Once the immediate shock and terror wore off on September 11, 2001, I immediately thought of a loved one who was traveling that morning from Boston. I did not know what airline he was on or his flight number, and with the overloaded cellular network there was no way to check in with him. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I learned that he was safe and that his plane had been diverted safely to Ohio.
To the younger generations who were not old enough to comprehend what happened on 9/11, it is difficult to convey the sense of “not knowing” that accompanied the attacks. That day and for a significant time after, we were confronted by the uneasy feeling of the unknown — not knowing the full scope of what had happened and why, if our loved ones and friends were safe, and what might come next.
As continuous improvement practitioners, we’re always analyzing situations and processes and trying to understand and predict how to best get from point A to point B. In some ways, we are scientists working to bring improvements to our enterprises. The scientific method starts with a hypothesis before you run the experiment. You have some idea of the variables and a possible outcome. But on 9/11, many of us felt in the dark, and — beyond the tragic loss of life that we all felt — it was difficult to process the feelings of not knowing and of being vulnerable.
In the weeks that followed, things became clearer. People came together to support one another. Did you know that more than 1.5 million units of blood were donated across the United States in the days after 9/11? So much blood was donated that it overwhelmed blood banks, but it also demonstrates how much people wanted to do something — anything — to help. Even in our small circles we were looking out for one another. Like me, after 9/11 you may have checked in or heard from friends who you hadn’t spoken to in years just to make sure everyone was ok.
The ripples of 9/11 are still felt today by so many people in so many different ways. I am currently reading “Surviving Son,” the new book by Scott DeLuzio, about his brother who was killed in action in Afghanistan in August 2010. Some may recognize the DeLuzio name because their father, Mark, is a lean pioneer and the primary architect of the Danaher Business System. As a Gold Star family, the DeLuzios — like so many others who lost loved ones on 9/11 and in the aftermath — have had to go through so much. As in the days after the 9/11 attack, it is our job as survivors to learn and retell their stories, to support one another, and to carry their passions and their mission forward.
Twenty years later, we are still processing 9/11 and we still need to support one another as we overcome grief and tragic memories and prepare for the always present unknowns that lay in front of us.
As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.