They missed the debut of the iPhone, never downloaded a book to a Kindle, didn’t listen to music on Spotify, or get charmed by the antics of nieces and nephews on Instagram. They couldn’t know to tweet their location that Tuesday morning. Jay Z had a baby? With Beyoncé? They seem like our contemporaries to this day even though they never learned what was lurking in Voldemort’s past.
They missed the invasion of Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, years upon years of war. They missed out on the jargon we’ve learned to throw around so easily: IEDs and suicide vests, TSA and orange alerts, Ground Zero referring to just one spot on earth that everyone everywhere knows. They never had to remove their shoes to get through airport security. The lexicon that arose in the very moment of history they stood in, they never knew. They wore pumps and pencil skirts, khakis and button-downs to a war they entered without ever knowing it.
I am thinking especially, on this 9/11 morning 12 years later, of the young men, the bond traders at Cantor Fitzgerald arriving for work on the 102nd or 103rd floor of the North Tower, thinking of their banter, their hopes and dreams, the deals they planned to close that day. Cantor lost 658 workers as a plane taken over by al-Qaeda terrorists plunged into the building just above them. Two brothers worked at the equities desk, their chairs back to back each day. Weeks later they were identified by their mother from a photograph. She recognized the postures. One was standing by what had been a window, the other sitting, her boys among a crowd gaping over what had become the ragged cliff of a building about to fall.
On that morning Cantor managed 25 percent of the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar Treasury security market—think of the potential. And the young men, one minute full of energy and drive to push their lives and our fortunes forward, the next dead and gone. I think of my son and my son-in-law, mere lads then and 25 years old now, lunging into each day with purpose and a powerful force of ideas and commerce: What is the collective cost of such loss?
There’s the history we know so well, this day. We will never forget where we were, who first told us about the planes and the buildings, the awful day-after-day ruin and cleanup, and the terrible unfolding of the death toll—sons and daughters, mothers and fathers who went to work but never returned, firefighters rushing to a hopeless rescue, terror on the planes. What we forget about is the history that didn’t happen. What forces for discovery, advancement, capital formation, political organization, or benevolence disappeared into the ruins at Ground Zero, at the Pentagon, at Shanksville? What spark of genius or overriding plain sense went down in the towers? What is the collective cost, now 12 years on, of our collective loss?