The 9/11 Song

Close your eyes

You can close your eyes, It’s alright

I don’t know no love songs

and I can’t sing the blues anymore

But I can sing this song

You can sing this song, when I’m gone

–James Taylor, “Close Your Eyes”

In the Spring of 2001, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the long descent down the World Trade Center elevator. The whirring sound of the wind tunnel felt as exciting as an amusement park ride.

During that ride, I felt privileged to have completed a consulting assignment with OppenheimerFunds. Their headquarters office was situated in Two World Trade Center. Then-President Jim Ruff was one of those clients who really wanted our project team to succeed.

Twin towers photo
photo courtesy of Steve Berry photos

I dropped by a World Trade Center boutique, treated myself to a new silk skirt, returned to my hotel, and planned my return flight home to San Diego. Little did I know what events would soon unfold.

When the horrific September 11, 2001 events happened, I silently wished that every OppenheimerFunds employee whom I had met escaped the horrific tower attack. My wish came true. All 598 of the New York-based OppenheimerFunds employees were safe. And so was I.

What does it mean to be safe in today’s post-September 11 world? So far, here is the best definition I can formulate. For me, safety is defined by two factors: our ability to surround ourselves with caring people who lift us up, who challenge us to think bigger, and who encourage us to help those who suffer more than ourselves. Second, it is guided by our ability to find our own center of strength on a daily basis. This requires us to limit our exposure to external circumstances and influences that pull us back into the negative abyss of fear, retribution, and doubt.

We can only rely so much on the intelligence community and military infrastructure. Every country is vulnerable to attack. Furthermore, the efficacy of this important yet amorphous “safety industrial complex” is beyond our control. The intelligence and defense organizations are guided by people with the same flaws and blind spots as we have. Mistakes happen. Deep down, however, I believe that the majority of them are doing the best they can, every day.

The song of September 11 is indelibly etched into how we go about our lives today. It shapes how our public transportation systems are designed. It cemented our perceptions of Islam. It dampened many a vacation plan, and, if only for a few brief moments, reminded us of our patriotism.

I still keep that silk paisley skirt in my closet. I will never give it away. That skirt reminds me that we need to boldly create a new decade of possibilities, while allowing our painful memories to inform them.

I can’t predict the future. But I can sing the song of September 11. And you will remember that song when I’m gone.

copyright 2011, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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