9/11 — What Really Won

When we remember September 11, 2000, many of us think about first responders, passengers on United Flight 93, and father Mychal Judge who, while in prayer, became the first person to die on that terrible day.

Fewer of us know about two other individuals from 9/11, Abe Zelmanowitz and Ed Beyea, and the extraordinary lesson that they taught us — That as human beings, we all have the unique capacity for greatness, if we just allow ourselves to hear our calling. [1]

Abe and Ed were both members of the IT department at Health Insurer Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield (“Blue Cross”), working side by side on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center (“WTC”) North Tower. Abe was a religious Jew from Brooklyn in his mid-fiftees. Ed was a 43 year old Christian from upstate New York. On the face of it, Abe and Ed were just two regular computer guys.

Yet Ed’s journey to that cubicle was anything but ordinary. 19 years earlier, in a fluke accident, Ed broke his neck and became a quadriplegic. Instead of allowing that moment to forever define him, Ed refused to give into despair, and instead resolved to give himself a great life. He smoked cuban cigars, learned to maneuver his wheelchair with his chin, and taught himself how to program computers, for which he was hired by Blue Cross in 1987. Ed also allowed himself to be helped by others, including Irma Fuller, his aide who helped him get ready for work, and who accompanied him on the hours long journey to the office. In showing up to work that day, and every day, Ed demonstrated a determination that among other things endeared him to Abe, who befriended his officemate soon after they began working together in 1989.

As it turned out, Abe too was capable of extraordinary determination. Like Ed, he was also at his desk on the morning of 9/11/2000, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower 65 stories above them. In the chaos that ensued, Abe called his sister. What he said to her was telling: “WE’re ok. WE’re just waiting to go downstairs”.

Remarkably, while this moment of crisis naturally unleashed the most basic instincts of self-preservation in most people, Abe reacted differently. Resolutely. Selflessly.

With one two-letter word, “WE”, Abe powerfully, profoundly, and proudly engaged in the ultimate act of defiance against the 9/11 hijackers:

  • Against their fanaticism, Abe demonstrated clear-headedness
  • Against their fear-mongering, Abe demonstrated hope
  • Against their hate, Abe showed love
  • Against their complete disregard for others, Abe demonstrated the ultimate love of neighbor as thyself

Abe and Ed, who was 300 lbs. and therefore could not easily be carried, never made it downstairs to safety. Yet as they stayed by each other’s side, their lesson of friendship lives on.

On this and every 9/11, and everyday in our fractured society, let’s honor Abe and Ed’s memory by considering what really matters in this world:

Who we are as Americans.

How “WE the people” ties us all together.

How, despite our differences, we all have the capacity to come together.

As friends.

And shine a bright light in this world even when all we see around us is darkness.

The author with a good friend

[1] Thank you to Bob Heleringer for sharing Abe and Ed’s story with the world

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Adam Kaplan

Adam Kaplan

Married father of 4 daughters. Loved the 80s. Purple is my favorite color.