Charlotte held her fork with the kind of grip you’d use to plunge a dagger into a vampire, the way she drew down on her cake. It was almost a year since the two of us had gone out to dinner, a restaurant I’d first been to on 9/11 with Dawn. We all needed to get out and be with other people that night, to get away from our TV’s. My boss drove me home and we’d stopped at a gas station because he collected newspapers with headlines of major events like that. We’d all drawn straws to determine who would stay late, and I drew the shortest one.
I worked in the communications group for Starbucks corporate, and naturally we felt like there was a lot to say that day. First, to report that people were safe (employees in our stores), and also, that people were free to go home, close up, and be with their families. The CEO decided that, and I was in the room when he did. It was the one and only time I got invited to a meeting like that; I just followed my boss and sat off to the side. The room was full of all the leaders, with a flat screen TV replaying the news. We were all transfixed by those images. In just a minute’s time, he’d decided to close all the stores. The kind of decision you make by trusting your gut, more instinct than thought.
The regional vice president for the Northeast stores happened to be in Seattle that week so I sat with him to write a voicemail script for his team, all the stores in Manhattan, up and down the east coast. I could tell he was nervous and distracted, and needed help collecting his thoughts.
We had voicemail loops for all the stores in North America, five-digit codes, and would often sit with executives to help them record a message and make sure it got to the right stores. In the script I did with the RVP, I think we ended with “god bless,” something you shouldn’t really say from a corporate standpoint but it just felt right at the time. We didn’t know what else to do, everyone was in shock.
That night I met Dawn and her family in Issaquah at Jak’s steakhouse, and the two of us spent the night at her parent’s. Many will remember that time on 9/11 when the air traffic stopped, that eerie sense of no planes in the sky…followed by that eerie sense afterwards when they returned. How each passing jet made me flinch. Feeling so fragile for the first time as an American…then rushing into war as a means to heal, to “correct,” to restore our sense of security. How I knew on 9/11 that nothing good would ever come of it, something bad had started and would only ripple out, worse.
Dawn and I talked with Lily about past presidential elections, how the world is a different place based on those outcomes, and sometimes the vote is very close (like with Al Gore and George W. Bush). And how, during 9/11, I wanted to support GW because I felt bad for him, for having to respond to such a crisis as that. How it’s times like that a whole country can get behind the right (or wrong) leader.
How grateful I was to be in the presence of a good leader that day we decided to close the Starbucks stores so employees could go home, or wherever they wanted, to process what had happened. We make thousands of decisions a day that range in size from small to large. Our lives become a summary of our decisions: the actions we take (or don’t take) that make us who we are. And the impact of our decisions ranges in size too, for better or for worse.
Charlotte and I drove home and I asked if she wanted to watch a movie, but she was tired and just wanted to go to her room. I lit a candle and texted my neighbor; he brought a bottle of wine over and we sat in the den talking. I ate Charlotte’s leftover hamburger in the kitchen by the light of the microwave and went to bed. When I got up, I realized I’d left the chimney flue open all night. The morning started off pink, but turned to gray. We were smack dab in the middle of November. The server had asked “are you celebrating anything special tonight?,” and I looked at Charlotte, we both smiled and said no, not really. We’re just happy to be here.