The Day After 20 Years After 9/11

Issue 177 — September 12, 2021

Like most everyone else yesterday on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I relived where I was that day when everything changed.

It was one of those spectacularly beautiful days when it seemed like all was right with the world. I had arrived a little after 8:30am to meet a business colleague for breakfast at Jean-Georges Nougatine, an upscale restaurant just off New York’s Columbus Circle in the Trump International Hotel and Tower. (Ironic? Perhaps.)

When she didn’t arrive by around 8:45, I dialed her number on my cell phone.

But there was no dial tone. I looked around the restaurant and saw people looking strangely at their dead phones. It was as though we were in a sci fi movie where we were suddenly being invaded by an invisible virus.

And in one sense that’s exactly what was happening. We were becoming aware that something terrible had happened, though it would be a few more minutes before we would know about the two planes crashing deliberately into the World Trade Center’s iconic twin towers, those bold symbols of American culture and New York as its commercial center.

When the first plane crashed into tower one, everyone thought it was an accident. Who could imagine that any pilot would do that deliberately, knowing death would be swift and sure?

But hatred shattered any sense of well-being. It was a new kind of war, one that ignored the old rules of engagement. One where it wasn’t the largest army with the biggest weapons that could inflict the most damage, but the most strategic.

The brilliant blue sky that day is one of the most often mentioned memories people mention about 9/11. The pristine cloudless sky caressing the city juxtaposed fiery devastation on the tip of Manhattan.

I walked the few blocks to my home where I found my husband glued to the television. By that time, it was clear that the planes’ pilots knew exactly what they were doing and that the event was pure evil. Yet it was evil at such a high vibration that I couldn’t process its magnitude. I walked from home to my office at Planned Parenthood a few more blocks away, in midtown Manhattan.

I was so accustomed to dealing with crisis and violent attacks that I immediately stuffed my personal feelings and swung into action. My first thoughts were with my staff. As the CEO, I had to find out as soon as possible whether they were all safe, what they needed from me or the organization, how their families were. I had to be present and reach out to comfort their fears. Some had not been able to make it to the office because the subway system in lower Manhattan was out, so we set about trying to ascertain where each person was and told those who had come to work that they could go as needed.

I was on automatic pilot the rest of the day. I still can’t believe that I kept an appointment for an interview with Fast Company about our 25 year plan. It hadn’t occurred to me yet that our certainty we would be around in 25 years might not be a rational assumption.

By the time I walked home, the normally bustling streets were eerily empty.

Family members and friends in other states called the still operative land lines to ask if we were ok.

People across the country were terrified.

New Yorkers sprang into action. This is a city that lives up to its reputation for smarts and toughness.

Yesterday, remembering that very sad day, these memories flooded back.

I remember being so distressed that the burning buildings repeated over and over on television and in every other medium would be one of my preschool-aged grandchildren’s first memories.

And today, the day after the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I wonder, what have we learned?

During the past year and a half we have experienced a global pandemic caused by an actual invisible virus that has killed millions, including over 200 times the number of Americans as lost their lives on 9/11. A different kind of evil, a different kind of disruption of so-called normal life.

Yet the precursors and the cures have similarities.

You might think I am about to tell you that the world would be a better place if women held at least half of the leadership positions. And you would be correct.

The countries that have been most successful in managing COVID have typically been led by women. Despite the fact that wars have been started by women as well as men, or that wars were often blamed on women (you know, their beauty caused men to lose their heads) it’s also true that women have started most peace movements. And in the U.S. Congresswomen like Jeanette Rankin and Barbara Lee have stood alone against going into wars.

More importantly, as this article in The Economist shows, countries that have the least gender parity are more likely ultimately to fail as nations for a variety of reasons.

So the question we must ask is: after all the media specials on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, where do we go now?

The answer will be all in our intentioning.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.