9/11 at Microsoft

“Our envy of others devours us most of all.  Rub you eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else those in the world who love you and wish you well.  Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from them in anger”

– Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In my journal  on Sept 16th I wrote those words as they seemed to help cope with those tragic events of September 11th, 2001.   I find the Russian writers heavy hand a good way of dealing with life’s lower points.  I cannot add much to a day that so many of us experienced in so many ways.  This is just an account of my day, which was just another day in which I was going to work at Microsoft.

The morning started like so many.  I had two young boys at the time.  One was 2 and the other was nearly 6 months old.  I woke up with the oldest and my wife soon followed with the youngest.  He was hungry so she fed like many mothers do, child to breast.  It was Tuesday and I had to go to work.  It was also the day my parents took care of my older son.  Luckily my parents lived not more than 2 minutes from the Microsoft campus so it was convenient.  That day I was attending an internal conference at the new conference center on campus. 

Before I went to work I needed to fill up my 1994 four-wheel drive Ford Ranger with gas.  I was dressed and ready to go so I took my two-year old and we hopped into the Ford Ranger and drove over to Costco to fill up the truck.  As usual I was listening to Fisher and West on 103.7 the Mountain.  They were playing music and providing traffic updates.  A small news item was about a small aircraft that had hit the World Trade Center.  As we drove and Fisher and West spoke we neared Costco.  It was then Fisher said, “another plane has hit the World Trade Center”.  As Fisher and West continued to talk Fisher abruptly said, “I have got to leave for a second and check this out”.  It was at that moment I knew this was no accident.  These two DJ’s had been on the air for a long time and were true professionals, for Fisher to suddenly leave on air  for a moment to watch the television told me something was not right in the world.

I filled up the truck and raced home as the news was starting to filter in that a United Airlines Jet had hit  the World Trade Center and it was believed the first plane was a jet as well.  I got home jumped out of the truck, ran round to the other side and pulled my two-year old out the passenger door of the truck and raced into the house.  As I launched myself through the door I put my two-year old down and raced into the living room.  My wife heard me and saw me running to the television and was asking, “what’s going on?”.  I replied, “A plane hit the world trade center”.  Then I turned on the television to Channel Five and the Today show.  And then there it was, a Boeing 767 flying directly into the World Trade Center.  Before our eyes, as a look of horror overcame our faces, we had just watched at least 300 and probably more people die.  Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters would not be coming again, ever.

As we watched the news reports we had to get ready for the day.  I got my son in the truck and we drove off to Redmond.  As I drove south on I-5 and then merged west bound onto 520 the reports were streaming across the radio.  Many reports were unconfirmed.  Car bombs in Washington DC, planes hi-jacked but how many?   The reports kept coming in.  What was happening was our entire nation had become unsettled and no-one, not even the “freedom of the press” knew what was going on.  It was a moment unlike any in US history.

When I got to my parents they of course were watching.  I asked them not to watch TV as I did not want my son watching, since he was at that age where he was beginning to take in and absorb everything he saw.  This was one event I did not want him to absorb.  For the first time in fatherhood I found myself saying that old cliché, “he is only a child”.  It just was not so cliché anymore.  With that I said my goodbye’s and I got back in my Ford Ranger and drove off to the Microsoft conference center.

When I got to the conference center I walked in to the new facility with its new rooms and tables set with breakfast items.  I walked into room we were scheduled to be in which was a large room that held around 100 people with a big movie size video screen.  But rather than Powerpoint’s today we had the news on and the site of the World trade Center’s twin towers on fire.  People from offices all over Microsoft North America.  It was to discuss some new Partner Programs as far as I remembered, but who cared. It was a dazed audience as we just all sat and stared at the big screen . It was as if no one was comprehending what was going on.  We just watched.  Then at 9:59 am the South Tower fell.  There were screams in the audience.  We were so far removed yet so close.  Who could do such a thing? Why?  We sat another 30 minutes until 10:28 when the North Tower fell.  The screams and yell came again and then it was over.  What had started as a quite morning had produced a horror that no one could envision. 

After the North Tower fell news began to filter in.  The skies were closed.  Anyone who had a flight out of Seattle would not be going home anytime soon.  When I went out into the hall people were already in planning mode.  I heard of some guys from Detroit who had rented a car and were driving home.  Confusion was everywhere.  I was just in a daze.  I went back into the room and it was apparent the people who had organized  the meeting were trying to figure out what to do.  At 11:30 they decided to move forward with the presentations.  They started and I listened and watched.  Some people were actually engaged and asking questions.  I couldn’t.   The event was just too great for to me and many people in the audience to ignore.  I thought it was a poor decision and around noon I just left and decided to go home. 

 I left and went to pick up my son a couple of miles away at my parents house.  As I left for the drive home my mind was filled with anger and confusion over the events that I had seen that day.  Even though the day was only half over I was tired.  As I drove over the 520 bridge on Lake Washington and saw Seattle before me I realized how beautiful the day was.  It was similar to New York in that regard.  The sky was clear blue and the water on the lake was very calm and soothing.   It seemed like the flames of hell were in my mind but the beauty of my hometown was captivating and I could not reconcile the two.  I crossed the bridge and decided to go to the church where I was married, Blessed Sacrament.  I needed peace.  I needed to turn the radio off.  I needed to turn the TV off. I needed to turn the media off. 

To my surprise when I got there and went into the parish.  My son and I were the only two people there.  I sat in thepews and bowed my head.  Looking.  Searching.  Trying to understand and find reason in a world I did not understand anymore. My son was jumping and running around the pews in a joyful kind of play.  It was a paradoxical sort of moment, that maybe only a child could provide.  In its own way it was as real as life could be.  I went home and the rest of the day has fallen from memory.  Probably because I turned the TV on.  The one thing I remember is the sky was quiet, except for the occasional fighter jet that flew over head.  It was frightening.

In the coming days many acts of heroism would come to light and there were people at Microsoft who did their part.  Kim Daley the GM for the Microsoft Ney York office did her part in working with Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s office.   I knew Kim having worked with her before, she was a very hard working dedicated Microsoft employee and it did not surprise me she rose to the occasion.  I am sure there were many employees not just at Microsoft but many other companies in corporate America who rose to the occasion. It was just what had to be done.  The Microsoft human resources department, on a global scale, communicated throughout the week and kept every employee informed on what we as a company were doing and what people could do to help.  It was great work ,it was impassioned work.

The events of 9/11 caused many Americans to do things just because it was the right thing to do.  because it was what was needed at the time.    As a country we came together because things needed to be done.  Imagine what we could accomplish if we thought that way all the time.  Unfortunately that is not the way things work.  But in any case lets just pause and maybe, just maybe let’s imagine what could be.

A month later the season of Fall had settled in.  I love fall above all other seasons.  I love the changing of colors.  The change in temperature to a coolness greeted with warmth in the afternoons.  I looked forward to raking the leaves from underneath the large maple tree in our yard.  It was kind of magical experience.  On this day on October I was with my eldest son, he with his little leaf rake and me with my man rake.  As we sat there under a bright blue sky a jet plane flew over head.  Leaving a jet stream in its wake.  then my son uttered words that caused all the blood in my veins to freeze, “Daddy, Daddy, plane fall down, plane fall down…plane fall down….”.  Then I wept.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Hoffmann September 11, 2010

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