Esquire, in the January 2002 issue, ran an article titled “My Escape from the 81st Floor of the World Trade Center.” It told the story of Michael Wright, his experience on that infamous day, and how life felt shortly afterward. It’s like so many other things we’ve seen or read about 9/11 in that it’s definitively beyond what we’d be capable of imagining.
Cal Fussman, who put Michael’s words into their Esquire form, called him for a follow up interview in 2017. Beyond a recapping of the original conversation, Michael stopped at one point and thanked Cal for having put his story in print all of those years ago. In the time following, as everyone wanted him to recount his story, the article gave him an out – he could just reference a copy or point them towards the website. As his kids grew up, he used the article as a means for letting them absorb what he had been through and then ask questions. In many ways, Michael felt Cal captured the essence better than he could retell it. He was genuinely grateful and made sure to take the opportunity to express it. Cal, who has interviewed everyone from Gorbachev to Muhammad Ali, said that this might be the greatest thing his words had ever done.
Recording stories is a lot like taking a picture in how it fixes a collection of details in time and space. When we reflect back, we (re)experience the moments with fresh perspective. We may not be interviewing people for the same purposes as Cal, but we professionally are all trying to help clients get some aspect of their story down into writing. Over the years, every meeting is like a new picture. Over time, that collection can add powerful and important perspective. When we take the pictures back out together, we can start to really understand our own attitudes about what matters going forward.
One remarkable aspect of Michael is how happy, normal, and funny he seems. He mentions, as one might expect, that much of regular life compared to his experiences on 9/11 is “not such a big deal,” and every day is always a gift. If you read the article and/or listen to their conversation, be sure to take this away: we can do people a great service by helping them to catalog their stories, and then to use those memories to inform their outlook. Both the storyteller and the writer can benefit from the exercise. As we all reflect on 9/11, we can make sure to pay special note of how its memory points us forward. We all have our own story, and we all have our own futures to face. Part of never forgetting is being alive to remember.