Transcript of podcast - The Impact of September 11th, Years Later
Today I’m talking with Carrie Greene who will be sharing her own story of grief in the workplace and how it affected her personally and professionally. Welcome, Carrie nice to have you with me today.
Carrie Greene– it’s always a pleasure to be with you. Thank you for inviting me to join you.
Linda Trignano – tell us a little bit about your story and how it relates to the workplace.
Carrie Greene – my story goes back right to September 11th. 9/11 affected, I think certainly everyone around where I worked. I worked for a brokerage firm. I worked in New Jersey right on the Hudson River for a firm called Datatec Online, and it certainly affected everyone in the financial district where I was. On the morning of 9/11, I got to work early as I always do. Our offices were overlooking the Hudson River, a beautiful building right on the pier. It was overlooking the World Trade Center which was a little bit to the right of the Statue of Liberty – a beautiful place. On the morning of 9/11, I happen to look up from my desk and see a plane coming towards the World Trade Center. As I saw that plane, I was thinking to myself that plane is going to crash right into lower Manhattan. From the angle, I was at that’s what it certainly looked like. Then, of course, I saw it crash into the building. My boss was also at the office with me, was sitting one row further away from the windows and I said to him “Larry a plane just crashed into the Trade Center. We didn’t know what was going on. As things were happening live he looked across the river and said that’s Cantor Fitzgerald. Chris and I were there yesterday.
Linda Trignano – Oh my gosh!
Carrie Greene – In the financial world, you know all this stuff. I worked in the Trade Center for years when I was working for the New York Stock Exchange. I spent several years working in the Trade Center myself, and this is a very personal thing for all of us. We were there. This is our home. This is our livelihood.
As the day progressed a guy by the name of Mike came in and he asked me what happened because nobody knew. Only the first plane had crashed then. He said, “what happened?” I said a plane crashed into the Trade Center. He said, “What kind of plane was it”? If you remember in the pictures that the plane came in very steeply banked and from the New Jersey side of the river all I could see was the bottom of the plane. I said, “I don’t know. It wasn’t a little commuter jet. It was a plane/plane.” That was all I knew to say to him.
It was a brokerage firm I work for, so we had TVs everywhere. We also had big beautiful windows overlooking the Hudson River, and we were standing in front of the TV, in front of a window alternating – looking at the news reports or looking out the windows. As we were looking out the window, of course, we saw the other building exploded. The whole top of the building when the second plane hit, and that’s when clearly we all knew at that point that this is some sort of attack. It wasn’t something like just a plane crashing randomly. We watched the entire time. We didn’t know what was going on. We saw things falling off the building. In retrospect, it was probably people. We didn’t know that then. I don’t talk about this all the time anymore it clearly a lot of years have passed at this point, and there’s only so much that you want to remember and be part of it again and again and again. But I remember when the first building fell. Absolutely a beautiful, beautiful crystal clear blue day and then all of a sudden the building imploded on itself. A little while later, we saw the second building shimmered the same, and we just all knew what was going to happen.
Linda Trignano – Right.
Carrie Greene – And you’ve got a crowd of 40 people or so standing in this little entranceway with the TV and the windows and everything. As the day progressed, they didn’t know what to do with us. So they evacuated us, and then they were like, no you can’t be on the street and then we went back inside. Nobody knew what to do. It was an environment that none of us were prepared for, certainly in the country also within our building. What do you do with all these people – there are about 700 of us.
Linda Trignano – 700 in the building?
Carrie Greene – In the building. Yeah because we’re all employees of the firm. So here we are, do we go inside, do we go outside? Are we safer here? Are we safer over there? What’s happening? Nobody knew what was going on and then they started to evacuate New York City. The water exodus from lower Manhatten to New Jersey began. They were all coming in boats, water taxis, ferries, private boats anything that they could do. Private boats would just pull up alongside of the island, and people were jumping into boats and getting across. I was at a pier, so everybody was showing up at my office. What we started doing was emptying out our water, emptying out our candy machines, emptying out the soda machines, giving whatever food we could to the people and drinks that we could give to the people who were escaping. We were also bringing people to telephones so that they could call whomever they needed to call because when the towers fell, the cell tower , so there really wasn’t cell service. So we were getting people to phones. There was one woman I spoke to that day. I remember so clearly. She was probably, god this is about 15 years ago, she must’ve been about 60 or 65, and she said to me that she grew up in Nazi Germany and when the buildings fell it felt like she was right back there.
Linda Trignano – Wow.
Carrie Greene – And experiencing that kind of demolition and horror and bombings and destruction again. That was in many ways the beginning of the end for me on Wall Street. I didn’t know it at the time.
Linda Trignano – It sounds like you and the company were attending to immediate needs, and it wasn’t necessarily for the people in the Towers. You know Carrie, I was at AT&T that day, and there were many people, we had offices right in that area, and the people that were connected to those in New York City were directly in my office, so I know about the immediacy of needs. One woman’s husband was expected to arrive under the Towers at that moment. In other words, he took the train at that time every morning. She was hysterical and calming her down was the most important thing. There were many people like that who knew others who were in the Towers.
Carrie Greene – We all knew that the people in our building were safe. Clearly, we were there. We weren’t working in New York City. Most of us didn’t live in New York City; however, a lot of us had people whom we knew who were working in these environments. I told you, I worked for the New York Stock Exchange for years. Many of my friends that I still am friends with today were crossing through New York City every day in lower Manhattan. We didn’t know what was going on. Our immediate concern within our building really focused on us and on those of us there. We were focused a lot on the people who were just showing up, and it was such a conflict in our head. Again it’s a brokerage firm; there are lots of rules and regulations about what goes on in a brokerage firm. You don’t bring random people into a brokerage firm. There are compliance regulations. There are legal regulations. There are lots of things going on, and yet it was like, these people need drinks, these people need food. These people need telephones. What can we do to make that happen? None of us knew what to do with ourselves. Most of us commuted in. Very few of us drove in and even if you were driving in what did you do? None of us knew what was happening. All we knew is from where we stood; we smelled smoke; we saw smoke; we saw the buildings falling apart in front of us. We were all, really thinking back on it, again its been years since this happened, but I don’t know if it’s a medical state of shock, but we were all in a state of shock. None of us knew what was going on and it was again, a pull between so many different things.
We got people we want to go home to, and we wanted to check with our families. My husband was traveling to visit his parents that weekend. He drove, so it wasn’t like he was on a plane so wasn’t concerned about that, but he was in Virginia. My family, my children were home. They were in school that day. They were really young. They were kindergarten I believe and second grade probably and we had a nanny at home but what do you do with all these kind of things? How do you manage all of this? I wanted to be home with them and at the same time how could I leave the community that I was with that clearly our world was falling apart in front of us. I remember calling my husband. Again it’s 2001, so I had a cell phone, but I didn’t charge it constantly. It didn’t matter if it was charged or not. It didn’t make a difference, and I remember pulling out my cell phone cause this was one of the times we were standing outside and getting in touch with the husband and tell him to turn on the TV. I’m standing outside my building. I’m watching World Trade Center fall and how could that be. What I don’t think so many people realize is that within the financial community, these are more than just building. The beautiful places we walked to all the time. These were places we commuted to. These are places we go for drinks or food. I had bought shoes in the concourse at the Trade Center. I have a plant that I bought in the Trade Center. This is just where we were.
Linda Trignano – This was your environment.
Carrie Greene – Yeah. For all of us we just didn’t know what was happening. On 9/11 itself, on that day many of us were struggling with how do you get out of town? How do you get home from here? Path trains were closing (many of us took the Path) because it was now full of water and debris and everything else. Yeah, that’s not happening. How we get out of here? They started to run some buses. I remember so many of us just lined up on this corner waiting to get on the bus. We got on the bus that got us somewhere closer to where our car was parked and then we’re all standing on the street with these random people. How many people are getting out? Are they rescuing people and nobody knew? We ran into policemen and firemen who are trying to get into New York City to help. I guess what was really going on with the beginning of the community spirit that we all saw. We found it at work; we founded it outside of work, and that was really what was going on in the environment. Everybody was confused. Everybody was unsure, and really everybody was kind. That was the experience that I had. Wall Street was closed. I think it was a full week and when we went back, again, we overlooked the Hudson River. We had a gorgeous brand new building with these windows that overlooked a pile of debris that was still smoking. It still smelled. We all sat there staring out the window. A couple of weeks later, we got shades, and the shades were then closed for a while so we couldn’t look out the windows which was better for most of us.
I know in the first few days they brought in bread and sandwich fixings and lunch fixings and stuff like that and we just stood in our lobby making food for the people who were hoping to rescue people and then hoping to recover people and then starting to clean up. We did that for probably three or four days just standing around making sandwiches, making very little money. For our business. That’s how we survived.
Linda Trignano – As a company, you got together and offered this community service; loving action to those that were going across the Hudson River to take care of the cleanup or people. How how did that come about and what did that feel like to all of you?
Carrie Greene – you know it’s interesting, I have no idea how it came about none. I know it was within our company alone in our building because we were the only people there. All I know is that I was part of it. The thing is that no one cared how. It was just this is an opportunity to do something, to do anything to help out. People were standing around – I calculated how much peanut butter can put on the bread. How many slices of turkey or ham or beef or cheese or whatever it was we were putting there. Just putting sandwiches together to do something. Do anything. So you keep looking over your shoulder out this beautiful building, out this window you see the smoke because it was pouring off of the site for weeks. You see it. You smelled it depending on which way the wind was blowing, and this is what we are all a part of.
About a year later it was so interesting about Datatec. it was a really fun place to work, a lot of energy. A lot of excitement and it just disappeared right after that. The firm was never the same in fact about 7 or 8 months later Wall Street just fell apart. DataTec just became a messy messy place. The economy went crazy then. No jobs were available. It was really really tough on Wall Street suddenly. DataTec was taken over. We never got any of that energy back. Every single person from the top management to the bottom person, it didn’t matter who you were in that organization, everybody was impacted by what was going on. In one way or another, we knew people who were there at the World Trade Center. I mentioned that my thoughts and another colleague of mine had been at Cantor Fitzgerald the day before. Clearly, they talked to people who were dead the next morning. It impacted everybody in different ways. I think that’s what was so confusing for all of us and nobody knew what to do. Nobody.
Linda Trignano – So a couple of points that I just want to make mention of that you talked about. For me hearing you, 9/11 was such a big event for all of us in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut area that as you said, we all knew someone or knew a family member, friends, people that we worked with that were either in the building are directly impacted. I think that the trauma of 9/11 was such a big impact that the trauma stays. I’m even struggling for words because I don’t think it has left.
Carrie Greene – It’s still there. Very much so.
Linda Trignano – Which really makes me want to mention that trauma in the workplace is something that is ongoing and managers should really understand that and again 9/11 was a much bigger impact than many of the events that happened, but it still is the kernel of truth in there that trauma stays with us and for managers to really understand that.
The other point that I heard you make was that help evolved and it’s sort of just was organically grown, and no one knew what to do or who was in charge. I think that’s another message for managers. That having a plan again maybe not be needed on the scale of 9/11 but needed on any scale. Having somebody in the firm who is schooled in what to do in emergencies is really an important aspect.
Carrie Greene – Thinking back to it and building on what you’re saying, it’s important for the firm to have a plan. Also for that plan to be in place. Now for us, it was a crazy thing that went on clearly, but it’s important for the people who aren’t necessarily involved. I wasn’t at the trade center when it fell. I was very lucky. Yes, I know people who were killed in that event. I went to college for several of them. A lot of my friends were in lower Manhattan and had to walk out of the city that day. I was involved in that way, but really I wasn’t impacted, but yet I wanted to do something and having somebody there who has a plan that enabled me to do something, to be able to contribute was very helpful to me.
Linda Trignano – That is the real salient point. Having a plan in place before the need arises and if it is something like one of your employee, your direct reports die suddenly, having a plan in place that mobilizes his or her peers to do something to take some action affords a vehicle for healing. For the company, it is really an excellent point for keeping employees, for making them feel valued and making them feel cared for even if it’s not a direct link to you with the grief.
Carrie Greene – Yeah it was so important to me to have something to do with my hands. To me, to be able to actually contribute something even if just to be able to do something to let me believe I helped them.
Linda Trignano – Absolutely and in the way I would sum that is action helps to heal and that’s an essential point for managers to know because whether its writing letters of condolence to the family, whether it’s helping somebody whose house burned down acquired what they need to acquire the clothing and furniture that they need or if somebody has a schedule for cancer treatment, taking action by other employees might be offering their vacation days so that that person can have peace of mind going for treatment. Action helps, and that’s really what I heard you say.
Carrie Greene – Yeah. It made a big difference for us. Our company was never the same. Everybody’s mood shifted. We went from a real playful fun group to one that was not overnight. Really overnight. That energy never ever returned. I watched this fall apart, and I just remember when they put those blinds up and everyone was relieved. We didn’t have to look at it anymore. I actually went back to my workplace. It took me, 9/11 I guess was 16 years ago now or just about 16 years ago, and probably about four years ago, I went back for the first time. Again I worked in the Trade Center, so it was more than just visiting when I watched this thing. This is where I worked. I commuted to the Trade Center, I commuted on the Path every day for years, and I walked through those buildings. I walked through the winter garden in the financial center going to take the ferry for years. It was my home, and it took me a long, long time to be able to go back to Lower Manhattan again. I still don’t go down there on any regular basis, and I am in the city often. I avoid it. Consciously avoid it. About a month ago I actually went back to Jersey City and right outside my building, there are some pieces of the Trade Center. Some pieces of the twisted iron and it’s really fascinating. There’s a picture there of this view of 9/11 at 8:45 AM before the first plane hit. It’s the view that I have in my mind. I look now at the New York skyline, and to me, it looks off balance. The Freedom Tower isn’t exactly where it belongs. It kind of leans to one side. It’s not the two buildings that are supposed to be there. I lose my bearings when I’m downtown because things aren’t right in my mind. Everything is just off a little bit.
You said the trauma is the kind of thing that lasts. I think all of us who have experienced 9/11 in the way we did, probably ended up needing to be or deserve to be on some couch somewhere to heal some of this. That’s something that would have been nice at the time, but we didn’t do that.
Linda Trignano – I agree with you, Carrie. I think that the point I would sum up what you are saying is that when trauma happens, things don’t necessarily just go back to the way they were. In fact, they don’t. For managers, that’s another excellent point for the workplace. Changes, grief and an employee’s loss changes things not just for the employee so that their day-to-day reality is different but for the people that work with them as well. Moreover, that is a very important point.
Many times I hear managers say “Well that happened two months ago why aren’t they done?” “Why aren’t’ they over this?” The reality is that it takes a long time if ever to get over some loss, some grief.
Carrie Greene – Things changed and I don’t’ think anyone realized how much they would change.
Linda Trignano – Carrie I want to thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about September 11th. I think that for those of us who are in the metropolitan area it is still very real. What I would like to do is give you an opportunity to speak a little bit about what you are doing now and how someone might be able to get in touch with you should they like to have a further conversation with you.
Carrie Greene – Absolutely. As I mentioned, 9/11 was the impetus of my life on Wall Street. I ran away from Wall Street kicking and screaming when I was given an opportunity when we were taken over. I started my own business. I work as a coach. Businesses need marketing and sales, messaging, and all that other kind of stuff. What I really focus on with my clients is making sure that the businesses that they create and the businesses they run are businesses that support them and not just the businesses that somebody else tells them to have.
One of the things I learned, I needed to really touch the people I was helping and make an impact on their lives. So it’s really about understanding who you are as a person, making yourself happy with the business that you are creating and certainly earning money while you are doing it.
To get in touch with me you can go to my website, www.carriegreenecoaching.com email at carriegreenecoaching.com and I’m happy to answer any questions you want about this, about coaching, about marketing, or sales or about how to ensure that you are living the life you want to live and not the life that somebody else is telling you to live.
Linda Trignano – Thank you so much for your thoughts and for opening up and sharing about an event that was and still is, difficult to recall.
Carrie Greene – My pleasure being here.