The Writing on the Cubicle Wall

I was just reading, albeit belatedly, a beautifully structured and written memoir of September 11, 2001 on Liza‘s Reading Makes Me Happy blog.  She lists her memories of it and asks her readers to share what they remember as well.  I just left the poor gal a lengthy comment that was like a post in itself, so I thought I may as well share it here:

“I remember first hearing about it on the radio, sitting in my car driving across Chicago. The morning show was talking about a plane that had hit the WTC and still wondering if it had been an accident…until the second one hit. I remember my mother’s worried voice on my answering machine when I got back to my apartment and how I tried to tune in on my 18-year-old television! The antenna reception was awful, and the picture began flipping just before I heard the cries of the newscasters. I remember smacking my TV to get a clear picture of what had raised the alarm, and it clicked into place just before the first building finished collapsing. I remember dressing for work, tentatively, then driving on Lake Shore Drive toward the office, listening to how they still didn’t know if there were more planes out there or what their targets would be. From my view, I saw the Sears Tower and my own office building, Chicago’s 3rd tallest in which my office was on the 74th floor. I remember seeing all the workers emptying into the street, so I passed my exit and headed straight for the highway out to my parents’ house in the suburbs…where I remember watching the footage on the news for hours on end with mouth agape and trying to grasp the reality with my mom and dad that we were at war.”

I prayed and grieved all over again this last Saturday, yet I hadn’t retraced my own footsteps of nine years ago so clearly until writing out this comment.  There is so much more that is momentous about that day beyond little me and my own little everyday world, but in the wake of my previous post about my latest professional and personal endeavors, I am reminded how that day was so pivotal in bringing me to this point.

I remember the growing discontent I’d had in my world of Finance, but how I’d stick it out with no real impetus for change.  I was rotating along as a good cog in the wheel should, but otherwise doing nothing I was passionate about.  So then I remember sitting on my parents’ sofa that day and watching replays of the planes flying into the Twin Towers—they looked so much like my own office building, that I thought, “I’ll be damned if that’s the place where I die!”  I would not leave this world that way, not sitting in my cubicle, oh please no.

By September 11, 2002, I had started my masters program in Education, having quit my consulting job that year to teach literature and writing.

Fast-forward to 2008, when my high school was in the midst of a Columbine-type scare:  a threat had been found written in a bathroom stall that was alarmingly specific as to how many guns (and what type) would be used to kill how many students and how many teachers and on what day.  School wasn’t called off, but teachers and students were at liberty to make their own decision as to whether they’d attend; for the protection of those that came, police would be patrolling.  Faculty was understandably distressed, but what were we going to do, bail on our students?  Call in substitute teachers so then they could be in the line of fire?

Regardless of whether the threat was real, I never questioned that I’d be there.  I thought back to 9/11 and my sentiments about dying in my office…I then looked upon my students’ faces and realized there was no better place to be if that was going to be my time.

That’s when I knew I’d gotten my life moving in the right direction, ever closer to my passions of reading, writing, and helping other people along the way—otherwise, I’d still be pathetically comparing my life to the movie Office Space and not doing anything about it.  There is much to take away from such a national/global tragedy, not the least of which is an appreciation for every additional day that we get to breathe.  Others certainly don’t lose their lives just so we can piss away ours.


About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

15 responses to “The Writing on the Cubicle Wall

  • Eva

    Hey there … thanks for this thoughtful post. Although not American, I can remember my very personal 9/11 very well. Working in an online agency then, we were witnessing pretty much everything that happened from the second plane live, and I was quite traumatized, dreaming about burning and collapsing buildings for weeks and weeks after.
    You are very right – events like this put everything in perspective, and it is good to hear it made a positive change in your life, and I would hope there’s more people like you out there … .

    • thefallenmonkey

      I recall feeling grateful that New Yorkers don’t tend to go into work too early…had that happened an hour or two later than it did, I shudder to think of the additional loss. The sense of unity around the country and world that followed that day, though, was the most precious thing I think I’d ever experienced, and I’m just so dismayed that it’s seemed to erode in just under a decade—though the fear, unfortunately, has seemingly remained. Hopefully if enough people did gain the perspective they needed to start finding peace in their own lives, it can spread from there. Time will tell…Thank you for sharing your memories, Eva.

  • Agatha82

    I have been unable to watch anything related to 9/11 since it happened. Like Eva, I watched the events unfold at work. We all gathered around a television in a meeting room. Just horror I wish had never happened. To this day, I cannot watch any footage and do not think I can ever do so again.

    Big horrific events like that can make you see your own life more clearly. I must admit, I admire your bravery about teaching in that school. I do not think I would have showed up 😦

    • thefallenmonkey

      Thank you, Agatha. Well, we teachers came in under the assurances from the police that they didn’t believe the threat to be credible…although their logic behind that (granted, they are trained in this, and I am not) was what made me find the situation that much freakier and the act of a psychopath. But, as it turned out, nothing did happen…perhaps it was never real, perhaps they didn’t dare try with all the extra security, who knows. It had been a weird year already with a fake bomb planted in the courtyard and students blowing up school property with M-80s…one of those quiet suburban towns where nothing happens, so the teen angst is tremendous and you never know how they’re going to find their dramatic outlets!

      In any case, thank you for sharing your memory of that day and compassion for what a strike against peace and innocence all over the world that was. I can only imagine how further rattling it was for you when the explosions went off in London transport thereafter. Nothing has felt safe again, and I can’t view footage without reliving all that emotion again. I’d sworn myself off the films about it, but did for whatever reason watch Flight 93 last weekend and just sobbed over the heroism that emerged from those ordinary passengers to save others when they knew they couldn’t save themselves. Renews faith in people just when the sources of that sort of tragedy around the world threaten to take that away from us.

      • Agatha82

        As horrible and shocking as the London attacks were, we Londoners were not new to such horrors. Having dealt with bombings since WWII, then the IRA has made Londoners very tough. For America, 9/11 wasn’t just a horrific attack but also, the first time Amerian soil had really been attacked. A horror you all managed to avoid (not counting Pearl Harbor) and so, to me, it marks the sad day when America lost its innocencer. I could not watch Flight 93, I’d lose it (and never fly again either….I’m scared enough as it is…sniff) but yes, that showed how brave they truly were and that is what these evil bastards can never take away.

        • thefallenmonkey

          You know, I’m really touched to hear you say that (maybe it was your time in the States—and fact your father is still there—that gives you greater empathy for we Yankees :)…thank you either way!) because, honestly, so soon after that happened, the reaction of some was to the effect of, “Big deal, that happens elsewhere all the time.” But that was precisely why it was so horrific—the U.S. was one place where that didn’t happen (other than the notable exception you reference), so it shouldn’t have just been unsettling to Americans, but to anyone who seeks peace. What, do those cynics want every country to be bombed so we can say we’re all even? Or would it be better to know that there are at least still some places in the world where that doesn’t have to be a daily fear? All right, I’m stepping off my soapbox 🙂 My next post will be much more chipper, whenever I finally get around to it…I’m such a slacker in the blogosphere these days! Good news is that it’s because I’m revising my manuscript hardcore…that on top of having to write daily blog posts for work (including weekends now, meh…) leaves me and high and dry for the Monkey 😦

          • Agatha82

            Oh yeah, lived there long enough to love your country. I’m practically half American – I have dual citizenship as well, 2 passports, a bit Jame Bond 😉
            Aw well, sorry your’re so busy but hapy to hear you’re working hard on your ms – Good luck with that 🙂

  • liza

    Thank you for the kind words and recognition…I am as humbled as I am thankful 🙂
    (And PLEASE don’t worry about “lengthy”–I am quite the fan of rambles! In fact, I am probably “rambles” number one fan)

    Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences, and how your life changed toward your true goals and priorities because of it. Steve Jobs’ words still ring in my head as I write this: “Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” (Does it seem obsessive that I was able to pull that quote from off the top of my head??)

    • thefallenmonkey

      No, thank you, liza, for inspiring this reflection; it helped to see the proverbial silver lining around something so horrid. Another memory I have in that respect is the fact that my friend was stranded with her father out on the west coast after they grounded all the planes, so they ended up renting a car and having this amazing cross-country road trip back to Chicago; her dad, at too young an age, then died unexpectedly the following year, so that trip is something of tremendous value in her memories.

      I think it’s marvelous that you were able to recall that on command—if there’s ever a quotation to memorize, that’s the one! 🙂

  • Sharmon Gazaway

    Wow, it’s amazing the epiphanies we can glean from tragedy when the Lord allows it into our lives. I think you made a wonderful, meaningful choice. My mom died of cancer at age 46 and I’ve never seen life the same. Each day is precious, time is fleeting, I want my life to count in eternity and you’ll never hear me complain about my age…ever. Every year is a gift.
    Your post gave my day a little more perspective–thanks.

  • Milo James Fowler

    “an appreciation for every additional day that we get to breathe” — yes indeed; thank you for this post

    (Off topic and seemingly out of place here, but I have an award waiting for you…)

  • milkfever

    It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I couldn’t stop crying for days. I pray that I never ever see anything like that again.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Sharing in your prayers, Lisa. It was like watching scenes from a movie, unable to fully comprehend that it was real…and so surreal knowing everyone all over was also watching in the same frozen state of shock. It was a sort of connectedness I hadn’t felt before nor after then.

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