One of my colleagues was my friend, Betty. Betty’s son, Mark, who is also my friend, was working in New York City on that day in 2001. I recall the waiting and endless waiting until Betty heard from Mark. I reached out to Mark to ask him about his experience of that day:
‘The building I was working in was across the street from the two Trade Centers and the windows from the trading floor looked out onto the two buildings. I can remember the sound, noise, vibration, type feeling from when the first plane hit. What is also quite vivid is the reaction of the people in the office. There was almost a quietness at first as everyone tried to process what was going on, followed by some visceral reactions. I tried to gather a consensus of what we should do (this was right after I checked my trading position to make sure I was long silver and gold) and was met by a lot of indifference, people weren't sure whether we should leave the floor or not. It didn't take me long at this point to take the stairs down. As we were trying to find our fellow colleagues in the mass of people and confusion the second plane hit. At this point I didn't even know that there were planes creating these impacts. From the angle that I was located I only saw the explosion and assumed it was a bomb and terrorist event of some nature. My reaction at this point was "What's Next?", The New York Stock Exchange popped into my head and I thought it was likely best if I got out of the downtown core. I spent the next few hours walking with some friends to Upper Manhattan. I also remember that cell phones weren't a staple yet in 2001 and the ones that were around were having a hard time finding a signal that day. I did manage to borrow a phone and reach my parents to give them word of my safety. Up to this point I know there was fear involved, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't but you're really just reacting to the situation and there isn't much time for fear or emotion. Then when you hear your parents voice on the line it takes you to another place and the reality of the situation instantly becomes clear. Those are the memories that have left the deepest etchings in me. Despite my proneness to depression and anxiety, I don’t feel my psyche suffered any chronic affects from this experience. Ironically, it was through the Invictus Games and being inspired by the courageous women and men who lost virtually everything as a result of 9/11 where I initially saw the light that has significantly helped me on my own path to healing and recovery.’
This week, as I was trying to process some of the new leadership ideas I learned at the course I took last weekend, I saw a post that Betty had put on Facebook. I believe the original is called ‘All the Little Things’. You’ll get the idea:
The head of a company survived 9/11 because his son started kindergarten
Another man was alive because it was his turn to bring donuts
One woman was late because her alarm clock didn’t go off on time
Another was late because of being stuck on the NJ turnpike because of an auto accident and his life was spared
One missed his bus
One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change
One’s car wouldn’t start
Another went back to answer the telephone
One had a child that dawdled and didn’t get ready as soon as he should have
One couldn’t get a taxi
One that really struck me was the man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning. Before he got to the towers, he developed a blister on his foot. He stopped at the drug store to buy a Band-Aid. That’s why he is alive today
Now when I am stuck in traffic, miss an elevator, turn back to answer a ringing telephone … all the little things that annoy me, I think to myself, this is exactly where I am meant to be at this very moment.
Without a doubt, this piece of writing causes me to stop. I have so many, many examples to pick from of times in my life when I have been annoyed (and sometimes even something stronger than annoyed) because I had planned for things to go a certain way and the universe had planned on a different chain of events for me. I don’t necessarily believe that I am always exactly where I am meant to be. Sometimes I am certain I am meant to be cycling in the mountains and yet I find myself sitting at my desk! What I do believe is that I am always in choice about how I respond to where I find myself.
In the course I took this past weekend, I heard the phrase ‘until now’. One of the participants was telling us about an incident she had faced. Our facilitator asked how she handled the situation. She responded that in that kind of situation she always took over the little details by herself. And the facilitator responded, ‘Until now.’
This too caused me to stop. I’m not sure I wanted to hear this. ‘Until now’ forces me to acknowledge that I am always in choice. I always have the ability to choose my reaction and my behavior. ‘Until now’ tells me that when I find myself doing something in a certain way because this is how I have always done it, there is a possibility that there is a different way.
‘Until now’ tells me that when I find myself in a familiar pattern of emotion, the kind where I know the script all too well, that there is a different choice I can make.
I am guessing the author of Betty’s post could imagine the people written about in the piece were struggling with why they may have been spared. He may have imagined them telling how they experienced feelings of guilt, both because they had been impatient due to the little disruptions in their personal mornings and then even worse guilt because they had been spared being in the towers. I am imagining him telling them, ‘This is the story you have told yourself, until now…’
This week I have been playing with the concept ‘until now’. As I was hustling around my kitchen, preparing for a dinner meeting I was hosting for eleven people, I could feel a familiar feeling of ‘I don’t need any interruptions, I just need to get this done.’ And I said to myself, ‘until now’. ‘Until now’ I have told myself that no interruptions is the only, or at least the best, way to assure everything is done on time. The truth is, of course, adding a healthy pinch of my controlling nature does not add any good flavour to the meal.
As I was getting ready to head out to the gym on Thursday, I noticed I had about two minutes to spare. I had the immediate thought that I had time to run back upstairs, sort laundry and put in a load. This would have been my familiar pattern. And of course, it would have led to my other usual pattern of leaving two minutes late, trying to rush through traffic and arriving just in the nick of time. ‘Until now’ I smiled to myself, leaving the laundry upstairs.
I have no idea if I am where I am meant to be. What I do know is that my familiar patterns give me familiar feelings and familiar results. When I notice familiar patterns, my gentle whisper of ‘until now’ reminds me of my choice. Sometimes I choose familiarity. Sometimes I take a chance and choose something different. I have to admit, I enjoyed the nice two-minute conversation I had with a complete stranger in the changeroom at the gym. And she seemed to enjoy it too. There was a time I would have hoped I wasn’t holding her up from anything… until now.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What is my familiar way of being…until now?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth to help guide you to your ‘until nows’.