Remembering 9/11: From Wall Street to Jersey City
Photo: William Rodwell
In September 2001, I was General Counsel of a small financial company that supported the clearance and settlement processes, or “back-end,” of the U.S. Government securities market. On the morning of 9/11, I was in my office in Lower Manhattan, less than a mile from the World Trade Center, when the first plane hit the North Tower.
Later, I found myself among a throng of evacuees in the street, shocked and disoriented. I struggled to make sense of it all – the smell, the chaos, charred paper flying by, and conflicting rumors of widespread destruction.
Standing at the edge of Pier 11, I watched a thick black cloud devour the sky above. All of Lower Manhattan was going up in flames, or so it appeared. I turned to look at the Brooklyn shoreline, and tried to convince myself that I could swim there.
And then the boats began to arrive and, ever so gradually, calm returned. I returned to my office and literally remained there for the rest of the week, immersed with many others in helping to resolve the enormous operational catastrophe for the markets that the attacks had caused.
I’ve thought a great deal about 9/11 during the subsequent decade, mainly because I decided to research and write a book about the impact of 9/11 on the U.S. financial markets – which is largely an unknown story. I had the good fortune to have worked with many who were integrally involved in resolving what became the greatest operational crisis in financial history. The undisputed heroes of 9/11 were the firefighters, police, and emergency and rescue workers, who performed their duties with immeasurable courage. Less well understood were the efforts of the thousands in the financial community who compelled themselves to continue to carry out their responsibilities in the face of unparalleled challenges. In doing so, they collectively sent a message that we would not be defeated.
For the past three years, I’ve lived in Jersey City. This city is significant in the telling of the full 9/11 story, because it is where so many of those in the Financial District were evacuated to by boat that Tuesday. And where a large number of companies temporarily relocated in the days and weeks afterwards. Jersey City’s geographic location – close to Manhattan but with a separate infrastructure and power grids – proved to be invaluable to the recovery effort.
I now have an unobstructed view of Lower Manhattan and the rising new One World Trade Center. That ever-present sight also stirs memories and feelings of 9/11, although I’ve largely buried my emotions from that day. Except one: rage at the recollection of those friends and colleagues who were senselessly murdered.
9/11 changed me. It gave me a better perspective on life; I do try to smell the roses a bit more, and to sweat the small things somewhat less. But the trauma of that time also led me to feel more vulnerable than I had before. I also see more clearly the immoral extremes, often clothed in righteousness, that taint this world.
Trained as a lawyer always to acknowledge both sides of the argument, I’ve reverted to understanding the world more in absolute terms. As a colleague of mine told me after that awful day, “Too often people want to make things gray. But I’m sorry, there is black and white. There is good and evil.”
I had always been aware of the need to safeguard myself and my family. Now I understand that even more imperative is our mutual responsibility to protect our society and future generations from the evil on full display that day. Or what else matters?