I rolled my eyes when I saw the caller ID at my desk show the extension of our recruiting coordinator. She was famous for watching me arrive and timing my walk from the parking lot to my office so she could call me as soon as my butt hit the chair to ask me to come to her desk to go over something.
That day was different. She told me to come to the front conference room to see the news. A plane had just flown into the World Trade Center in New York City.
I raced up the red line to the conference room. I pushed my way through the crowd that was gathering to see the television. I watched the replay of the first plane flying into the tower and listened as newscasters speculated if this was a horrible accident or a deliberate act. They were still discussing that as the second plane hit the other tower.
I gasped. I remember hearing someone say “We are now at war” as I left the conference room and went back to my office to get my cell phone. I grew up in New Jersey so I had friends in New York City and I wanted to start checking on them. By the time I got back to the conference room, I remember the reports were rolling in about an attack on the Pentagon. I had friends there, too. One of my closest Sorority sisters was a recruiter who regularly visited the Pentagon for work. I spent the next few hours getting in touch with people to account for my loved ones. I ended up leaving early to go home where I had another phone line I could use to make and receive calls.
I was glued to my phone, news and email for the remainder of the day. The only break I took was to call my nephew. It was his birthday. We had to cancel his celebration dinner because many of the restaurants closed early in light of the attacks. He was sad that those evil people had ruined his birthday.
There were no flights for the next day or so after the September 11th attacks. Our employees were scheduled to be paid on Friday. The checks were sent from our home office in California and usually delivered on Thursday afternoon. Now, checks wouldn’t deliver until Monday. Employees with direct deposit wouldn’t be impacted since electronic funds transfer was not impacted — but anyone with a live check would not receive their check until 3 days after the actual pay day.
I announced this to our employees as soon as I was notified on Thursday morning. I assumed everyone would be understanding considering … but they weren’t understanding at all! For the rest of the day there were people in and out of my office demanding something be done to get their money faster. I was as understanding and apologetic as I told them that there was nothing anyone could do.
I went to get a snack and overheard a group of employees complaining about how unfair it was that they were being inconvenienced over something “stupid.” The attacks were hundreds of miles away and happened days ago so there was no reason to “punish” them for it by holding up their money.
I snapped! I interrupted and told them that their conversation was inappropriate and insensitive, that thousands of people were missing, injured and killed in that “stupid” attack, and there was no conspiracy to punish them. I tried to remain professional and somewhat composed but, from the looks on their faces when I finally stopped fussing at them, I didn’t do a very good job. I didn’t care. I just wanted all the petty chatter to stop.
Not wanting to be any more of a spectacle, I took my snack back to my desk. An employee had followed me back from the breakroom and came into my office.
She thanked me for stepping in and saying something to those employees in the breakroom. She said she had just found out that her grandmother who had cancer was being moved to hospice and didn’t have much longer to live. “I know it’s not as big as the attacks but, for me, it is just as important. And listening to them talk like that …” She started to cry. I didn’t say a word. I just let her get it out. She stopped a few moments later. She thanked me again and left.
All around us, people are silently suffering with hurts we have no idea about. We can’t walk around on eggshells afraid of triggering someone’s emotions, but we can temper our speech to be more sensitive — especially when we know about a crisis. You don’t know what someone or their friend or family member is going through — and how the words you speak will impact them. We should try our best to speak words that are positive and encouraging, especially as HR and other members of management. We never know who is listening or who it will help.
No matter what date the calendar says, it may be September 11th for someone in your organization. Be aware. Be sensitive. Always remember. Never forget.
Peace and comfort to all who read this, today and every day. God bless us, everyone.