I’m sitting on the couch tonight flipping through channels when I hit one of the tons of 9/11 specials being aired. It never fails to make me choke up watching footage of that day.

Based on my commute 11 years back, it’s very likely that one of those planes flew right over me on my way into work. I can still remember the sick feeling in my stomach as I watched on a 15 inch TV that morning. The company I worked for at the time had a POP or “point of presence” on the 101st floor of one of the towers…this was being manned by a small crew. We were an internet provider and this was our central location for routing traffic to and from Manhattan. We literally watched our guys die on that little TV, then witnessed our network operation center start routing internet traffic around that area when our POP disappeared. After all the different rumors were sorted out by the news networks I remember turning to my supervisor and saying “this hasn’t happened since Pearl Harbor”.

What a surreal day, I remember going to the loading dock for a cigarette and not seeing a plane in the sky…except for the occasional F15 that seemed to be patrolling the metro Boston area. Everyone on our crew spent a large portion of the morning calling family all over the country between taking requests from our headquarters. We worked efficiently, but it was the furthest thing from our minds….we all wanted to be home with our families. The day dragged as you could imagine and before the clock hit 5 a rumor was spreading that a partner of ours might have lost their founder on one of the flights…that company was Akamai.

The drive home was extremely long…traffic was 10 times worse than normal. But I can honestly say it was the easiest traffic jam I ever had to traverse. Everyone was actually nice to each other. Everyone was observant, making room for people to get into traffic and I don’t recall hearing a horn during the entire ride. I finally get home to Dorchester, walk through the door and my Dad (a former Marine) giving me that look that only a son can make out in a split second. He was visibly pissed…and I remember growing more angry as the evening went on. The 24 hour news coverage filled with repeated loops of the planes hitting the towers and then collapsing where burned into my head.

The next few days I found myself taking a massive inventory. Should I sign up for military service even though my career was starting to take shape? I was at odds with myself….but things would solidify fairly quickly. That week, my company asked me if I would like to join a team to help with the efforts in DC. I pounced on it without a blink. That night I realized the weight of my decision when I told my family. Mom and Pops were absolutely shocked, which hit me as a surprise, being such patriotic people. They immediately started hitting me with questions that helped me realize fairly quickly they were just being parents. Little do they know I may have come home that week signed up for military service.

September 31st 2001, here was this kid from Dorchester getting badged at the Pentagon. The month that followed shaped me for the rest of my life. From that point on I paid closer attention to the world around me. Not only from a political perspective but from a human angle as well. I wouldn’t say I became a passive person, that’s not a Dot Rat, we tend to be independent and rough around the edges. But I can honestly say I tried to be nice to people first. I became more aware across the board. Opening doors, respecting people’s space, maybe offering to help with a jump start or carry some heavy bags for a stranger. This was new ground for me. I wouldn’t say I was selfish before, but I never went out of my way. I found out that I genuinely enjoy helping people on any level…and all I wanted was a thank you.

In the grand scheme my contribution was barely visible on a microscope, especially when compared to those in uniform who sacrificed so much.

The irony in this amazes me to this day because I was driven to go help my country…..then during some of it’s darkest hours my country helped me become a better human being.

The next time you see our flag, stop and reflect, even if just for a few seconds.

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