Five Years Later - A Time To Reflect and Celebrate
Remember, it could be worse...
It's unbelievable how time just flies
Right before your eyes but you don't recognize
I'd be lying if I told you this was an easy day. I try to view it as just any other, but it's not. It's the day I lost one of my best friends, my dad. I don't get sad thinking of my own story. I miss him, but getting sad for myself would be selfish considering all that was lost and all that I've had. I was fortunate enough to have him for nearly 21 years and have more than enough memories to keep me laughing for my lifetime. So before I go any further, don't get sad for me. I'm doing very well, as are my brother, sister and mom.
I spent much of yesterday and today reflecting on the past five years, and recovering from my friends' wedding on Saturday. I even re-read the eulogy I delivered at my Dad's memorial service, something I hadn't done since the first anniversary of this tragedy. One of many things I've become extremely grateful for over the course of the past five years is the overwhelming outpouring of support I've received from those who knew my dad, many of whom he'd never even had the chance to meet in person. I'd love to be able to thank each and every one of you, if given the chance. Todd told me on Friday that if I wanted to write something for today, that I could. I didn't even know where to begin, and still don't. So if I seem like I'm rambling at some points, I am. Sorry. I didn't want to "put it off," but also wanted to concentrate all my energy on the good times and celebrating my friends' wedding this weekend. As the emails began rolling in this morning, I felt like I needed to write something though, to share with you all my appreciation and to assure you that everything is going well in the Meehan household. I also thought it might be somewhat therapeutic to share a bit of my experience, as Todd has done so.
Five years is a long time. It's 20% of my life thus far. In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago, but in many ways it seems like it was just yesterday. I never fully grasped what my parents' generation meant when they said everyone remembers where they were when they heard about Kennedy's assassination until September 11, 2001. Everyone remembers where they were that day. I was 20 years old in my third year (of five – don't judge) in college with my biggest concerns being not getting my ID taken at a bar and not sleeping through an 11am class. That would all change in an instant.
I should've known that Tuesday morning was not going to be just an ordinary day. The first clue was that I woke up well before my alarm went off and didn't even try to talk myself out of my 9:30am management class, something I was entirely too good at doing. I was living in my fraternity house, brushing my teeth in the bathroom when I heard the guy that lives next to me say, "Hey, some plane just hit the World Trade Center." Instantly in my head I pictured some clown in a twin prop plane clipping an antenna. We all know that wasn't the case. I didn't sense any urgency, and before I even turned to see the TV I called my dad's office, only to get a busy signal. I then called his cell phone which went to voicemail and I nonchalantly left a message saying, "Yo, what's this I'm hearing about some plane hitting your building? Let me know what the story is." I couldn't even fathom anything like the spectacle I observed when I turned the TV on. That instant was certainly a loss of innocence for myself, as well as an entire generation. Never again would I be entitled to the naivety of assuming anything other than the worst.
To say that there was mass confusion would be a gross understatement. We watched in real-time as news anchors attempted to figure out exactly what occurred. We learned info as they learned info. I sat there as we watched the South Tower get hit by another plane. Looking back, I think I was in shock. I know that I wasn't completely aware of the enormity of the situation, but at the same time, I knew. I kept hope, but I knew. I even went to my class, though I sat in the balcony of Memorial Hall at the University of Kentucky, knowing I probably wouldn't be there the whole time. I was there for maybe 10 minutes before my phone began vibrating non-stop. There was no point in being at class; I knew all I was doing was hiding. I returned to my fraternity house where I would be glued to the TV all day.
I could do the math. 110 or so floors in the North Tower, Cantor Fitzgerald somewhere in the mid-100's and a large plane lodged somewhere below. I'm a realistic person, and I knew immediately that my dad didn't make it. I knew him. There wasn't the possibility that he had gone out for coffee real quick, or maybe wasn't in yet. He was at his desk, either writing columns, reading research or exchanging ideas via phone, IM or email. Then, something I certainly never imagined happening occurred, the South Tower collapsed, followed by the North Tower, and any slight bit of false hope I held onto. I dreaded that first conversation with my mom. I didn't want to make the call, not because I didn't want to accept reality, but mainly because I didn't want the phone to ring and have her think it could possibly be Dad. That thought of her holding onto false hope was killing me. The other thing that was tearing me up was knowing my sister was a 10 year old fifth grader sitting in school, and I wondered how the news was being broken to her. Was she watching this terror unfold? Was she hearing rumors from kids or teachers? I just had to trust that there were teachers smart enough to handle the situation appropriately.
I won't bore you with the whole doings of the day. I'm sure my day was similar to most people's throughout the country, stuck glued to the television. Word pretty much spread like wildfire around campus, and I had the same slightly awkward conversation a hundred times over. I just really wish that wasn't what it took for me to get a constant flow of girls coming into my house to see me, but knowing people cared was assuring.
I drove home in the wee hours of Thursday morning, having lied to my mom and assuring her that someone else would be coming with me so I didn't have to make the 12 hour drive from Lexington, KY to Darien, CT alone. I wanted to be alone. I liked making that trip by myself anyway, but this time I just needed to. I knew I'd be talking about this for the rest of my life, and I just wanted to be able to turn the stereo up and clear my mind in preparation for seeing my family.
I still don't think it really sunk in until I got onto I-95 in New Jersey and saw a huge cloud of black smoke over Manhattan, more than 2 days after the towers were struck. There was a gaping hole in a skyline I no longer knew, that connotatively only began to touch the surface of the gaping holes that were now in thousands of families and our country.
Well, the following weeks were not fun, as you can imagine. I learned a great deal about human kind though, which restored my faith in others. I can't put into words just how grateful I was, and am, for everything everyone did for me and my family, whether it was things to make my mom's life easier, tributes posted online, Mets tickets given to me for something to do other than sit around the house, or emails from good people like yourselves who tracked me down.
I never envisioned myself at 20 years old in a packed church delivering a eulogy for my father, but I think the ability to do so gave me a sense of strength that gave me more confidence in myself, and I knew things would be okay. Five years later, I'm very glad I did and I think I would've made my dad proud. I don't think I ever properly thanked Bryan Piskorowski or Tony Dwyer for the great words they expressed that day as well. I certainly didn't thank the folks from TheStreet.com, Todd included, who wore Hawaiian shirts beneath their suits in honor of one of my dad's last appearances on CNBC when he opted for that look as opposed to a suit. Them showing up at the reception in those shirts definitely brightened my day, and I know my dad was enjoying a good chuckle somewhere.
So on every media outlet today, all I keep hearing is, "five years later, what has changed?" They seem to ask it as a rhetorical question, implying that the answer is "not much." Sure, you can give any change a quantitative value by looking at the Dow or price of crude, but I sit here now as a 25 year old and can assure you that everything has changed from when I was a naïve 20 year old. I look at my sister who is nearly 16, a very smart and beautiful young lady who was just an innocent kid, and am reminded of just how much has changed. I can't help but think of the hundreds or thousands of kids so young that either they weren't born yet or don't remember the parent they lost five years ago. Five years is the difference between a kid being born and his first day of kindergarten. Are you going to tell me nothing has changed for his family? This will forever be a day of remembrance, and grief for some, but it is a story in which change cannot truly be measured on P&L sheets.
The one blatantly obvious change that was initially sparked by these events five years ago was a sense of helping thy neighbor and selflessness. That is the one thing that I wish would reemerge as a unifying theme throughout our country and the world. It certainly would go a long way toward making it a better place. I know the signs and flags draped over every highway overpass expressing unity and sympathy certainly helped my drive home that September. Everyone should take one step back and start doing just the little things again to lend a helping hand, make life easier, or just show respect to others, even complete strangers.
I struggle a bit to write about my thoughts and experiences with regards to the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001 because I know how far stretched those affected by the events are. Many of these people are far worse off than me and my family, and I don't like feeling like I'm generating attention for myself. Bill Meehan was my father, and Chief Market Strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald, who was fortunate enough to have platforms such as the internet, print and television to become a well known and respected member of the financial community, but he was just one of 2,749 people who lost their lives that day. It's important that we remember, pray for and celebrate each and every one of those innocent individuals, whether they were executives, secretaries, mail clerks or the brave men and women who ran into the towers in an attempt to rescue. Like my dad, I just happen to have the available platform to express my thoughts, but I know I'm one of many. As my dad's last column on TheStreet.com published 9/10/01 was so aptly titled, It Could be Worse, and for many it is.
As I said, the past five years have really flown by, though it's seemed like a lifetime at times. There's so much more that I'd like to say to everyone, but I've already made this a bit too long winded. Thanks to all who have ever expressed support to me and my family. We will be forever grateful.
Much like five years ago, I'm going to go home and wait for a phone call. This time, I'm anticipating nothing but good news as my mom will be receiving results of what we hope to be a final PET scan. I'm hoping she'll get word of being essentially cancer free and done with chemotherapy. Then I'll crack a Budweiser, because if you knew my dad you'd know that's just what we do, and turn September 11, 2006 into a celebration of the Swine's (nickname for my dad) life and a long life still to go for Mo (mom's nickname). So that's what has changed. In the Meehan household, September 11th is now a time to celebrate.
God Bless you all.
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