In 10 Years

I just watched the pilot of Thirtysomething for the first time, and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is Tuesday. I got to thinking about what I’ve done in the last ten years, while I was Becoming a Thirtysomething.

Freshly-graduated, unemployed and job searching, I sat in my little apartment where I shared a bedroom with a girl I barely knew, using dial-up Internet on a second-hand computer on the carpet, because I had no space for a desk. This is where I was when the planes hit the towers. Three of my good friends were leaving town that day to go off into the world and Make Something of themselves. Because all planes were grounded that week,  I got to keep them for a little while longer. Several of us sat around my tiny coffee table that night over plates of spaghetti and wondered at what had happened, feeling so sad, overcome by the reality of an evil we had never really known existed. When we did finally all go our separate ways, we began our post-collegiate lives in a painfully-fresh, post-9/11 world.

My first real job came as a direct result of the tragedies in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. I was hired as an hourly production assistant for an new, encrypted homeland security satellite network that trained first responders to respond to terrorist incidents. I sat at little carts carrying Beta and DVCPro decks, poring over CNN video of the events of 9/11 for hours on end, finding shots for the producers to use in their training videos. One of our producers happened to be shooting within driving distance of the Pentagon, and she and her crew were the only cameras allowed inside the Pentagon during those first hours and days; the footage, still never seen outside the first-responder community, was striking. I eventually became one of those producers, and I spent several years traveling the country helping firefighters tell their emotional stories of lessons learned the hard way, so that others might not have to experience the same traumas.

I won my first Telly Award in 2007 – the silver one, which is the highest level – for a half-hour, documentary-style training piece on the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project in New York City. We now know that the rescue workers who worked at Ground Zero were exposed to alarmingly-high levels of an array of toxins, and those toxins, absorbed by their lungs and skin, are slowly killing them. My piece followed a firefighter, a past spokesperson for my network, who was going through the detox program as a last resort to help ease his severe fibromyalgia symptoms. After six weeks at the clinic, about 95% of his symptoms disappeared and have never recurred, and other participants enjoyed similar fairly-miraculous results. It was a story I felt honored to help tell.

When I left that company in 2008, I stopped seeing that kind of disaster footage on a daily basis. I lost touch with it, to a certain degree, although those images will never leave me. Informed by my twenty-something experiences in the post-9/11 world, I began listening to NPR and really VOTED for the first time. I dated a man for many years who was convinced that 9/11 was an inside job, and I watched him worriedly obsess over it, wondering in the back of my mind if it could be true, ultimately deciding that we may never know, and that would have to be okay. I became an online petition warrior to help change the world from my little corner of it, partly to Light a Candle instead of cursing the Age-of-Terrorism Darkness. My career progressed, and, worn from constant exposure to personal tragedy, I took a new job with a tiny, three-person company, moving on to corporate video and media support. I started wearing khakis to shoots instead of my network t-shirt and jeans. I carefully watch my boss run his own business so that someday, I will be confident in running my own. I discovered the world of personal finance, and I’m attempting to make up for the years of compound interest I lost while I was living just above the poverty line as I slowly built a career. I’ve recently made a foray into reality television, and I’m editing for my third series on my second national cable network. These days, my subject matter consists of trains, alligator rescues and interior design, rather than death, destruction and eternal suspicion.

Seeing the headlines this last week that attempt to put the last decade into perspective, I’m remembering where it is that I’ve come from, both personally and professionally, since that Tuesday. My sister is ten years younger than I, and she’s recently graduated and unemployed. She’s in that same strange, uncertain, uncomfortable place I was in then: sitting in a small apartment all day, sending job applications into the ether, not knowing what you will become or how the hell you’ll get there, or even where “there” is. And I don’t know what to tell her, except that somehow she’ll get there. Here. And that it’s okay to walk that path while remaining inside her own personal “sparkling,” pursuing the wonderful, good, beautiful and True, whatever the headlines Next Tuesday might bring.