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Where Were You When Lehman Brothers Failed?


Some perspective on this historic day.

There's a thing about living through historic events, those moments when we shudder with the recognition that the world just hopped the tracks and is barreling along in an altogether different direction.

For my parents' generation -- and I'm sure for many Minyans -- that feeling is sparked by the question, "Where were you when JFK was shot?" More recently, "Where were you on 9/11?" sends similar chills down our collective spines.

I don't wish to compare the collapse of an investment bank -- Lehman Brothers (LEH) -- or the purchase of one financial institution by another -- Merrill Lynch (MER) by Bank of America (BAC) -- to such profoundly significant points in history. To do so is as much a muddling of human and economic tragedies as it is a really challenging experiment in comparing apples to oranges.

Nevertheless, it's these singularly unique events that shape our future histories, both human and financial.

Swept up by the moment, we typically spend its short duration reporting, discussing, analyzing and criticizing; glued to the television for the latest breaking news. Immediately afterwards, we trip over ourselves to pontificate about the way in which our lives will change forever. And indeed, they may.

But forever is an awfully long time.

As the hours pass today, events will unfold and details will emerge. Individuals with direct knowledge of various situations will be cited anonymously by news sources clamoring to be the first to break the story.

As the hours pass today, fortunes will be made and lost. Vast sums will be erased from balance sheets, even as equally impressive totals are added to others.

As the hours pass today, people will lose their jobs. Others will receive the promotion they never saw coming.

As the hours pass today, more hours will take their place.

Those too, shall pass.

Often the hardest thing to find on days like this is simply a bit of perspective. No doubt, we'll read about how this crisis compares to those past and those sure to come. Conclusions will be drawn, extrapolations made, predictions brought forward by talking heads and so-called experts.

That sort of perspective will be plentiful today.

But it's the other sort of perspective, the kind that can't be found under the florescent lights of an office or hidden inside the flickering ticks, that's in short supply on days like this.

Look for it on your walk to work, out the window of the train, or in a leaf, quietly disengaging from its branch and fluttering to the ground, listlessly playing in the wind, settling silently on the earth, never to fly again. When you find it, smile, acknowledge it, accept it. Appreciate the fact that today is a historic day, one that you're not likely to soon forget.

Step outside the office, look past the charts.

In the bustle of waiting for the next crisis to scream across headlines, you're about as likely to be missed as you will regret a few moments spent in quite reflection of the day, and what you'll say when your grandkids ask where you were when it happened.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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