an article on Brother Curry and his bakery in Oprah magazine, I called his office and offered to take him to lunch.

Meeting Brother Curry was a true inspiration in my early journey with Anna’s Gourmet Goodies. We spent the afternoon talking about baking, business, his work there and enjoyed lunch at a local Soho favorite. I explained my passion to start our bakery and how ‘our most important ingredient, is love’. “Don’t ever lose that”, said Brother Curry. I like to think that we have not.

We also talked about September 11 and he shared some of his experiences. He spoke about his friend Father Mychal Judge, the first certified fatality in the attack. In a soft voice with damp eyes, he recalled the image of a woman, leaping from the tower, holding her dress down as she fell to her death. “Dignity, even at the moment of certain death”, said Curry. It is an image that I did not see in person, yet it is burned into my memory.

My time with Brother Curry that day was magical and one I’ll always remember. He gave me a signed copy of his book, offered up his blessing, gave me a hug and sent me on my way. I walked from his office to ground zero.

I don’t recall specific expectations regarding what I might see. I felt the same numbness of that day as I walked closer and closer. I knew the cleanup effort would be going on. It was a damp, cloudy day, which in an odd way, seemed appropriate. As I approached the site, I saw adjacent buildings draped in long black fabric. Designed to control falling debris, they looked like mourning cloths. A quiet show of respect paying tribute to those lives lost on this ground.

The hole where the buildings once stood was large. Far deeper than I had imagined, the large dump trucks hauling away debris on the bottom looked like tiny ants crawling along in a slow, intentional pace.

A man who looked as if he lived life on the street, walked down the sidewalk yelling to himself. While I did not make out his words, it seemed okay in a place where the entire range of human emotions has played out over and over again.

I walked around for a few minutes, trying to take everything in and understand how this could be real, just as I did that day in the office at SciQuest. At some point, it was overwhelming. I caught a cab, and returned home safely to my family, grateful for everything around me.

I can’t say that the events of 911 were the single factor that propelled me in my journey with Anna’s Gourmet Goodies. I do believe that I, along with countless other Americans, were changed in a profound way during that time. I did not lose family or close friends, but I was jolted into thinking more deeply about what is important to me.

I’ve since become friends with James Johnson, a New York City police officer who was a first responder on that day. Meeting James and hearing his story has helped me connect with the events of 911 in a more personal way. I can now see some small measure of good, meeting someone who was there, serving others and risking his life in the midst of chaos never before seen in the United States.

And, at least a few times a year, I pull out Brother Curry’s book and bake one of his recipes. This Sunday, I’ll be making a couple of loaves of Brother Bandera’s Italian Bread. I’ll remember our conversation, stories about Father Judge and visiting ground zero.

I don’t know if the families of the men, women and children who lost their lives that day can yet look back and see the good in anything related to the events of that fateful day. I do pray that day will come. But until then, the best I can do is to offer up my promise that I will remember, always.

Sowing seeds of hope

Anna and Debbie put together some personal kits
for the people of Haiti

Try as I may, I simply cannot imagine what it must have been like. I’ve been without a home before, but I always found shelter. We lived through hurricane Fran in 1996 and were without power, but still had food, clean clothes and water. For those mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters half a world away in the tiny nation of Haiti, they watched everything they know disappear in a matter of seconds. No warning. The earth shook. Buildings crumbled. People died. And life as they know it was changed, forever.

I say it often, and events like this bring it into sharp focus, that we are indeed blessed with a life far more abundant than we stop to appreciate. Tony Robbins once said in a story about a family losing a loved one suddenly in a violent act, that ‘We have no problems. That family has problems.’ I think the same can be said about us the people of Haiti, we have no problems.

Hardly a day goes by when I do not see someone, somewhere, in need. Feeling as though I can’t help them all, I often freeze and end up not doing anything. But I was moved by the magnitude of this event and decided to take action and offer up a little seed of hope to people I will certainly never meet.

The owners of a local restaurant felt the same and decided to enable folks like myself to do something to help. Joe Lumbrazo, owner of The Backyard Bistro located behind the RBC Center in Raleigh, teamed up with Sean Bunn and The Triangle Red Sox Nation fan club to put together a relief effort. They agreed to rent a trailer, cook up some spectacular BBQ, and invite folks in the community to come and donate clothing and other items. They furnished the collection vehicle, the logistics, and the food – all we had to do was help fill it up.

I seek out learning opportunities for my daughter and we’ve been trying to help Anna understand just what it might be like for the people of Haiti. Imagine that one minute you are standing in the living room, and the next minute you are covered with walls, and boards, and shingles. You claw your way out from under what once was your home. You hear people screaming and crying. And there is silence. You look for Mom and Dad, but you cannot find them. They could be alive, but they could also be dead. There are neighbors around. Many are injured and bleeding. Some are searching for their family. Everything you own is now sitting in a crumbled pile of debris. You sit on the ground. No food. No water. Only tears to wet your face.

This past holiday season, Anna’s Gourmet Goodies ended up with an extra case of cookie tins that we could not sell. So, we decided to assemble some personal hygiene kits for the people of Haiti. Anna and I headed off to the store to pick up some wash cloths, soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush. We tossed in some of our money and MasterTheGap.com picked up the rest of the tab. We put everything neatly into the tins, included a prayer, a note of encouragement, and tied them up with a blue ribbon.

In addition to the kits, Anna and I also cleaned out our clothes closet, making a conscious effort to select not just things that are old and worn out, but nice things that I still wear, but can do without. We loaded up the back of the car and headed out to The Backyard Bistro.

Chris and Anna delivering a little hope

We arrived a little more than an hour after the event started, and the trailer was already near half full. The BBQ was excellent, and it felt great to meet and greet other people that were sowing their seeds of hope as well. A van from a local church arrived just as we were leaving, filled with gifts and warm smiles for the people of Haiti. While we did not stay until the event ended at 3:00 p.m. but I understand that they collected enough to fill half of a semi tractor trailer in about four hours. Since then, more has come in.

I came back home that afternoon and celebrated a milestone birthday with my family, a few friends and some neighbors. We swapped stories, snacked and enjoyed a Pear and Chocolate cake that Debbie made along with some ice cream. She set the whole thing up and asked that people bring food to share in lieu of any gifts. As it turns out, planting a few seeds of hope in the back of a trailer bound for Haiti might just be one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received. It’s certainly one I’ll remember for some time to come.

And while our contribution might have been small in comparison to the recent telethon effort, you just never know how something so small might grow. Have you looked at a mustard seed lately? Find something that moves you and toss out a few seeds of hope. Sometimes, even a small seed can make a big difference.

Share your story about sowing seeds of hope at SowASeedOfHope.com.

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