I had recently lost a business that I’d spent most of my life building. Looking back today it no longer seems much of a tragedy but at the time, to suddenly be uprooted with no advance warning was very traumatic. Unless I was content to camp in a dumpster that first night, I needed to acquire in very short order, a home for myself, a means of earning income; I even had to find an automobile. Most of my problems I solved quickly; in a few days I would accomplish what young people do with the benefit of having planned and educated themselves for the biggest event of their young lives, taking decades to do what I must do in a week.
The more difficult problems would take me the rest of my life and the worst of these would never be solved at all. I had owned several retail stores and my work was the very heart and soul of my life for twenty-five years and suddenly a chain of surprising events had mysteriously collided and brought about the demise of Lee Broom Gallery and Design.
These were the pathetic musings of a pathetic old man, racing across the freeway that morning toward the call center where he was planning to spend the day fielding calls from customers of Qwest listening to complaints deemed by the complainers to be more threatening than his own.
It was early morning, the sun was above the horizon and I was listening to the pitiful voice in my head; I was comparing my emotional pain to the kinds of complaints that I would surely be listening to that day. Finally, I tired of all that nagging and I said to myself. Lee Broom, you silly old man, remember what the world was like when you were a boy and at age two and a half the attack on Pearl Harbor upset your young life and how everything worked out and here you are an old man who is starting a new career when in fact, there are hundreds of thousands of young people looking for work and here you are with an opportunity and in fact a duty to help hundreds of people who will be calling in today, complaining about their phone service.
And as I talked myself down I was beginning to notice another voice, the voice of a young man reading the news from National Public Radio; he was reading news bulletins with his usual dependable demeanor, his attention suddenly in full focus; he had to stop and reread the words for a second time, muttering mostly to himself as though he didn’t believe what he was reading, as though surely some thoughtless prankster was playing a callous trick on him and then he read it for a third time, this time with more volume and a stress that seemed to make his young voice sound older somehow. He was telling all who were listening that an airliner had crashed into one of the towers at the Trade Center and I listened as though this were a replay of War of the Worlds and that none of this was real; this was entertainment.
I don’t know how much had played out by the time I reached work but I remember that traffic on the Interstate had slowed and that cars were beginning to pull over onto the shoulder and that when I finally sat down at my desk and started to load all the different windows that I would need in order to work that day, that all the computers around me were displaying news bulletins on their monitor screens.
Customers were not calling in. More and more videos were playing and replaying the events of a horrifying morning. It would be that way all day long. And as the day passed, I remembered that I had friends working in those buildings and that my youngest brother was at the Pentagon and later that the attacks had occurred hours before his appointment. A few people called that day. Most just wanted to talk about what was happening to America. I listened to people cry. I listened to one lady who called because she was a customer service representative for another company and was not getting any calls. Could we talk? I said Yes and we visited for a while.
My life has changed considerably since September 11, 2001. That day was the last day that I complained about losing my business. I still work for myself. And I do lots of volunteer work. I love life. I love sharing it. I have learned the importance of living the life that is handed to me from one moment to another.