By Rick Morris
Although I love to write, I’m not huge on writing about anything involving my own life. It feels self-indulgent, although I don’t judge others who do and who feel that their own experiences are universally enthralling. Maybe they are. Point is, I’m not somebody for whom this comes naturally, so it must carry more authenticity when I do this. And authenticity is what we are all about in The FDH Lounge.
When I say that I had a unique 9/11 story, it feels wrong, because it wasn’t tinged with heroism or terror or any of the wild swings that those directly involved felt on that day. For example, my partner The FDH New York Bureau Steve Cirvello was on the ferry that day on his way to work when the planes hit the tower, while his wife was home pregnant with their child. Now that’s somebody who was connected to the events way more than I was that day.
Nonetheless, my story seems like it was a bit more out of the ordinary than those all across the country who went to work that day, were sent home when the panic hit and watched the rest of the coverage on TV.
Earlier that year, the road to creating FDH started in earnest when I met Nate Noy in the keeper league baseball draft that I entered. I joined him as a partner in Drafthelp.com (the mothership that FDH subsequently spun off of five years later) and I began working with him on the main Drafthelp project of the time, the book STRANDED: A GUIDE TO LIFE WITHOUT MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. We self-published this book as a means for baseball fans to get through what was to (supposedly) become the MLB lockout.
All through the summer, I worked on my parts of the book and Nate got his done. He had set a deadline of September 15 with the publisher we retained for the book to be finished.
It was my job to edit his work as well as to write my own (my mother also edited my work and performed extra duty editing Nate’s and it was a thrill for me to involve her in a book project in some way, which I didn’t even know until later had been a long-deferred goal of hers). Suffice to say that I got Nate’s copy in early September and it required a lot of rewrite. Now, Nate is the most brilliant person I’ve ever met, so it really chapped my a%& to have to rewrite as much of his material as I did! When I complained to him, he proved yet again how much smarter he was than me, laying on the Uriah Heep act about how he was sorry that his rural Ohio education didn’t prepare him for this and that I had graduated from one of the top journalism schools in America. As intended, I felt badly for him and that I had apparently made him feel bad. It wasn’t until we hung up that I remembered his excellent liberal-arts undergrad education, his law degree and the MBA that he was pursuing and realized how badly he hustled me yet again!
I remember like it was yesterday going over to my parents’ house for dinner on Sunday, September 9 with my laptop and complaining that I would never get everything done by Friday. My dad advised me in his usual common-sense manner that I’d have to take a day off of work to do this. Fortunately, I had a few vacation days banked, but I said, “It would be too much of a hassle to take off tomorrow. I’ll work tomorrow and let them know I’m going to take off Tuesday.”
And so it unfolded.
I stayed up late Monday night editing and watching the Monday Night Football season opener (I am a huge multi-tasker!), knowing that I’d have the luxury of sleeping in on Tuesday. Somewhere in the 9 AM EDT hour, I woke up to the local sports-talk station on my clock radio. I hit the sleep button, thus buying nine extra minutes.
Those nine minutes symbolized the before and after moments of 9/11 perfectly.
Because that station was an ESPN affiliate, that also meant somehow that they had access to other properties under the Disney banner like ABC News. I re-awoke nine minutes later to Peter Jennings talking about major damage to the World Trade Center towers.
What was going on?
I stumbled, bleary-eyed into the living room, flipped on CNN and saw a split-screen image of what was to become Ground Zero and the crash at the Pentagon site. Welcome to the chaos of the day and what was to become the “new normal” of post-attack America.
I tried to edit our book that day, but I was in a daze. I was on the phone with friends and family throughout, trying to make sense of everything. I went over my parents’ house for part of the day as well. My mom was convinced that there had to be explosives in the Towers to bring them down, as it was not commonly understood at the time just what the flaming jet fuel was capable of under the circumstances (and regrettably, there are still “Truthers” out there who would give credence to my mother’s initial guess, but that’s another story for another time).
I consider copy-editing to be among my biggest professional strengths, so it’s a testament to the shock of that day that so much slipped past me. It’s an equal testament to the superhuman qualities of my mother that she caught – that very day, mind you – so many errors that I’m convinced never would have gotten by me if I was in a normal frame of mind. I’ll never know how she did it, but she ensured that the book was completed in a fashion that would do us all proud.
Fortunately, we had absorbed the lesson in priorities that the day rammed home so forcefully, because we weren’t even mad when the premise of the book vanished with the violence. MLB and the players, cowed by the prospect of a baseball shutdown after the unthinkable shock to America’s system, papered over their differences and subsequently put together a status-quo preserving agreement (thus ratifying the growing payroll imbalance and punting on steroid testing for many years, but again, another story for another day). So we lost our chance at helping baseball fans fill a void during a work stoppage that most certainly would have come otherwise. How could we complain when others had lost so much more?
There was much talk that day and in the days to come about not forgetting 9/11 and not allowing our mindset to go back to what it was before. I have taken that seriously in the last ten years, believing security issues to be paramount. From my paleocon political perspective, the most tragic byproduct of the Iraq War was the fact that the false pretences of the conflict allowed for so many to “throw out the baby with the bath water” on the need to take all necessary measures to protect our country and its vital interests.
But some hopeful signs have blossomed over a period of time. The spontaneous demonstrations of national joy – the “We Got Him!!!” wave of positivity – however short-lived, proved that we could rally around a common purpose again. Additionally, the continuing use of Guantanamo Bay and the drones by the Obama Administration have restored a much-needed bipartisan consensus on doing whatever it takes to keep this country safe by whatever means necessary. Believe me, I’m not a fan of this administration, but I always give credit where it is due.
On this tenth anniversary of the definitive before-and-after day of our lifetimes, reflect on what the day taught us about the extremes, the best and worst of humanity on display side-by-side. Remember the innocents who died, the heroes of Flight 93 who resolved to limit the damage caused by their plane even as they proceeded with their own death sentence and the heroes who worked to rescue the victims – with many of them ending up laying down their own lives in the name of duty. Remember the effectiveness of those who worked to save others in the Twin Towers -- it's a miracle the death toll wasn't into five figures. The 9/11 Digital Archive is especially useful for restoring the vivid images of the day and the time. We must always remember that life is comprised of equal parts what happens to you and what you do about it and that you always need to process events to take a step forward. If you don’t think in the long run that 9/11 affected you, then you are dead wrong, because it affected everyone. If you take some inspiration from the bravery and goodness that was all around in America’s darkest moment and you can do some good as a result of that, then nobody died in vain. We owe those who didn’t make it out of that day nothing less than that.