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Reflecting on Priorities After 9/11

Terror attacks put true priorities into perspective.

As I write this column two days before the 10th anniversary of September 11th, I’ve come to realize that like most Americans, I will never forget the events of that morning. I had graduated from the University of Redlands four months earlier and was living with my father in San Bernardino, Calif. I was awoken by a text message I had received on my sleek, new Nokia 5190 cell phone. The message was from my mother and read, simply, “Turn on the TV.” I groggily did as instructed and was astonished to see what seemed like an endless loop of replays showing giant airplanes smashing into the twin towers.

I didn’t have much time to watch the news since I had to go to work. Back then, I was beginning what I’d convinced myself was a promising career renting cars for a company that rhymes with Schmenterprise. That day I’d been assigned to a tiny rental car branch at the San Bernardino Hilton. Upon arriving, I spent nearly all of my working hours sitting in the hotel bar watching coverage of the attacks. Everyone in the bar was transfixed, each of us no doubt trying to make sense of what we were seeing. The few customers who actually needed a rental car ended up delaying whatever plans they had and joined the crowd gaping at the TVs.

A few days after 9/11, I moved to Sacramento. With all my worldly and almost uniformly worthless possessions loaded into the back of my little Nissan pickup truck, I headed north. My plan was to live nearer to my then-girlfriend, who’d enrolled in graduate school at San Francisco State University. I would move in with a fraternity brother who’d taken a job at the state capitol. Eventually, I thought, I’d marry that girl, buy a house in the suburbs, have a couple of kids and keep slinging rental cars for a living.

That awful day marked a new chapter in my life. I had all my life’s major plans in place. In a rare bit of luck, everything actually went according to said plans, except for the rental car thing. Turns out I’m not very good at upselling people into SUVs and unnecessary car insurance. With a decade now having passed since 9/11, I wonder what sort of plans those who died that day might have had. And I grimace at the thought of those plans being wiped from existence in a few moments of fire and horror.  

So instead of using this month’s column attempting to convey some trite message about budgets, servers or mobile apps, I hope instead to share how important it is that we all try to find a bit more joy in each day, hug our loved ones a few seconds longer, and cling a little less tightly to the plans we’ve made.  


Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.