I was late, and I was very annoyed.
I hate being late, and I hate waiting for people, yet my dear friend wanted to ride the train with me and was taking forever. I almost left without her, but she pled with me.
She was a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, which is down the street from the World Trade Center (WTC), and the plan was that I would take the WTC PATH Train to Hoboken, NJ, to my university, via a PATH station I never took normally, just so we could catch up and talk. The station was directly underneath the Towers.
We finally headed downtown, late late late, but the train suddenly stopped on the Christopher St. Station and sat for some minutes.
A voice finally came over the garbled PA: “Due to the situation at the World Trade Center, this train will not be moving downtown.” Everyone scoffed. There were “situations” in NYC all the time. All it usually meant to New Yorkers was that we would be late. Nobody was concerned.
Kicked off the train, we all cursed our way up the stairs, thinking about how we would get to where we were going. And then we saw the dozens of pedestrians standing motionless in the street: the low rise neighborhood gave a clear shot of the first building on fire. Moments later, we watched plane 2 hit the second building.
About 2 months before that, I was at the World Trade Center for an interview with a large Medical Insurance company for a web developer intern position.
The summer was unbearably hot. I came to the interview in elegant, open toed shoes, wiping my face with rice paper cloths after enduring a 6 block walk in 100% humidity.
The HR woman eyed me and offered me a glass of water. We spoke for a few minutes, and she ducked out to see if the development team was available to meet with me. She returned too quickly, pretending they were in an emergency meeting. She didn’t like me; I could tell.
It was the first and only interview where I hadn’t been hired on the spot. My ego wailed.
She called my university a day later, telling them I was unprofessional, that I had open toed shoes on, that I sweat. My counselor offered her that that it was 96 outside, that by then, I had been employed by the Federal Reserve Bank and several other large investment banks, all to no avail. This insurance company didn’t want me.
So I went to school that semester instead, was on my way to this school when instead, I found myself sitting on the ground, chain-smoking cigarettes, watching the black smoke, convinced World War III was upon us.
Days after the incident, when my friends and loved ones were all accounted for, I realized what had happened to me on both accounts:
Serendipity – once dressed in an annoyingly well-pressed gray suit and then in a friend who was perpetually late – saved my life.
I’ve often wondered about that woman who didn’t hire me because it was too hot outside. I don’t know what happened to her, but I thank her silently for being annoyed with my stupid shoes and hope she too had dinner with her family that September night.
I wish I could tell you that after those incidents I stopped being a dunce, that I stopped pushing up against circumstances that weren’t yielding to my will. But it’s not true. I do.
I still want what I want, but I am always called to remember this story when I get myself tied up in a knot, when something I WANT doesn’t happen. Or doesn’t happen when I want it to.
I remember that – quite easily – I could have been gone, and that both situations that saved my life were INCREDIBLY frustrating to me at the time.
We just never know.
Surrendering is sometimes all we can do, sometimes that is all that is asked of us. In business and in life.
And when it’s time to push, you push. But you listen when your pushing isn’t working.
Just listen. You never know what it might save.