Saturday, September 10, 2011

Have You Forgotten: 10 Year Anniversary of 9/11

It is time for the annual repost of my 9/11 story.

The last few days have been somewhat emotional for me, as the tributes have begun playing on t.v. It's hard to believe it's been ten years now.

If you are a regular reader and have read this story before, I urge you not to skip over it. It's going to be a little different than in years past and here is why:

"All You" magazine had wanted to publish it in this month's edition, along with other 9/11 stories from readers across the country. I was very excited, but after working with the editor, it became clear that for me, the story was still too personal. I was not ready to share it in that medium yet. So my Bucket List item of being published will have to wait a little longer.

I also became aware of a problem that may be caused by the disclosure of a few facts about my customer.

I work for a coffee company . It is a coffee importer and distributor based in Birmingham, Alabama. We primarily handle coffees for Food Service (hotels, resorts, restaurants, hospitals, etc...) Office Coffee (that stuff in your breakroom at work) and Convienence Stores (gas stations, truckstops and the like). We even offer the option to purchase it for your home through our home goods department. But a large part of our business is Private Labeling.

Have you ever looked at a bag of store-brand coffee and read "packaged for This Store in Birmingham, Alabama?" Well, sometimes, Birmingham, Alabama means us. That is "private labeling." Some companies don't take kindly to the source of their private labeled products being revealed, so I've removed the customer store name. The real point of the story is not where the coffee was going, but the person delivering it and my reaction. And, I like my job.

Next February will mark my 21st year there as a customer service professional. Oh, the stories I could tell.

Like this one.

Tomorrow will be September 11th. Patriot Day.

I'll be wearing my yellow ribbon and my American Flag pin.

This year, marking the ten year anniversary, I know that it will be commemorated with the reverence that it should.

Even after ten years, the emotion is nearly as fresh and raw as it was watching the non-stop news footage.

And every year since, I have thought about 5 cases of coffee.

I cry when I tell it because the emotions bubble back up, so you are at an advantage reading it, though I am about to cry just typing it.

Every now and again, a private-label customer would request a few cases of coffee be sent directly to one of their stores. On September 10, 2001 they requested that I send five cases of coffee to the store on the basement level of WTC. I am told this is where the food court was. They had requested Next Day Air, Early A.M. delivery, which means it is delivered first thing in the morning. I processed the UPS shipment myself, to ensure it was done in time for pick up.

It stood out to me because the address was simply :

(Store Name)
Basement Suite#
WTC, NY and the zip code.

I remember thinking, "How cool is that?"

At the office the next morning, I arrived early enough to make my coffee, prioritize my "things to do" list for the day, and settle in. My department is a long room, lined in cubicles, with a walkway from our main breakroom to our lobby on the interior side and a wall of windows on the other. The cubicles in the center face outward, creating a large open area in the middle of the room. Between each workstation is a curved countertop and a chair, so in the center there are two that face one another like tables in a cafe. The space is very conducive to lingering and chatting by those passing through to and from the main breakroom. At times it can be very disruptive.

Our purchasing agent at the time, a fellow named Ron, was walking through on his way to the main breakroom, coffee cup in hand. You must know this about Ron. He was a very serious individual, but was also extremely funny. He had the driest sense of humor and could deliver the funniest jokes with an expression so deadpan, that sometimes it was hard to determine if he was being serious or pulling your leg. So when he stopped in the center, and asked "Did you hear a plane crashed into the World Trade Center?" we all paused for the punchline.

After convincing us that he was serious, I raced to the breakroom to see the breaking news on t.v. The address of my previous day's shipment suddenly came to mind and it dawned on me, the UPS driver could very well be there at that very moment. I was standing there watching, when the second plane hit.

As the events of the day unfolded, I thought more and more of those five boxes of coffee and the unsuspecting UPS driver I'd sent to his death. I prayed for a lot of people that day, but I prayed specifically for him.

Over the next several days, I began to think about him quite a bit. Was he married, did he have children, what kind of person would he have been....? Because I would never really know his fate, it started to be too much for me. Every time I saw footage of the dust & debris, I imagined a UPS truck buried beneath it.

Though it may sound strange, I felt really guilty, like somehow I was responsible. I cried uncontrollably, nearly daily, over this person I'd never met.

Two weeks went by. My best friend told me that I was going to give it to God and let it go. So I finally prayed that God would give me some peace over it and release me from this guilt I was feeling. I prayed once more for him and his family and "laid it down."

The very next day, our local UPS driver returned those five boxes of coffee stamped "UNDELIVERABLE." They looked as good as the day I sent them out. I took their pristine condition as my sign from God that the driver I prayed so diligently over, was okay too.

Looking back, I can't explain why I was so upset over this person that I didn't know, when there were those who I did know right in the heart of the events.

  • My cousin, Amanda, pregnant with her middle daughter, on a courier run in New York. Her company had called her back to the office, just shy of reaching WTC, where her deliveries were to be made. She was one of hundreds of thousands who fled Manhattan on foot across the George Washington Bridge.

  • One of our DC route reps had just left from making his Pentagon delivery, watched as that plane passed overhead. He called in, shaken but okay, and told one of the CSR's "I think I just saw a plane crash."

  • Moments later friend Penny Huggins Bailey, stationed there as a protocol officer, would be saved from the direct hit by an overwhelming surge of mother's intuition.

There was a resurgence of hospitality, patriotism, and faith. People were kinder, gentler, more caring, more forgiving. More were proud to be American and began to relish what was good about our country, rather than harping on what was wrong. And everyone began to rexamine their faith.

Ten years later, my emotions still overwhelm me, and the tears come as easily now as they did then.

Alan Jackson's "Where Were You" effortlessly captured everything I had felt about the events surrounding 9/11. Thursday, I had posted the video of it from the live performance to my Facebook page. I watched the full five minute video to make sure it was complete and not compromised in any way before I posted it. Half way through, I realized that I was crying.

I know, when I tell this story to my grandchildren some day, I will fight back a tear even then.

I realize that to some extent, as a nation we should "move on." But I was raised that the first part of getting where you are going, is knowing where you've been.

Never Forget

(As always, dedicated to those who unsuspectingly gave their lives Sept 11, 2001, the people who knew & loved them, and all our military hereos keeping us safe ever since.)

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