A few years ago, I was on a plane bound for Edinburgh. I was going to attend a reunion with my school friends and was travelling on my own. Sitting next to me was a tall, blond-haired, American gentleman, aged about 40. Shortly after take off, we fell into conversation and what he told me has never left me. In fact, it is probably one of the biggest factors in my deciding to ‘get off my backside’ and start living.
As we chatted he told me that he was on his way to Gleneagles for a golfing weekend with some friends, also Americans. I remarked that his wife must be very understanding to let him fly all this way, just for the weekend. It was what he said next that has lived with me ever since.
On September 11th, 2001, he was working in one of the Twin Towers when the planes struck. He described to me in detail just what it was like. The noise, the dust, the people screaming and the intense heat. He was lucky. He managed to make his way down the stairs and escaped with very little in the way of injury. 13 of his friends and colleagues weren’t so lucky. As you can imagine, this had a profound effect on him.
He told me that, prior to this disaster, he had been a workaholic. His wife and children hardly ever saw him and even when he wasn’t at work, he spent very little time with his kids. But after 9/11 he decided that this had to change. Surviving the disaster when so many of his friends had lost their lives, brought home to him just how fragile and precious life is. It also made him realise what’s really important in life and for him that was his family.
He took the decision to give up his career as a financier in New York, and move his family to Vermont. There he set up his own business as an accountant. He finishes work at the same time that his kids finish school in order to spend time with them. He told me about how he takes them skiing in Winter and plays basket ball and other sports with them in Summer. He obviously doesn’t earn as much as he did in New York. But he and his family are much happier.
Playing golf at Gleneagles was something that he’d always dreamt of doing and now he was fulfilling that dream.
Little did I realise when I left the house that morning that I would meet someone, if only briefly, who would have such a profound effect on me.
It must have taken a lot of courage for him to completely change his life in this way. The memory of what happened will never leave him. But he told me that he tries to life his life for his friends and colleagues that lost theirs that day. That too must take a lot of courage.
Life has been a little difficult of late. But remembering that brief encounter has helped me to realise that I’ve still got a lot to be thankful for.
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