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BIG’s Blog: I don’t know Ari Rosenberg but …

I don’t know Ari Rosenberg, but although 9/11 is seared into my memory (maybe yours too), reading his column today brought me to understand 9/11 at a level I could never understand. And more importantly, I long for that empathy we all held for New Yorkers that day and wish we could extend it to all of us again.

I could just give you the link, but I’m afraid some of you wouldn’t click on it. You would lose out. Here is Ari’s post: 
“Here We Go Again.”

Today’s date creeps up every year, kidnaps my subconscious, and dumps it unmercifully back to that day.

My memories are as clear as the sky that dreadful morning.

I had flown in from San Francisco the prior weekend and, with my company’s CEO, Mark, watched Pete Sampras lose the U.S. Open finals to Lleyton Hewitt from the second row of Arthur Ashe stadium.  I was staying at a furnished apartment in New York City that rented to make my frequent trips East more efficient.  Life was good.

The air that Tuesday on my walk to our Park Avenue office was crisp. I was meeting Randy at 8:30 a.m.  He and I had worked together in the past, and now he was interviewing for a sales position.  We were talking about old times and new skills in the back conference room when we heard that a small commuter jet had flown into one of the Twin Towers.  We acknowledged how bad that sounded, but then got back to the business at hand.

What I remember next are vivid clips cached permanently in my memory. 

I can still hear Jason, the head of our client service team, blurting out, “Oh my God, another plane hit the other tower” — which caused Randy and me to run out to the main room to watch the video on the office television. 

I can still feel the chilling fear of calling my sister-in-law to see how my twin brother (working downtown near Wall Street) was, while holding my breath until I could process he was OK and on his way home via the ferry.

I remember listening to a voice mail from my girlfriend, Jennifer, saying she’d gotten out of the South Tower and was huddling in the basement of a building nearby with some coworkers. 

I distinctly remember thinking, “We are in midtown and this is happening downtown” — and then realizing the Empire State Building was a few blocks away. Abruptly, I sent everyone home.
I remember the eerie walk up Third Avenue with hoards of others, shuffling steadily and in unison.  I remember how quiet it was and how everyone’s heads drooped down as the weight of the event became too much to shoulder. 

I remember how each bar we passed had televisions on, and every few blocks people stopped and poked their heavy heads in to see what we couldn’t believe.

In the immediate days and nights that followed, I went out to eat on the Upper East Side.  Restaurants were filled with tables of people talking softly next to tables where people sat in complete silence, their eyes reddened and the food on their plates untouched. 

I remember the call from my mom telling me Alan, our next-door neighbor when I was growing up, had died that day, working on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center.
I remember being too afraid to fly home to San Francisco — and how surreal it felt to return to the New York office that following Monday.

I remember the bizarre conference call we had with our company president, Rick. He reminded us we had a quarterly revenue number we needed to hit. He wanted to hear from the New York sales team about opportunities that might close before the quarter ended. 

I will never forget the silence his words were met with. I remember realizing, at that exact moment, how different it was being in New York City versus watching New York City on TV.

What I witnessed the next few days was something I will never forget.

New Yorkers held doors for one another and said thank you with their words and their hearts.  New Yorkers made space for one another on the subway.  People peered into the eyes of their brothers and sisters on the streets of New York City as if to reassure them, “We will get through this.”

I remember when we finally did start talking to clients, the warmth and compassion in those conversations was unlike the dialogue we’d had before. It was raw, it was real, and it was human.

I think our online ad world has become so “programmatic,” we no longer recognize human beings are on the other side of the send buttons we use to communicate with one another. Our business communication has become curt and downright hostile at times, and we have no problem not responding at all.

I wish we could collect the empathy 9/11 left behind and pour it back into our industry.  I wish we would treat one another with the heartfelt respect New Yorkers treated one another with in the aftermath of this infamous date, instead of working through one another as a means to an end as we do now. 

I wish Alan were alive, and that his sisters, Debbie, Marci and Marla, whom I think about every day, could delete the suffering they have endured these past 13 years.

I am sure all of you reading have similar feelings about today’s date, and suffered as much or more than I did.

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