10 years ago on 9/11/01 we were all shocked into the reality that our world had changed forever with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a sleepy little borough, with a population of 245 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We all have our own personal stories from that day, some more dynamic and dramatic than others, but a little bit of all of us changed on that beautiful, clear sky day ten years ago.
There are just a few days in our recent history that come to mind that you halt whatever you are doing and recall exactly where you were and what you were doing. For my parents it was that Sunday in December, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked; for my generation, November 24, 1963 will always be remembered as the day that President John F. Kennedy and Camelot were assassinated in Dallas and for the current generation it will always be 9/11/01 as the day they will remember that changed their and their country’s innocence forever.
I remember it as if it was just yesterday; I was in Sun Valley, Idaho hosting the annual National Dairy Leaders Conference that attracted a multitude of dairy industry leaders from throughout North America. Since we were two hours behind the activity on the East Coast we woke up to unbelievable pictures of what was apparently happening in New York. Attendees were shocked and frankly, had no idea what to do next.
The remaining morning session of the conference went on as scheduled and thanks to the very able hotel staff, televisions were rolled into the conference center lobby so that we could stay abreast of the breaking events. To this day I maintain enormous respect for the presenters that morning, how they kept on subject and engaged the audience is still a mystery to me!
Cell phones were ringing throughout the morning session with families and friends connecting to determine if all was well. I took a call from my wife Julie while at the podium because no one knew when we would be able to make contact again. Thankfully our family was all accounted for, though that wasn’t the case for everyone else in attendance.
Personally, the most difficult segment of that day was concluding the conference, having a moment of silence for those souls who were lost and wishing all the attendees much luck on their travels. Making our way home (1,694 miles) was a story in of itself; some attendees bought used cars, some attendees grabbed the last remaining train or bus seats available since all air travel was grounded and some even waited out the storm in luxury at the Sun Valley Resort until that weekend when air travel resumed.
Thanks to begging and pleading by a very talented staff back at the office, the meeting staff, Board Members and anyone else we could squeeze into 2 rental vans journeyed from an entirely empty Boise Airport eastbound down I 80 back to Chicago. I will still remember the faces of the National Car rental crew waving farewell as we drove off the lot. I do think they were more concerned about their last two vans leaving the state than those poor tourists inside.
It took us 3 days and 2 nights to get to Chicago but in many ways it was an experience we all will never forget. Heading East, not knowing what to expect, listening to NPR news throughout the journey and having the time to contemplate the future made for a wonderful experience. Though some of us wanted to make the trip non-stop, we intelligently spent the first night in Evanston, Wyoming at a motel that was the antithesis of the resort we had left hours before, but was as welcoming and homey as you could ever find. The second night we stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska which afforded us a relaxing 8 hour trip the next day to Chicago.
Julie and I always joked that our teenage daughter learned to drive on I 80 in Nebraska because the road is so boringly straight and if she ever left the road the only thing she would hit would be a stray cow now and then but on 9/12 and 9/13 the road reminded me of the 405 in LA since everyone was making their way home anyway they could.
We finally arrived at the office on Thursday afternoon. We were greeted by the office staff and we said our goodbyes to those who were met by loved ones in our parking lot. I don’t think I was ever so happy to see Chicago as I as that day. Home is where the heart is but it is also the place you need to be in hours of need and concern.
The final chapter of the trip was the following day when we returned the 2 rental vans to the O’Hare Airport lot. Seeing police cars blocking the entrance into the departure gates was startling as we attempted to drop off the vans in an already packed lot. We never did get to the rental car office but those National Rental Car guys back in Boise can be reassured that their vehicles did make it safely cross country. To this day I will always contact National first because they were there when we needed them!
As Charles Dickens stated in Tales of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That week in September, 2001 brought all of us together. Partisan bickering was not to be heard and we all focused on helping one another and getting home to our families. If anything came from the death of nearly 3,000 innocent people it was the knowledge that we all can work together for a common cause. Something we have forgotten in the 10 years since.
Dan Borschke is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) who has been a CEO for 3 distinct trade associations in his career. He is one of only 230 Association Executives worldwide who has been granted the prestigious designation of Fellow (FASAE) by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). He currently is between positions and has taken the opportunity to author more than 75,000 words or 125 blog postings on the topics of career transition, job search and association management.
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