A game of inches

Football, baseball, hockey. You name the sport and you’ve probably heard someone refer to it as a game of inches (sorry, rest of the world, the phrase “game of centimeters” just doesn’t have the same ring to it). Trick is, you can apply that to life as well. An inch here, or a moment there, and things can turn out very differently.

Have you ever had a moment where you thought, “Boy, another inch/foot/second/minute and I’d have been in trouble!” I’ve only had a few. One was a car accident I witnessed. The driver apparently fell asleep or passed out at the wheel, lost control of the car, swerved back and forth across three lanes of a major interstate and managed to walk away without, apparently, hurting themselves or anyone else. I noticed their erratic driving before anything happened and had slowed down to remain behind the person. Alongside me, a group of motorcycles had just pulled up. Probably about a dozen or so in cruising formation. It occurred to me that, had I been a second faster, not observed her slight swerve onto the shoulder prior to the major accident, that my family and I could have been involved in a serious accident. The same could be said of the motorcyclists. Someone could have died.

They didn’t, but it was a really just a matter of moments. If find this thread of thinking both fascinating and mind boggling. So much of what happens to us is just a matter of timing. I’ve been thinking about this lately because of the whole Ebola “crisis” thing. It could really make you paranoid to do anything. I live near Princeton and if you’ve been paying any attention to the news, you’ll know that a news correspondent recently broke quarantine in town. And, while the CDC has claimed that she didn’t risk public safety, it highlights the reality of the situation: If you rely on potentially exposed individuals to police themselves, this could get out of hand.

It makes for fascinating story telling and the butterfly effect is always an intriguing concept. But it all becomes a little less fascinating when the story and intrigue are happening in real life. I don’t want to have to look back and say, “Gee, what if I hadn’t sat next to that guy who was coughing on the train?”

Ebola is a terrifying prospect. Stay informed and educated about signs, symptoms, and modes of transmission. That’s the only way we’ll beat this.

I Remember 9/11

September 11, 2001 was one month to the day after my wedding day. We sailed out of NY harbor on 8/12/01 and took pictures of the towers on a cloudy, drizzly day. I couldn’t fathom that they would be gone a month later and our lives would be changed forever.


Anyone who was old enough to remember, knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers in New York City. I had just walked into the office, barely nine months into my first desk job. A coworker stuck her head out of her cube and told me the news. “Really?” My reaction was one of innocent disbelief. “A small plane?” That made sense to me. A small plane getting lost or disabled and hitting a tower. That made sense. Not an airliner… and certainly not an airliner hijacked by religious zealots. “No, an airliner.”

By the time I logged onto my computer, Flight 175 had crashed into the South tower at 9:03 AM. The Internet slowed to a crawl (remember, this was 2001), but for some reason, my computer is able to refresh images on MSNBC.com. It’s one of the few media feeds we are able to get. A crowd develops in the confines of my small cube. We chatter about the events. At 9:43, flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. “We’re under attack!” someone says. It’s a statement that sounds absurd, but appears more and more real as the minutes tick by.

We discover that a coworker’s sister works in the North Tower. She cannot be reached by phone.

At 10:05 AM, the unthinkable happens. I refreshed my internet feed to see a new picture of the South Tower coming down in a cloud of dust and smoke. “No way it totally collapsed,” says a coworker. “No way the whole thing came down. The top probably just fell off.” If only that were true.

At 10:10 AM, Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania.

At 10:28 AM, the second tower collapses.

The coworker’s sister would not survive the day.

Around 1 PM, my company announces that employees may go home at their discretion. I leave immediately. I want to see my wife. I want to go home and feel safe again.

At the time, we lived in an efficiency and were so broke, we didn’t have cable. When my wife got home, we sat in her car and listened to the radio at intervals before going to bed. I stayed home the next day and listened to the radio on and off. We went grocery shopping that night. Living in Northwestern NJ at the time, we were in the direct path of flights coming into the East coast. You were used to seeing planes in the sky. That night, the sky was empty and unsettling. It was as quiet as I have ever known it.

The following weeks were quietly chaotic. I worked in a haze as I dealt with my own feelings about the tragedy. Being so close, the stories of loss and close calls were numerous. “I was supposed to be in the North Tower that morning, but I was running late.” “I lost my uncle.” “There were dozens of cars at the train station left behind by commuters who hadn’t made it back that day.”

A week later, my boss (a woman in her late 70s at the time) makes a point of declaring she doesn’t know what the fuss is about. “More people were killed at Pearl Harbor.” I’m 26 at the time. I have no argument. Now, I would say, “But Pearl Harbor wasn’t in our back yard. And that was a war with clearly defined sides. And there was a military objective behind that attack.” And someone who knows anything could probably come up with a dozen other arguments against that statement. But, that was the defence she had chosen to put up. Otherwise, you had to admit that it had scared the hell out of you. Which it had.

Whether you like to believe it or not, the events of 9/11 changed everyone. It became this generation’s Pearl Harbor, in a war few can define. The experience has made me who I am today, for good or bad. I hope that my son will never have to see an event transpire like that one. I hope he can grow up in a more tolerant world that isn’t driven by greed and power. But, that’s wishful thinking.

At this point, I have the urge to run off into a diatribe about money being the root of all evil, which means I should probably just stop while I’m ahead. A peaceful Patriot Day to you all.
Event times referenced from: http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/09/11/chronology.attack/

Differing Opportunities

We met up with some old friends this last weekend. Late in the day, I found myself having a conversation with someone I didn’t remember sharing much of a past with. We’d moved in very different circles in high school, but we’d shared the commonality of singing in the boy’s choir group. He brought it up with some fondness and waxed reminiscent of days when the ladies of the larger choir basked in our jocular glow. He said all this with a wink and nudge as if I must have had a similar experience to the one he described. Imagine his surprise when I contradicted his assumption. “Well, it was happening. You just didn’t let it happen,” he said. Not being one to argue (have I ever mentioned that I’m awefully passive-aggressive?), I simply nodded and breathed a sigh of relief when the waitress interrupted to take our order.

But I couldn’t forget the moment. This insinuation that life was happening around me and, if I had just taken the leap, I would have had the same experience, is an awful thing to consider. Had I really been that blind? It wouldn’t surprise me entirely. I led a very sheltered childhood and was prone to conservatism. But, as someone who was always looking for inclusion in the right crowd (and often not finding it), it’s hard for me to believe it was right under my nose all along.

I didn’t date in high school. This is a statement that has surprised more than one person in my life. “Seriously? You didn’t date?” It’s not like it was an active choice! Tall, skinny, red-haired, geeky, self conscious to a fault. It was a poor combination. Looking back now, I also went through periods of depression and suffered situational anxiety. Heck, I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 19. Then I married the next girl I kissed and she’s still a pretty damn good kisser. But I digress.

None of us like to miss out. But, there’s missing out on a free lunch, or that 50% off sale at Target, and there’s missing out on life. Not everyone has the same opportunities, whether it is in life or love or money. Each situation, no matter how similar, is unique. Have I missed opportunities in lfe? Sure, we all have, but, in my eyes, this wasn’t one of them. Yes, I was in the same place and time and situation as you, but I wasn’t blind to something. It just didn’t happen to me that way and that’s just how life is sometimes.