That bright, clear, perfect late-summer morning, I was one of 15 people sitting around a conference room table. Several of our colleagues from other offices were dialed into the meeting, too.
Change Management. Every Tuesday morning. 9-10 am.
Months earlier, a corporate auditor was attempting to impress upon our departmental manager the vital importance of Change Management. The manager sneered, “Change Management?!? I don’t give a FAT. RAT’S. ASS. about Change Management.” That statement, and the attitude, hung over our weekly Change Management meetings like both a millstone and a team flag.
One of the guys who attended these meetings by phone was named Tom. He called in from Poughkeepsie. He was always a no bullshit kind of guy, calling things as he saw them, regardless of the political fallout. He was one of those truth-tellers who could be searingly funny one moment and witheringly dismissive the next. In nearly 10 years of working at the company, I never met Tom. But I still hear his voice from that morning.
Our meeting that day started with the usual banter. We had been meeting weekly for about six months, so we knew each other pretty well. We talked about baseball and football as we waited for everyone to check in. Tom was a die-hard Yankee fan, so he was teasing the Cambridge-based team about how much the Red Sox sucked. Just as the chair of the meeting started to go over the agenda, Tom blurted, “Holy shit. Somebody just said that a plane flew into one of the World TradeTowers. What the fuck?”
We all looked at each other. Someone asked, “What kind of plane?” Tom said, “How the hell do I know? Probably some idiot small plane. Had to be an idiot if he can’t figure out how to avoid the tallest building in the world.”
We continued to move through the Change Requests (CRs). Tom broke in again. “Now it’s two planes! Two fucking planes have hit the towers! What the fuck?!”
Those of us around the table in Cambridge all looked at each other, bewildered. After a long pause, we continued our routine of slogging through the 20 or so CRs, with Tom’s silence now heavy in the room. Usually, Tom had something to say about every single CR, often describing them with words such as, “Bullshit.” “Stupid.” “Pointless.” But he had “gone on mute,” as we called it.
Minutes later, someone in Tom’s office had hooked up a TV, and Tom was seeing the now iconic images of the twin towers engulfed in smoke and flames. He broke in, “Shit, people, we gotta end this call. You all need to find televisions. You’re not gonna believe this. What the FU–” He hung up.
Our office was across from a shopping mall. Only the CVS and the Starbucks were open, and neither had televisions. The other stores didn’t open until 10. People from our building streamed into the mall anyway, running around frantically looking for televisions. One of the restaurants always kept its three TVs on different stations, even when it wasn’t open. A crowd gathered outside this restaurant. We stood there watching, trying to make sense of it all. We couldn’t hear the audio, so all we had were the images. Gradually, people wandered off. I stood there, alone, riveted, consumed with confusion, with Tom’s “What the FUCK?!” still echoing in my ears.
When the South Tower collapsed, I blurted, “Holy SHIT!” When the North Tower came down, I ran out of the mall and across the street to our offices. My boss had already sent around an email telling us to go home if we wanted. I grabbed my bag and left.
The drive along the Charles River was surreal and slow. Dreamlike. It seemed crazy to have such a picture perfect day in Boston, while chaos and terror were choking the skies and streets in New York. I called PW and told her I had been sent home. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. Minutes later I called my parents. My dad answered. All I remember about that conversation is that we were both crying.
I drove to GForce’s school. Lots of other parents were milling about outside. The office had posted a note on the door saying that if parents wanted to pick up their kids, they should proceed to the classrooms and talk with the teachers. I wasn’t worried about GForce’s safety. I just wanted to be the first one to talk with her about what was going on.
As I approached the classroom, the sound of Louis Armstrong’s voice singing, “What a Wonderful World” lilted into my ears. The floodgates opened again. With tears running down my face, I asked the kindergarten teacher if I could take GForce home. She patted me on the arm and said, “Of course you can, honey. I haven’t told them anything. We’ve just been listening to music together.”
In the car, GForce had all the usual questions, coupled with the age-appropriate attention span of a honeybee in a field of wild flowers. “What happened to the buildings, Mom? What’s for lunch? Why did people fly planes into the buildings? Can we go to the playground?” I still don’t remember how I answered her “Why?” questions. Probably, I just repeated the refrain of, “I don’t know”
Yesterday, PW met with her interfaith colleagues in their final preparation for the “Back Bay 9/11 Commemoration: From Remembrance to Hope.” While I am glad that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are gathering together on Sunday for this combined service, I feel a twinge of regret that the Christian Gospel lesson assigned for this Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary will not be among the readings in the service:
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Whoa. So much for the “New Testament God of Love,” that many Christians are so prone to citing, in favorable comparison with the “angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament.” But I digress.
This past week, the Boston Globe has been running 9/11 remembrance stories, as I’m sure is occurring in media throughout the country. There was one in particular that surprised me with its coverage of people whose stories I have never heard before: the flight attendant who was supposed to be on American Airlines Flight 11, but called in sick; the baggage handler at Logan Airport who tried—and failed—to get bags labeled “M. Atta” onto Flight 11; a pilot who served as Captain John Ogonowski’s co-pilot for 10 years; the ramp supervisor who cleared American Flight 11 to leave the gate; the ticket agent who sold two of the hijackers their tickets to United Airlines Flight 175; the security agent at the United Airlines checkpoint, who was only 19 years old at the time.
Matthew’s Gospel lesson for September 11, 2011 was rattling around in my head when I was stopped short by this passage in the Globe article:
Arriving in Lower Manhattan two nights after the attacks, [Ogonowski’s former co-pilot] found a sanitation worker about to toss away scrap metal that he recognized as part of Ogonowski’s landing gear. Escaping the dust and chaos, he slipped into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, knelt in a pew, and tried to say the Lord’s Prayer. It took 50 attempts before he could get through “forgive those who trespass against us’’ without faltering.
It gives me goosebumps to imagine this griefstruck pilot kneeling in a pew, struggling to repeat “The Lord’s Prayer” 50 times so that he could get through the passage about forgiveness without getting tripped up by it. I don’t know if I would have had the patience or generosity of spirit to persist. Maybe the open wound of that intense grief would have propelled me toward forgiveness, as many times as necessary and then some more. I hope it would, but I really don’t know. After all, I’m still working on some forgiveness issues that I’ve tried at least 77 times without success.
When I linger on the mental image of that pilot kneeling in the pew, I wonder if forgiveness is the ultimate Change Management. Maybe one reason change is so hard to manage is because genuine forgiveness is so difficult. But how else can we change the ways we relate to horrible things, or even simple slights, so that our future is not filled with wounds that we continue to re-open? Even when I know forgiveness will give me a radically better future, it can still be excruciatingly hard.
Forgiveness is so difficult that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew is that we must forgive “not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” In Biblical terms, that’s the equivalent of “more times than you can count.” And it’s way more than 50. So there we have it, Christians: The Gospel Imperative of Change Management. No wonder we need recurring weekly meetings.
Yesterday morning, two days shy of the 10th anniversary of that awful day, GForce said she wanted to interview me for a school project. “Sure, what’s the project about?” I asked. “It’s about September 11th, and what you remember about where you were that day.”
What I remember about where I was on the morning of September 11th is that I was in a recurring weekly meeting. The subject: Change Management.