One decision of many

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.

Categories: Memoir, parenting, writing

Tags: , , , ,

23 replies

  1. Don’t you stab a vampire with a wooden stake? After I went home from work on 9/11, I went trail running in Wash. DC’s Rock Creek Park with my wife. Walking back to our car after the run a cop walked by with a shotgun up on his shoulder like a revolutionary soldier. Stunned, I knew the world had changed, but luckily it didn’t change as much as I expected it would. I wonder if anyone has ever collected stories about what people did on the night of 9/11. That would make for good reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! The wooden stake! And good idea on that collection of stories. It changed and it didn’t change for us, I suppose. One of those days we’ll remember.


  2. Hard to forget for any of us who saw the images scrolling out of the television that day and for weeks after, that rolling horror as they replayed the collisions, the towers falling. That day did change the world and I’ve always felt it changed a lot, actually. It made us all feel a lot less secure as powerful, western nations, it unlocked a spiral of violence, conflict, counter conflict that still rolls on today. The second Gulf War, the ensuing power vacuums, radicalisation … I’m sure someone more knowledgeable could tell me it was all there already, under the surface, bubbling away for a century or more since the days of Empire, but it’s been to the fore since 9/11. And if there wasn’t enough anti Islamic feeling already, there seems to be more than ever now among certain people, especially after we had our own bombings in London. The world has certainly never been the same.
    Thoughtful post, Bill, and I always admire your skill of lacing the big issues with the personal

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I could read more of your commentary on if Lynn! Very interesting to hear your POV for a number of reasons. Thank you for that. Yes, odd for our generation to experience such a thing, our responsibility to do what we can to minimize the spiral as you call it (that seems to always be there).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m no expert – on anything! – but as a history grad I can see the seeds of these conflicts were sown by the West years ago, by our desire to impose our beliefs and structures on other nations – and take what we could along the way. We’ve been a destabilising influence for a very long time. We can but hope one day all nations will see sense and stop retaliating, step away from an eye for an eye.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I remember the empty skies, an unearthly quiet at night, and having two sisters suddenly impossibly far away and stranded, one in Key West, one in Greece, with no way home.

    The world tilted. I made flyers with a map of the world on one side, a Rumi poem on the other, cut them in half and stapled them to telephone poles, bulletin boards, and handed them out on the street. I still have a stack of them in a drawer. Ripple

    Liked by 1 person

  4. memories….thx Bill…I was just in Berlin and wrote a bit of nostalgia myself. Dabbling in writing to make sure I remember how good it feels to write my experiences out…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Evocative post Bill. I was back in the states for an unusual autumn visit, in Seattle, when the towers were hit. The skies grew so eerily empty. The planet was holding its breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It has, and continues to do so….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jadi, thanks and well put. Nice at least to hear other people’s experiences, happy for that. Be well! Won’t be long now before those Christmas markets start going up!


  6. I like the bit about the Starbucks honcho and the split-second decision to close the stores. I think you’re right, that’s just one of those intuitive decisions that can’t be overthought. Just do it. Am I losing my mind or was there a line in there about a cop with a shotgun that’s not there anymore?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “just happy to be here.” It may not be 9/11 these days, but those words are still a good reminder of how to take on trying times.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think 9/11 changed America, especially for anyone who was alive at the time, I’m guessing in the same way Pearl Harbor changed it for the folks who were alive on that day. For some, I think there is still a lot of fear tearing at them and tainting their world view. I guess we all react to things differently. Amazing how decisive that CEO was, as if the shock cut through any business or political posturing and got right down to the core of things: addressing what people needed right in that moment. Funny how the images come back to us later. Good post and a lot of food for thought Bill. I appreciate how sensitively you expressed things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey! Good thought Ilona, thanks. Like the bit about cutting through the posturing: what purity in that lens for decision making, right? Kind note, always happy and grateful to hear from you. Aurora borealis sighting supposedly, tonight. No way I’ll be up past 9 though. 😖


  9. Lovely bookends with the recent past – still processing it – gently cradled in the middle. Happy belated Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

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