13 Sep A Post 9/11 World
The tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001 profoundly changed my life. At the time, I was an up-and-coming ad executive in a well-known and well-respected advertising agency. Only a few months before 9/11, I had been moved to a big office on what was lovingly referred to internally as “Executive Row.” My hard work was paying off. The new office space was validation that my efforts had been noticed–reassuring my ego that I was on the fast track to greater things. How wrong I was.
I remember the morning of 9/11 well; the sky was clean and clear, the air crisp, and everything seemed right with the world. After arriving at work, I recall hesitating at the front door–for just a moment–to take it all in. Once inside, I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee and headed to my office to start my day. I flipped the radio on, which was tuned to a local AM news/talk station. It was during that broadcast that I heard the first report of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. My instincts told me this was no accident. Unfortunately, I was right.
From the lobby of our great office building I watched multiple broadcasts feed the public images of the first tower in flame. Somehow I knew there would be a second plane. As people gathered around the televisions I recall uttering the words, “This isn’t over.” Then, as if on cue, the second plane slammed into the second tower. We were under attack.
In that moment, my future was changed forever. Immediately, the phones fell silent. One of my primary clients (an airline) went bankrupt. In the silence, no one had to say anything…we all knew that our jobs–and our Nation–were in jeopardy. One month later, I was unemployed.
It was as if someone had pulled the plug on my fairytale life. The young can-do, ladder-climbing executive with so much promise had been reduced to rubble. Not only was I out of work, but my wife and I were expecting our first child. My wife worked hard to appear strong, but I knew that her fears ran deep. I assured her daily that God would provide a way for us, but honestly, I was having doubts of my own. Everything had changed. My role as provider had changed. My identity as a young, capable up-and-comer was gone. My friends from within the industry were scattered like the four winds. There I was left to piece together my career and provide stability for my growing family. I was no longer the captain of my destiny…I was adrift.
The 9/11 attacks created a financial ripple throughout our Nation’s economy that is still present today. The advertising industry took a particularly hard hit, as marketing budgets are often the first to be slashed in times of economic crisis. I was too young to realize the long-term negative impact this event would have on my career. In my mind I thought if I simply applied myself, I would find something new and my kingdom would be restored. In reality, America was in the early stages of a much larger financial crisis that would impact every worker in every industry for years to come.
While I never abandoned my faith during this ordeal, I must admit that I was often blind to what God was doing in my life. My expectation was to quickly rebound, and again, become that which I once was. That never happened. Weeks became months, and months became years; jobs came and went, but always without me finding any real satisfaction. I desperately craved what I had lost. After all, I had worked so hard for it. In many ways I felt that it was owed to me. In my headstrong ignorance I failed to comprehend that the future I desired was gone…FOREVER. It was not coming back and I could not recreate it. Now what?
At my lowest point, I realized something immensely important: God never abandoned me. Much like Jonah, in my own bitterness, I failed to see the shade God was providing me. My need for justice and restitution prevented me from seeing just how blessed I truly was. I was angry (so angry). My family and I had been through so much…I had worked so hard…I had kept my nose to the grindstone…and yet, I never regained the treasure of the lost world I once knew. I was arrogant. Like the vineyard worker I wanted more for my effort. So, when more did not come, I pushed even harder in an attempt to overcome adversity through sheer will. I was also a fool.
It was not going to be my will, my path, or my plan that determined my future. While I certainly had influence over my decisions–good and bad–God was in control. What’s more, He had been with me the whole time. In my low place, I came to understand that as one opportunity closed, God provided another. This awkward journey was in fact a remarkable work of God’s love. Through it all, the right prayers were answered and our needs were met. The end of one job became the beginning of another. Money miraculously appeared (often in the strangest of ways). Through it all, our family grew closer.
For me, I learned to trust God. While He never returned me to my lost kingdom, He did keep me on a path that made me a stronger person. Over the past fifteen years, I have worked in some strange and amazing places and I’ve learned things that changed me, improved me, and made me better than the person I would have been.
The human side of me will always wonder what life would have been like without 9/11. Certainly, if I could change that fateful day in history, I would. However, the person I have become through that trial is someone I wouldn’t change for the world.
John Long III
The Afternoon Drive