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
It had been almost five years to the day since Suzanne Calley did much the same thing at
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.