On my way back from Paris on November 20, I thought what are the odds that someone was in Paris during the recent horrific terrorist attacks and in New York on 9/11 and watched in horror as the World Trade Center Towers came down? But that is just what happened to me
Let there be no doubt, we live in a dangerous world. My son and daughter-in-law were with my wife and I in Paris to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday. Just after dinner, they heard countless sirens and started to see numerous emergency vehicles as they walked to the Metro. At first they thought it must have been some accident close to the popular "in" dining spot recommended by our tour guide earlier in the day. However, through the Internet, they soon found out about the hostage situation close to where they just had dinner. My wife and I had an early dinner closer to our apartment near the Opera House and had just gotten in bed to go to sleep when the kids came in an told us what was happening. Of course we immediately turned the TV on and for the rest of the night watched the reports of this terrible tragedy.
On 9/11, I was in New York for an annual Parsons Brinckerhoff budget meeting when our director of communications came into the morning kickoff meeting to tell us a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center Towers. A few minutes later, she returned to let us know it had happened again and it became clear we were about 40 blocks away from a terrorist attack. We were evacuated from 1 Penn Plaza, and along with two of my colleagues walked to my hotel on Times Square and 42nd St. My room had an unobstructed view of the towers and both live and on TV we watched the Towers fall.
Of course these were both life changing experiences, although very different events. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives in New York and two iconic symbols of America were destroyed. Fewer people died in Paris, but they were mostly young people out for a good time in a city that was rocked in January by another attack. And, it seemed the city, already on high alert, should have been safe. Yes, we live in a dangerous world.
However, through direct experience related to these two events, I can tell you we live in a special time. The people of Paris are amazing. Of course in shock on Saturday, the day after the attacks, the city was quiet with most people staying in their homes. By Sunday, restaurants and markets opened, people were back on the street, and although nothing was "normal," people refused to let these terrorists intimidate this great city. It seemed that every conversation, regardless if you were local or a tourist, started with "are you OK and was anyone you know hurt?" During the three days of mourning declared by the French President, his country took the time to grieve, and then clearly make the statement, we will not allow these people change what we believe in. Airports were open hours after the attack, the Metro was also open quickly, and by Tuesday city life was almost back to normal.
Of course New Yorker's response to 9/11 is legendary. Never has a city shown more compassion to fellow man than New Yorker's did during the weeks following the attacks. The hotel where we were staying cut all expenses in half. Hospitals had to turn people away who were donating blood. As this was our the first terrorist attack of this magnitude, it took a week for airports and trains in New York to get back to normal and weeks for the nations air system to recover. However, the help and support received in New York that week will always be one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Unfortunately, the odds today of someone being in multiple locations during a terrorist attack are just too high. There are clearly people in this world who have lost their humanity and want to inflict harm on innocent people. But like the people of Paris, New York, and unfortunately, London, Tel Aviv, Boston and so many other places, we just can't let this sick, small group of people change our humanity. Yes, we need to be alert, more cautious than we would like, and do what we can to prevent these tragedies. But life goes on, and the best way to discourage these attacks is to show each and every time they bring the best out of us.
My wife and I plan to travel around the world soon for six months. We hope to never be impacted again by a terrorist attack. Of course, we hope no one has to experience one of theses attacks again. What are the odds?
Alan Wulkan is principal at the Wulkan Group.