Wednesday, August 14, 2013

10 Years Later

August 14, 2003 is a day I'll never forget. But not for the reason you would think.

I've been reading and hearing stories all week about how this year will mark the 10th anniversary of the great power outage in New York City that also impacted most of the northeastern United States. It was, without question, the most surreal day we had while we lived there. Jen captured it well in a blog post she wrote six years ago. Yes, I really did walk to work that night (It was a little more than four miles from our apartment in Sunnyside, Queens) and I did feel like a fish swimming upstream with the mass of humanity LEAVING the city across the Queensboro Bridge.

But that was not what made the day memorable.

There were other snippets and moments that I knew I would never see again once the sun began to set: Times Square pitch black dark, for example. A partially-lit New York Times newsroom running on emergency generators, to name another.

But once again, not what made the day memorable.

We had finished putting out the paper (a great accomplishment under the circumstances), and a bunch of us decided to go outside and explore a little bit and perhaps find food and drink.

(Thinking back, it seems a little unusual that less than two years removed from 9/11 we felt it safe enough to do this. But then again, and improbably perhaps, there really was a sense of community and shared experience that night. Yeah, it was miserably hot, especially with no air conditioning. But we were in this together and we were going to get through it.)

We ended up in a bar on Eighth Ave that was making do with some improvised lighting. At some point late that night, it happened: One of my colleagues, someone I consider a friend to this day, gave me the pep talk of a lifetime.

It wasn't eloquent, but it was forceful. It didn't have one memorable line, but the message did come over clearly.

So what was the message? Aim high, because you can go as far as you want to in our profession. And if I was still doing the same thing in 10 years, he would find me and, well, I can't write what he threatened with me on this blog. In other words, failure was not an option.

For years, I would tease my friend that he went "Ben Affleck in 'Good Will Hunting'" on me that night. But there was something a little deeper than that. He talked about why it was important that I made it to a certain point, what it would mean for someone like him, who struggled and worked his way up in journalism.

I'm not entirely sure why he felt the urgency to tell me on that particular night. But from the perspective of 10 years, I'm so incredibly grateful that he did.

And it wasn't like I didn't have ambitions and had set goals for myself. But no one had ever really said: "I think you can do it. I believe in you." At least not in uncertain terms like my friend did in that bar in the middle of a sweltering night.

It was an important message during an important point in my career. And a lot of this was only going to come through hard work and time, which I gladly put in over the next 10 years.

The journey is not over. But thanks in part to that belief my friend showed, I feel I am on my way.