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Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11 - Wall Street Paper

The following is the column I wrote for on September 12, 2001, entitled Wall Street Paper. It is as relevant today as it was ten years ago.

     Part of me is this wildly creative person who thrives on word play and music, Bach and double entendre. That half of me loves to travel, eat in strange places, talk to people I have never seen before and likely will never see again. I understand Mozart when he said he could hear a complete symphony in one breathtaking moment, then sit down and put it all on paper. The artistic part of my brain cherishes nourishment.
     But then there is another aspect of my personality that people either know very, very well, or not at all. I like order. I like my financial records to be in perfect shape. I like personnel files to be kept in secure storage. I like well-conceived procedure guides that define business processes. Succinctly.
     When glued to my television along with the rest of the world, that orderly side of me could not help noticing the unbelievable quantity of paper that escaped the World Trade Center towers without being incinerated. It is not a stretch to assume that among the white sheets on the ground, one could have found employment contracts, stock certificates, drafts of legal briefs, and confidential memoranda.
     Mere hours before, some secretary had filed a copy of the CEO’s letter. An accountant had signed off on an accounts payable voucher. A Controller had wondered whether an overseas office needed to see this particular draft of financial statements. A broker had recommended that a client buy or sell Compaq stock and processed the documents to finalize the transaction.
     All that paper now on the street had held great significance only moments earlier. Someone had proofread a letter, footed a spreadsheet, opened a letter, photocopied an expense report, marked up a contract, sent a fax. Part of the American dream, this white collar work that allows us to labor in peace and quiet, generating paper, not picking grapes or digging ditches.
     Yet here we sat, tears streaming down our faces for people, for families we would never know, but whose loss we felt all the same. Anyone with friend or relative in or near Manhattan called at first sign of distress. Where is she? Have you heard from him? Great, they were home all day! We worried about the 50,000 people in those buildings.
     I have not heard in a single news bulletin that a CEO called from California to learn whether a stock certificate had survived, or whether the secure storage was safely locked before the secretary started down one hundred flights of stairs. Even more significant, there was not one case reported in which a loving husband, devoted wife, or treasured friend picked up telephone, knowing he or she would not live to make it home, to inform a soul that a solitary scrap of paper had been spared.
     Without exception, final words have been the ones that keep us going, no matter who we are or how we live: I love you. I love you. I love you. In times like these, it seems that it is impossible to say it only once. The repetition sanctifies the telling, a kadosh, kadosh, kadosh of human existence.
     When push comes to shove, when we stand in that moment that is illuminated as our last, the only things that matter are the people who have touched our hearts, the reflections of our selves who made dreary days sparkle and nights light up with laughter.
      The hatred of terrorism cannot dim that light, cannot extinguish that candle. Unspeakable horror highlights what we hold dearest, honors our most valued holdings.
     This week, we have all been reminded with pictures forever seared on our spirits that we hold each other dearest, we honor one another. May our work serve as tribute to this powerful lesson.
     Shanah tovah.

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