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My not-about-9/11 9/11 post.


My big guy Danny turned four today.Well, I wasn’t going to go here. I guess I’m not sure I have anything to say. Or maybe, I was just bracing for what everyone else would say. I’ve written before about the 9/11 attacks, and those words are powerful and fierce for me, because I wrote them in the hours and days after everything went to hell. So maybe I should just leave it at that.

But here’s the thing. Today is my son’s fourth birthday. And I’m not going to say I didn’t think today about 9/11, because I did; and I’m not going to say that those thoughts didn’t make me sad for the loss, and angry about what happened, and vengeful for justice, and wistful for the spirit of commraderie we as Americans had in the aftermath, and confused about where that spirit seems to have gone. I wonder about all of those things, not just today but every day.

And yet, my biggest emotions throughout the day were gratitude for my son and wonderment at his amazing, joyful self. And the fact that I had those feelings today, and could enjoy them, means that at least for me the test results from 9/11 are starting to come in, and you know what? We passed. We frigging passed. We may not have scored 100%, but listen up America — good work, well taken. We took a graduate class in Hardship and we got most of the questions right. We have some things to brush up on for the next course but by and large, we passed. 

Here’s to the fallen heroes and to the ones living among us now and every day, including you, and God willing, including me. Let’s make it all worth it. No use crying over what we got wrong, because it’s over. We passed exams and that means it’s on to the next class. If we can do this then the economy and the environment and education and everything else is a piece of cake. Bring it. 

And finally, Danny: This one’s for you.

The Business of Multiplication

It is fairly presumptuous of me to assume I have anything to add to the vast number of poignant 9/11 commentaries you’ve probably seen this weekend. But I do think I have something to add about my favorite topic, which is why the the world needs you and the work you do.

As I’ve listened, watched, and read a variety of 9/11 tributes today, I’ve been struck by how each person’s experience of that day is so similar and yet so particular. We each experienced the grief, and fear, and confusion. But we each experienced it in our own way. The person who sat on the phone trying to reach a loved one. The person who drove crosstown to help. The person who enlisted. The person who watched dusted figures walk by. The person who gave out free food and water. The same streak of light through fifty million prisms.

My memories, like yours, are likely special only to me. My uniqueness involves the impending birth of my son Matthew. He had his dad’s love of drama even then, already ten days overdue. Waiting to make an entrance. That morning found me at home in Los Angeles getting ready to take Jeanie to the hospital. She was to be induced. As we woke to pack the bags for the hospital, we turned on the television and our lives changed in the same way yours did. In the ways everyone’s did.

The morning was a flurry of phone calls. Calls with family, and friends, and of course, the family and friends I worked with — many of whom I still work with ten years later. Did Murph stay overnight or did he go direct? Did anyone know what freaking flight he was on? Was Conigs downtown? Can anyone reach her? Was the team from Canada accounted for?

When Jeanie and I finally made it to the hospital, we looked at our O.B. and said simply, “We are not inducing today. We will not have our son born today.”

And yet, the most troubling and redemptive characteristic of life is its imminence. It won’t wait. Life is always just about to be. And so on the 12th we were back at the hospital, unable to exert any more influence on Matthew’s timing. We sat and watched CNN and wondered, at least a bit, what kind of parents we were to be if we were selfish enough to bring a child into a world like this.

And you know the rest, or at least your part of it. It is not historical self-indulgence to assert that the last ten years have been fundamentally different than those that came before. We have seen, in a real way, a decade of division. Towers split in half. Families torn apart. A world brought briefly together, and then too, a world splintered.

We became used to separating things. Our shoes and belts at the airport. Our loved ones sent to other places. Our inward thoughts from our spoken opinions. It became a decade of divisions in geopolitics, and then domestic politics, and then in business and economics too, as the math we learned years earlier seemed to stop working. The reds and the blues; the right and the left. More disturbingly, the haves and the have-nots. The us and the them.

There are many groups of people, many talented and dedicated groups of people, working to overcome these divisions. And despite my penchant for cynicism, I have immense respect and gratitude for the women and men of the military, the political community, and the government. I think by and large they are doing their best to solve the vast array of problems that a decade of division has laid at the doorstep.

Yet these people can only do so much. There is only so much that can be accomplished when the prime directive is to stop the loss. “Minimize the damage” can only take us so far. At some point, the momentum has to be reversed.

That’s where you come in. You may not recognize it, but you are in the business of multiplication.

In event fundraising, the multiplication works in a mathematical way I can prove: One participant brings 50 or 60 donors. It is in datasets; I can see how it works.

But the multiplication is more powerful than that. I have seen it in the way one walker brings five family members to cheer her on. In the way laughter spreads across a camp. In the way a small email encouragement is passed on to dozens of friends. In the way one shoe raised ripples across a crowd 1,500 times.

Whatever your profession — teacher, attorney, firefighter, bus driver, pilot, consultant — I will bet that when you reflect on the myriad of interactions you have each moment of your day, you will find there is multiplication at the core of what you do. Every single day of every single week.

The most profound reason my last decade has been different than the ten years before it has nothing to do with 9/11 at all — nothing to do with terrorism, or anti-terrorism, or financial collapse, or political discontent. It has to do with a wonderful boy named Matthew. When I look back on how my life has changed, I can say that he changed it more than any of that, in a huge, positive, profound way; that he multiplied my love and care and hope and optimism fifty thousand times more than anything that happened to divide it. Love is the ultimate force multiplier.

We are indeed still at war, and mainly we are at war with ourselves. Are we strong enough to look forward and create a better world? To take the risks and make the commitment to a more powerful future, a future that is the right future to create even though we may not be here to enjoy all of it? To sacrifice ourselves for a cleaner earth, a more tolerant community, a more equitable country, and a more peaceful world?

Answering the questions to create this world will require an abundance of character, and mainly it will take hope, love, and hard work. When I really open my eyes to look at the people around me, I see all three evidenced in dramatic quantities — and it makes me proud of the “what” you do, and excited for the decade of multiplication we together will help to create.

Watching you, I am ready for the next decade. It is onwards and upwards from here.

And finally: Happy birthday to the fourth of my force multipliers, Danny, who turns three this very day. 

Matthew and Meaning

This is one of my first and favorite web posts. It was written at what was obviously an emotional time for the country —  but in addition to the shock of September 11th, we had the joy of the birth of our son Matthew on September 13th. Our emotions were all muddled, like preschoolers muddle paint; bright and bold and dark and murky.

I thought as I publish my first posts, I’d add this one.

Somehow, someway, Matthew turned a week old yesterday. Watching him grow fills me with a sense of disbelief. I am waiting for him take his things and leave one morning, with a wave goodbye and a thank you for the milk and the diapers. I am expecting someone with a clipboard and bad uniform to show up at the door and repossess him. We’ll hand him back with a sheepish apology.

But no one comes to claim him. The astounding nature of the miracle that is a baby starts to sink in, slowly, and over the days I’ve become more willing to admit that he is here to stay. This is our baby.

It’s hard to accept. A sense of self-preservation kicks in when I look at him - “Don’t get too attached. He is fragile, and fragile things have a tough time in this place.”

Or maybe, more accurately, I am the fragile one.

This is the first definition of parenthood I’ve come to learn: An overpowering desire to control your love and hopes coupled with an overpowering inability to do so. I give in to the emotion with the dim suspicion that the other path is the path of the recluse. Not that I have any choice in the matter. He has me by the heart.

The past week has been one of new distractions and tasks - changing diapers, taking baths, watching his mother during feedings. In a week we’ve developed a new routine.

We’ve added other tasks to our routine as well. Scouring the paper in the morning for good news. Conducting seemingly endless vigils with Tom Brokaw. Repeatedly reviewing new bits of information. Connecting with family and friends many times a day to confer about the latest turns of events, conversations that on the surface are about news but at their core are about anxiety. The need to ask “Did you see that?” as a way of saying, “Will you ask me if I saw it?”

Will you ask me if I’m okay?

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Jeanie and I were sleeping in the guest bedroom. Guest bedroom is a bit of a misnomer - it is our everything room, with my keyboards and our office and a spare bed that happens to be much harder than our bed and thus much more comfortable to a woman in early stages of labor. My father-in-law woke us up with a phone call. Even in the confusion of early morning that was normal enough - everyone wanting to know how the baby was coming along.

“Turn on the television. They’ve bombed the World Trade Center.”

That was our introduction to the new world.

Like most everyone else, we watched in shock throughout the day. We saw the same stories and the same footage over and over, but couldn’t turn away. We watched in the hope that somehow the footage would end differently. It didn’t.

Midway through the day, Jeanie and I turned to each other with a selfish prayer: “Please God, don’t let our baby be born today.”

 In a day when many prayers were squelched by fire and steel, ours was answered.

The next day, even as we went to the hospital and began labor, we watched the news for reassurance and hope that, sadly, weren’t forthcoming. I will never forget talking with the anesthesiologist about collapsing buildings as Jeanie received her epidural. I will never forget bringing an American flag to the hospital — a nurse came to the room not to inquire after Matthew’s health but to ask “Where did you get the flag? Are there any left?”

Matthew’s birth and the terrorist attacks will forever be linked in my mind, because they are linked in reality. I sit with Matthew on my lap watching MSNBC. I receive emails from friends who thank me for the meaningful news, as if I had some role in its delivery; several people call in tears to say that his birth was the one bright spot in a dark week. I run to the store to buy diapers and notice that all the news magazines have just been released. I buy all of them without thinking.

A week later I am still in shock, still transfixed by both turns of events. It is a feeling of experiencing two shades of the same emotion: Both defy description. How can you explain one life? How can you explain thousands of deaths? I watching him breathing and I watch the towers collapsing and I can’t describe either one. An overpowering desire to control hope coupled with an overpowering inability to do so.

Last night Matthew and I watched the President speak. I look at my baby, illuminated by the glow of late-night television. He opens his eyes and grabs my hand. He is here to stay. He is life; he is renewal; he is purpose.

What has the world become? Is there a way to find meaning in this?

In this moment I understand what our friends have said. In this moment I look into Matthew’s sleepy eyes and I find my answer.

But as I turn my attention back to the speech, I listen to the President’s words and I am struck by a second, more troubling thought:

If we have found our meaning in Matthew, where will Matthew find his meaning?

And I realize my own new purpose, and the new obligation of my generation.

Because this is a question that Matthew is counting on me to answer.