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.