It just so happened that I had gone to Connecticut to visit family and friends in September of 2001. I had been there for a few days, and my flight home was on September 10, 2001 aboard an Airbus A320 from Logan in Boston to SFO.
It was a Monday. I had arrived on Friday afternoon, spent a great 4-day weekend hanging out and revisitng my childhood haunts like I do every time I go there. I saw my friends, and my Mom for the first time in a couple years. I talked to my brother and debated him about the work ID program that Vicente Fox was in Washington pushing on W to get in place.
And I remember clearly that my Mom wanted me to stay for dinner on Monday night, even though I had already spent time with her. But I had to get to the airport. I remember her saying "Could you just leave tomorrow instead? I miss you and I don't get to see you much."
And I'm sure I told her something about having to get back to SF for work on Tuesday or something, and I left.
And I remember getting home to my apartment at Washington and Polk in SF, where I was living with 3 guys around the corner from The Cinch where we all hung out almost nightly. And I'm sure that that Monday night, I went there and had a few drinks before going to bed.
The next morning is both extremely clear and oddly blurry.
Like most folks who weren't physically there, I stood in front of my roommate's TV aghast, slack-jawed and tried to suppress the growing nausea.
I try to not think about what would have happened if I'd accepted my mom's request and just "pushed the flight" to the next morning.
But every year, without fail, when this day comes, the pit in my stomach sinks and I revisit the exact sensation I had as the events unfolded. The nauseated feeling is so distinct to this day. Thinking about how many times I'd been in WTC and marveled at the view and the sheer size of it. Knowing how many people worked there, and the visual impressions we all have in our collective consciousness to remember. How I couldn't conceive of the Manhattan skyline without the WTC, and thinking that this just couldn't be real. I think about how four or five years later I worked with someone who lost her dear, wonderful father at the Pentagon that day, and how unimaginably painful that must have been.
And, even though it is so troubling, I hope that I never stop feeling this.
I honestly hope that I never lose contact with this sick-stomach feeling. As ill as it makes me, it is a trigger to snap me out of whatever idyll or malaise I happen to be in and re-feed me the lesson of a lifetime. I feel this iterative illness as reverential to those whose pain far surpasses mine, and to which I can have no bearing of familiarity. My personal proximity to these events pales in comparison to so many. This annual sickness is my hardwired homage to them.
I think of sudden loss as the hardest thing. When there is a slow decline, or a predictable path, we can psychologically prepare. But the essence of "terror" is emotion. We feel "terrorized" because it shocks us into the fear of uncertainty and sudden loss.
I've lost close friends suddenly. And all I did afterward, besides cry and grieve, was think of all the things we didn't say or do, all the things we will never get to say or do, and how few and fleeting the things we did do seem when the unspoken undertanding of "more to come" is dashed...
And all roads then lead back to how precious our small little gift of time really is.
As I look forward to becoming a father, I think of all the things that I want to convey to my daughter. I want her to know about everything. The easy stuff, and the hard stuff. The fun stuff and the not-so-fun stuff. And I'm sure she'll get there.
But mostly I think that I want to guide her, at her pace, to realize that this isn't a dress rehearsal. I think if she understands that, more than anything else, she'll grow up to be the daughter, woman, partner to another and overall citizen that I so romantically and optimistically envision today.
I am often heard to say the following:
"The sun goes up and the sun goes down. What's important to you today?"
I say this in reference to a truism that my life has taught me. That there is only one thing that truly has value in this world. Time.
This is my philosophy. And as I've grown older, I've come to realize how powerfully my estimation of the value of time underpins almost every effort I make, both personal and professional.
What follows is my latest effort in capturing what I mean.
I don't believe time is infinite. I realize that this breaks with some popular (and scientific) schools of thought, but to me it just doesn't make intuitive sense. Since man made it, it is only as long as we can measure by our existence. It wasn't here before man, and when man goes from the world, so too will go the concept of time.
Within the abstract of "time" we are each given a subset called a "lifetime"; a finite section of the whole, but one that we cannot foresee the limit of. We all know that we will not live forever, but we are limited in that we cannot possibly know exactly how long we will live. I find this to be one of the most fascinating aspects of human life.
This thing, "time", is a man made device. And as it is made by man, I see it as something not perfect, not immutable, and purposely not flexible.
But valuable? Yes. Supremely valuable? Yes. Valuable beyond anything else man has invented? To me, yes.
I think that, at its core, my personal experiences with death is what moved me into this belief.
When I was in my late teen years, I had the experience of losing three close friends suddenly within one year from the first to the last. And again, later, in college, a dear friend and co-worker simply went home one night, fell into a diabetic coma and passed.
Largely due to these experiences, I came to believe that our lifetime is a precious, fragile gift. And that since the time we have is not known, it will only ever be what we make it. It marches on without regard for our struggles or trials. But it, in and of itself is not responsible for any of them.
Instead, time is just the unwavering yardstick by which we assess our progress, set our goals, and recall our experiences. Money and people come and go. But time is resolutely present.
At our chosen work, the essence of the value of time comes to the fore, no matter if we own our own businesses, or serve others in theirs. Time is invested into caring for the outcome of our passions, our vision, and the realization of our goals. And, because it is finite but ethereal, we never know what overall percentage of time is being spent on any given effort.....What percentage of my lifetime was spent writing this blog post? Working for X company? Building Y relationship? And so forth.
As a consultant, I am frequently involved with clients in choices about how to spend time. My reverence for time makes me not want to waste it. And when spending my client's time, I think about how many days I've spent at work before the sunrise, and how many I've spent working long after sundown thinking to myself whether it's all worth it or not. And I want to make every minute count for the betterment of both my clients and my professional self.
Where I end up is in a belief that the investment of any percentage of our lifetime, no matter how large or small, is the greatest compliment we give each other.
In my estimation, no material thing can supersede its value, and nothing exemplifies the care, concern, and impact we make on each other like time we choose to share with each other.
What do you think?