I remember where I was and what I was doing and how I responded on Sept. 11, 2001. I also remember the column I wrote immediately afterward and posted the following week.
It is one of the few columns I have ever written that became etched in my mind. That column had a specific message that is still important today and might be worth revisiting: Never take interpersonal relationships for granted.
Throughout your day, you interact with any number of people, from the person behind the counter at your favorite coffee place to your workplace colleagues. And every interpersonal interaction leaves a mark. Some are more important than others, but there is a butterfly effect to each and every one of them. If you are rude to a coffee counterperson, it leaves a mark. If you flash a smile or say something nice, it has an effect. It doesn’t take much to leave a positive mark on the world, but you’d be surprised how little people take the second to do these things.
Following 9/11, I was saddened to hear the stories of people who went to work and were never seen again. People lost friends, colleagues and family members. I was lucky enough that a few of my friends who worked in the World Trade Center were all away from work that day. I was also struck by the fact that I more than likely had met others or walked past people who were there.
The memories have dimmed slightly for those involved in the WTC attacks. Now attention has shifted toward the mass shootings and other horrible events that seem to take place every week in this country. This once again brings to mind the idea that every interaction you have with someone could easily be the last time.
When I think of that, I realize that I never want to be responsible for one of those last interactions being negative. I want to, if possible, only leave the world around me slightly better for having been a part of it. It’s a pretty lofty standard, but one I often think about.
We can make the world a better place not by always looking at the big picture (that is too hazy and convoluted right now). We can make it better by focusing on each interaction in and of itself. If each of us were focused on simply leaving a positive mark around us, things would get better as a whole.
Yes, I live in California, and this may sound “new agey.” You can call me crazy and you can bash me for being open and honest about an emotional issue in a media-oriented column. You can even say this is the wrong place to make this kind of statement, but I disagree. I'd like to help make sure our loss that day is never taken for granted.
After all, each of the 2,996 people who were lost that day had a last interaction with another person. I would hope that someone flashed them a smile or gave them an unsolicited compliment, because that's what everyone deserves from time to time.
What I ask of you is simple. Today, smile at someone or do something nice. Show a little compassion. Do something that leaves a positive mark on the day, however small. All of these little tasks add up -- and they honor the people whom we lost on 9/11.