Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 + 5

Tribute in Light, New York City. Photographed from Chelsea Pier, September 6, 2006. [Click the picture to load a higher-resolution image]


About this entry: I have written this as part of The 2,996 Project (also click here for more background on this inspiring and important project.) Writers from around the world have each signed up to pay tribute to one of the 2,996 innocent victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As we mark the five-year anniversary of that pivotal day in modern history, I hope you take the time to scale down from the monumental focus of the proceedings, to instead reflect on the individual lives lost, and the lessons they left behind for us. The headlines speak of numbers, but the individuals among us speak of the people who were lost. People just like us. Thank you for reading.

Last week, I got on a plane in New York and headed home. I had been away on a business trip, attending a conference arranged by a large computer manufacturer.

It had been almost five years to the day since Suzanne Calley did much the same thing at Washington's Dulles Airport. She boarded American Airlines Flight 77, heading home to California from a trip to the nation's capital. Suzanne, an employee of Cisco, a computer networking company, had spoken to her husband barely ten minutes before boarding. The last thing she told him was, "I love you." We all know what happened next: the plane was hijacked and flown into the side of the Pentagon in Washington.

I obviously never met her, but I wish I had. She sounded a lot like me: passionate about life, driven at work, and committed to her marriage. She and Frank Jensen would have celebrated their 20th anniversary the very next day. Her 43rd birthday would be a few days after that. She called Frank her team mate and best friend. He called her his reason for being.

She was an avid scuba diver and skier who never shied away from an opportunity to squeeze just that much more out of the experience. Once, while diving with her husband, she saw a shark for the first time. She insisted on chasing it, probably reckoning that the rewards of the experience justified any additional risk.

The way she chose to lead her life rubbed off on those around her. Cisco dedicated its 2002 annual report in her memory. Colleagues called her a delight. One said she was honest, direct, and full of sunshine. We all wish we worked with people like her. We all wish we could be more like her.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of the lives of good souls like Suzanne and lament the darkness that so senselessly ended their lives. I wonder if the hate-filled individuals who plotted and carried out the attacks would have been swayed had they taken the time to learn about their anything-but-anonymous victims. I wonder if they would have been influenced by the goodness of the lives they snuffed out. Like so many others, my idealism was battered on that day, and since, but I still have to believe that 9/11 wasn't a reflection on all of humanity.

But in looking back at the vibrancy with which Suzanne lived her life, I feel I do her a disservice by focusing on the circumstances of her death. Surely, she wouldn't want her life to be defined by the results of a despicable act. I think she'd much rather have everything up until that date serve as an example to others. An example of how to live a life fully. Of how to get the most out of whatever time we are given. Of how to give – and give more – to those who matter most.

Suzanne lived life well. She pursued everything she did with a passion. She worked tirelessly. She played hard. She loved without limit. She mattered. I saw it in pictures: she smiled with her whole face. I saw it in the words of those who shared their thoughts in the days and weeks after she died. I felt it in the spirit of the memories that silently flickered across my laptop’s screen.

As I mull over how we've changed - both on 9/11 itself and in the five years since - I look to Suzanne's life and think that I should try harder to be a bit more like she was. I already feel so much like her: I love my wife and family to the depths of my very soul. I throw myself into my work because I am incredibly passionate about it. I care deeply about the people whose paths I cross, and hope they learn from – and are influenced by – the way I carry myself. Yet in studying who she was and what she left behind, I know I can take it even further.

It took a catastrophe for me to learn of her all-too-short existence, but I can't help thinking that fate ensured the spirit with which she led her life would somehow live on in the lives of everyone who knew her before 9/11, and in the lives of those who learned about her after that date.

Even though I never met her, I suspect she'd think that would be pretty cool.

Your turn: What have you learned from reading about Suzanne's life? Will this make a difference in your own? How?

Update: This entry has been linked to from the Cisco High Tech Policy Blog. Here's the direct link to the specific post.

36 comments:

Killired̢㢠said...

oh carmi... what a wonderful tribute. a beautiful and of course it's well written! mine is up now too.

kenju said...

In reading about Suzanne, as well as all the others in the last few days, I have learned that every person who perished was valuable in incalculable ways. I hope we never forget the people who died in 9/11. The sacrifices they made (although unwittingly) will benefit us all in ways we may never know, as long as we keep them in our hearts and minds.

Michele sent me tonight.

Sparkling Diamond said...

Beautifully written and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to know one of the beautiful lives lost in that tragedy. I feel so grateful that I went to Ground Zero last month. Tonight, I watched the 9/11 documentary and felt more of all the emotions simply because I had seen and felt that place. I think all Americans should go visit there...it changes your perceptions.

Leah said...

what a fitting tribute...thanks for sharing a life well-lived. I'm sure on each and every life taken that day, a lesson can be learned. Suzanne's vibrance and dedication to life is inspring.

Azgreeneyes said...

Bravo Carmi. You wrote about her, and not September 11. What a wonderful, well written and heart-felt tribute to a woman who made an impact on those who knew her. I'm at a loss for words to describe how I feel...

Malinda777 said...

Beautiful tribute. I was also touched by my participation in Project 2996. Thomas Foley like Suzanne has blessed me with a moment of focus on the beautiful people that were taken from us.

Electric Short said...

Hardly seems like 5 years ago because I remember that whole day like it was last week.

David said...

2996
my tribute is up

Catherine said...

It's a beautiful tribute, but in answer to your question, I have to say, absolutely not. I can't see September 11 as the day the world changed. I already knew that people did terrible things. I remember as a teenager New Zealand tourists being injured in IRA bombings in London. I remember the American Airlines flight that was blown up, possibly by Libyan terrorists, over Lockerbie in Scotland. I remember genocide in Rwanda, the terrible Pol Pot years in Cambodia, Idi Amin in Uganda, and on and on. I feel sympathy for those who lost loved ones on September 11, and for those who have lost loved ones in Iraq (on both sides), and for Israelis and Lebanese and all those who lost loved ones. My values have not changed and my life has not changed - except that I am a lot more wary of visiting America, not because of terrorists, but because of security personnel with guns and hair trigger reactions.

jsdaughter said...

Carmi- Thank you for taking the time to write about Suzanne and her life.. We should all embrace each day and in doing that those who died on 9/11 will not have done so in vain..

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

A Beautiful Tribute Carmi...Oh I don't know that I've learned anything about how to live my life or anything else, for that matter...I am so overwhelmed by the utter sadness that all of the loved ones of the people stricken on 9/11 live with for the rest of their lives....maybe it's that we must all see how precious every moment we have with our loved ones be they husbands wives lovers children friends pets is...and take the time to hug and love those loved ones and tell them we love them because it can all be over in a millisecond! Five years and the pain of these losses does not go away...not now, not ever.

It has been a privelage to participate in this wonderful Tribute Project and to try to honor one person in some small way....A privelage and a true heartbrwak...but whatever I might feel is miniscule to what those who lost their dear dear loved ones will feel into eternity...

My Tribute to Bill Hunt is posted.

keda said...

a lovely tribute thank you for introducing her to us.

suzanne reminds us like all the others lost that day to live life to the full.
writing about eric and getting to 'know' him the last few weeks has made that plain. we need to live with love,
and take ever chance we are offered to explore life.
sigh.

Sandy said...

I'm not sure I can ever read stories of that day without crying. Thanks for writing Suzanne a tribute.

d.challener roe said...

Not hard to see why you're a writer. Very nice tribute.

Joy M. said...

I am delurking on this one. This is a beautiful post and a wonderful tribute. It seems that through this project, you have found a kindred spirit. Thank you for introducing us to Suzanne.

cyndy said...

beautiful Carmi
I try to show everyone I care about how much I love them...
but that happened before 9/11, when my dad died as I held his hand. 9/11 taught me of the innate good in people regardless of the evil around them

Linda said...

reading of Suzanne's life, along with so many others I am reading today, reminds me that life is a precious jewel and we should cherish it as such.

Carmi - I LOVE your picture...I'm asking for permission to copy it and include it in my 9-11 tribute scrapbook.

Annabelle said...

I loved that: She smiled with her whole face. Beautiful tribute - I got a real sense of who Suzanne was and how present she still is in everyone's memory.

Wordnerd said...

Carmi, this is incredible. A beautiful tribute to what sounds like a beautiful human being. While I could spend a lot of time being sad that this person is no longer with us, I am more invigorated by joining you in celebrating her time here on earth.

I am also honored to have paid tribute to Vincent DiFazio as a part of the 2996.

I hope that your readers join others in visiting the blogs of the 2996 participants. It'll do them a world of good.

Brenda said...

The way you tell a story is a gift, pure and simple.

I, too, chose to participate in the 2996 project because I wanted to focus on one life - Christopher J.Blackwell, firefighter. I simply couldn't fathom all 2996 at once...

I am incredibly blessed to read tributes like yours. It brings this anniversary to a level that I can comprehend, and gives me a greater appreciation for these lives, well-lived, and tragically lost.

Star said...

Wonderfully written! and I am sure she wold think it cool.

Barbara said...

Carmi - I've been reading the many tributes and am now mourning for trees as well as the forest.

Raggedy said...

Wonderful Tribute!
Thank you.
These are heartbreaking stories and difficult to read....
I am honored to be a part of this project.
Mine is posted also...

The 2996 link is down. I have a new link on my site to view the participants.

Bless you...

Anonymous said...

Two images for those reading this tribute.

The first image is from a bit under six years ago when I really first got to know Suzanne a bit. Had been working with her, but first really got to talk to her across a restaurant dinner table amongst a couple dozen folks in Lisbon of all places! I've always remembered two thoughts from that dinner table, that she was very smart and vivacious, showing that BIG smile. All went well together in her.

The other image is from today. There is a little garden set aside next to one of the headquarter's buildings of the company where Suzanne worked. I can tell you that this morning, about the time five years of that time passed, a hummingbird was flying there -- it even sat a few moments on a little cluster of rose leaves sipping water there.

Tracie said...

What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing about Suzanne's life.

Anonymous said...

FYI... don't know the format here..but if you wish to attribute my comment (Lisbon/Hummingbird), it's from "David" but I prefer to not identify myself specifically in public thanks.

Cheers,
David K.
(dkirsch@cisco.com)

Kache said...

She accomplished so much in her life, thanks for sharing it with us.

Faina's tribute

srp said...

Through your words I know Suzanne was a lovely person, someone I would have liked to know.... and now I feel I do.

Wouldn't it have been nice to put faces and personal stories with all the victims of Hitler's Holocaust as well? Perhaps if we had had that opportunity, we could have learned from the past.

Hope... we cannot live without that... the hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

MissMeliss said...

This is beautiful - uplifting and not at all maudlin, the way so many tributes tend to be.

Beverly said...

Thank you for your tribute to Suzanne. She, like the others, die so needlessly and so tragically. I pray that we have truly learned from that.

The thing that I took with me that day was the sight of people running away from the site, covered in ashes. You couldn't tell if they were black or white or whatever color. I hope that I can remain color-blind.

David said...

we need to love a little deeper, look a little higher, and stand proudly together, in the face of a world that can be mean. great tribute Carmi, i took some pictures with you in mind today.
you're a great man

Miss Cow is a Cow said...

Oh my goodness Carmi, I'm in tears having read that.

You are truly an amazing writer and I am so happy to always be able to read your words.

That was beautiful.

Well done my friend.

dena said...

That was an incredibly moving tribute. I hope her family and friends, and anyone whose life was touched by her being will continue to treasure her memory forever. I've always lived my life for the moments of today.

Michele sent me today.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I hope you will take the time to read my Tribute too, my dear Carmi....I know you are busy...and still, I hope you will take a look...

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of working with her for about a year and always looked forward to time spent with her. She did light up a room when she was there. She was madly in love with her husband even after all those years. I think of her so often and can't believe she's gone. Since her death I've tried to live my life more the way she lived hers. She is so terribly missed.

JMH43 said...

I have read many stories how that day changed the lives of so many people and for years after that day I felt a need to do something. It was not until after I came home from Iraq, talk to my brother and months later, a dream. A dream that put me on a mission for the pass five years to honor everyone that day, to honor the miitary that died today connect with that day. They are all my heros. Thank you for shraing this story.