On the long commute to a client’s office in northern New Jersey, the traffic was humming, leaving me the freedom to organize my thoughts. As I often did before a meeting, I anticipated objections and visualized successful outcomes. A decade into my career, I had a system that worked and business was booming.
Life was booming, too. My thoughts kept drifting from work to Jennifer, my wife. We’d been married 18 days, and were beginning this new and exciting life together. As corny as it may sound, I was living the American dream. I had worked like crazy to get to this point, and when a news alert broke on that sunny September morning in 2001, I couldn’t quite comprehend what I was hearing.
In 1945, the American dream became a reality for millions. In the wake of victory in World War II, American GIs returned home to marry, start careers, buy homes, and kick off the baby boom generation. For American companies, business boomed as well. Cantor Fitzgerald was one of those companies that capitalized on a surging economy and America’s place as the world’s dominant superpower. An investment bank and brokerage business, Cantor Fitzgerald would become known for its innovation in computer-based bond brokerage and as the market’s premier dealer of government securities.
With its ability to adapt to changing technologies and market trends, Cantor Fitzgerald grew over the decades, becoming one of the largest brokerage firms on Wall Street. The company held its corporate headquarters on the 101st through 105th floors of One World Trade Center (the north tower), and on September 11, 2001, the company suffered the most casualties of any World Trade Center tenant with 658 of its 960 New York employees perishing in the terrorist attacks.
At 8:46 a.m. that morning, 51 of my individual clients, employees of Cantor Fitzgerald, were on the 104th and 105th floors of the north tower. On that day I lost 51 friends, 51 people who I’d sat down face-to-face with and listened to their hopes and goals and dreams. I learned about their American dream — what they had done to get there and how they had planned to keep that intact for their families. All 51 had individual disability coverage with me and 30 of them had individual life insurance policies with me as well.
When the radio alert broke in and ruined my American dream, like many, I thought a commuter plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. With little details at that point, I remember screaming at the radio, “Please, please, please not the north tower!”
But it was the north tower. And then, at 9:03 am, a second plane, United Airlines flight 175 from Boston, would crash into the south tower. And, just like that, one bright and sunny morning in September, a morning I would remember initially for its beauty and calmness, had been ripped apart. The world I would know going forward would never be the same. The world Jennifer and I would raise our family in would never be the same. The families of the 51 clients I lost in the attacks would never be the same. I know that now, but on 9/11 I wondered if any of them had survived. Like many, I tried to make sense of the devastation and the chaos.
The corporate offices of Cantor Fitzgerald were located between the 101st and 105th floors of One World Trade Center. That company suffered more casualities on Sept. 11, 2001 than any other. (Photo: iStock)
I spent the rest of that day reaching out to the people closest to me, calling family and friends and worrying about the ones who didn’t answer their phones. I reached Jennifer fairly quickly and our attention turned to other loved ones. Where was my brand-new brother in law, Bob? He took a train to Manhattan every day and got off at the World Trade Center stop. All morning, Jennifer and I tried to reach him on his cell phone. Thankfully, he finally got through to us at around 2:30 p.m.
I remember watching the news that afternoon, almost afraid to look away from the screen before the world changed again, wondering was there any way we could help? Late that day, Jennifer and I went to the local blood bank and found the place filled with people, everyone pulling together, looking for a way to help, looking for something to do, something that could make a difference.
Through it all, I was wondering about and praying for my friends and clients at Cantor Fitzgerald. Where were they? How were they? Late that night I laid my appointment book on the kitchen table at home to see what I already knew was there. I was exhausted, but had to look. I had six appointments scheduled for the next day, Wednesday morning, September 12, 2001. All six appointments were on the 105th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Later that night, we talked a lot about how, after only 18 days of marriage, we had come within 24 hours of my new wife becoming my widow. Today, when I look at our two beautiful children, Jack and Morgan, I shudder thinking about the possibilities. Just 24 hours.
We plan our lives so carefully, especially in this business, but sometimes it’s just luck — good and bad — and we are left to wonder. Sometimes, all we can do is say, “thank you.”
Rebirth was slow but steady at “Ground Zero.” (Photo: iStock)
The next day, away from what people were already calling Ground Zero, the world looked the same. But it wasn’t the same. Nothing was the same. And whatever concrete thoughts I tried to make of what had happened were filled with confusion. I wanted answers, but not the answer I got.