September 10, 2019 – In Breaking News – The Atlantic – Garrett Graff
Joseph Lott, a sales representative for Compaq computers, survived one of the deadliest days in modern American history because he had a penchant for “art ties,” neckties featuring famous masterpieces.
“It began many years earlier, in the ’90s,” he said in an oral history with StoryCorps.
“I love Impressionist paintings, and I use them as a way to make points with my kids. I’d put on an art tie, and then I would ask my kids—I have three daughters—I would say, ‘Artist identification?’
And they would have to tell me whether it was a van Gogh or a Monet, and we would have a little conversation about the artist.”
On the morning of September 11, 2001, he had put on a green shirt before meeting colleagues at the Marriott hotel sandwiched between the Twin Towers, in advance of speaking at a conference that day at the restaurant Windows on the World.
Over breakfast, his co-worker Elaine Greenberg, who had been on vacation the week before in Massachusetts, presented him with a tie she’d spotted on her trip that featured a Monet.
“It was red and blue, primarily. I was very touched that she had done this,” Lott explained.
“I said, ‘This is such a nice gesture. I think I am going to put this on and wear it as I speak.’ She said, ‘Well, not with that shirt. You’re not going to put on a red-and-blue tie with a green shirt.’”
So when breakfast was done, his colleagues headed up to Windows on the World, located on the 104th floor of the North Tower, and Lott went back to his hotel room to change shirts. He ironed a white one, put it on, and then headed back down toward the hotel lobby.
“As I was waiting to go from the seventh floor back down to the lobby and over to the bank of elevators that would take me to the top, I felt a sudden movement in the building,” he recalled.
Lott would escape the World Trade Center complex that day.
Elaine Myra Greenberg, 56, a New York financial consultant, a season-ticket holder to the Metropolitan Opera, the “cool aunt” to her nephews and nieces, would not.
In researching my new book, The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, I’ve spent the past three years reading and listening to thousands of personal stories from that Tuesday—stories from Americans all across the country and people far beyond our shores.
(Journalist and former magazine editor Garrett Graff joins Margaret Brennan to discuss his new book, “The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11.” Courtesy of Face the Nation and YouTube. Posted on Sep 8, 2019.)
In all those published accounts and audio clips, and in the interviews I conducted, one theme never ceases to amaze me: the sheer randomness of how the day unfolded, who lived, who died, who was touched, and who escaped.
One thousand times a day, we all make arbitrary decisions—which flight to book, which elevator to board, whether to run an errand or stop for coffee before work—never realizing the possibilities that an alternate choice might have meant.
(Retired NYPD officer Joseph Lutrario was on duty the morning of September 11th, 2001. When the first plane hit the north tower, his unit was mobilized immediately. At StoryCorps, Lutrario remembered what happened once he arrived in Lower Manhattan. Courtesy of StoryCorps.)
In the 18 years since 9/11, each of us must have made literally 1 million such decisions, creating a multitude of alternate outcomes we’ll never know.
Over millennia, we’ve called “luck” and “fate” by many names, often intertwining the concepts with the unseen hand of Providence.
In mythology, the three Fates were goddesses who handed out destiny at birth, weaving a future that each mortal would be forced to live out inexorably—the concept of fate serving for many as a necessary explanation for the random cruelties, vicissitudes, and lucky breaks that determine so much of how life plays out.
That individuals might just blunder into these events for no reason at all was, for the ancient Greeks, just too bleak a thought.
Yet it’s hard to come away from the stories of 9/11 with a sense of anything other than an appreciation for the role randomness plays in our daily existence…
Continue reading… On 9/11, Luck Meant Everything
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