What a difference a decade makes
9/11. A day that brought our country to its knees, but showed the resilience America was founded upon. For me, 9/11 was the first day of the rest of my life. Cliché as it may be, but I stand behind the statement for this reason. Without this tragic day, I may not have taken these past ten years as seriously as I have. Sure, I’ve had some crazy times that gave me stories that I hesitate to tell my future children, but along the way, I did more growing than any other point in my life.
I learned what integrity really means. I found out what true loyalty and comradery looks like. I was fortunate to see the lengths people would go to protect a stranger or to protect what they believe in. I came to understand sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. I knew love, twice. I fought through heartbreak, twice. I found my voice, my personality, and I grew into the person that I most wanted to be. I’m comfortable in my own skin, but vulnerable enough to approach. I realized that anything said with a smile, a genuine smile, will take a person further than any BS that can be conjured.
Through all of this, I made it beyond yesterday. Distractions are often my main way of coping with a situation that distresses me. I felt that yesterday was the perfect distraction mixed with relevance to move me into this next decade beyond 9/11. I originally wanted to be in the city where this all started for me ten years ago, New York City, on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11. I wanted to be where our towers fell, our people were lost, and our country changed. But on a whim and partially out of necessity, I volunteered to fly to Chicago early that morning to help IAVA set-up an amazing day for 200 veterans and their families. I would be lying if the airport didn’t feel less alive and more cold, steely. Once in Chicago, I dismissed the constant reporting, the endless reel of images that I wish I could forget, and concentrated on the event about to take place.
Entering U.S. Cellular, home of the Chicago White Sox, helped me notch off another baseball stadium in my goal of watching a game at every ballpark in the MLB. But this also served as a necessary distraction. It didn’t hit me again until Nick Colgin, his wife, and I walked out onto the field where Nick would be throwing out the first pitch. The White Sox’s opening ceremony and tribute to the Armed Forces, policemen, firemen, pilots, and flight attendants really encompassed what the this day of remembrance should be; a celebration for our communities’ heroes.
Being alongside veterans and their families on this day really showed me how far I had come as a person. Years ago, skating to Ground Zero on 9/11 and chasing the lighted tribute to the World Trade Center, meant me crying on a corner while watching firefighters and policemen hugging in the streets. It meant me staring into a pit that once held two crowning achievements in the world of finance, but most importantly, in American pride. It meant regret for never standing atop those monuments and further appreciating why there is no other place in the world like New York City, period.
I shook a USAF SSgt’s hand yesterday morning at 0530 in Reagan International Airport and thanked him for continuing the tradition that is our country’s military. Ten years earlier at that exact time, I was probably butt cheeks spread (ha, I deliberated with myself about that statement and it’s staying!) for my entrance physical, but most certainly, I was only three and a half hours from the most defining moments of my life. What a difference a decade makes.