Friday, September 9, 2011

Carpe Diem–Do We Know What It Means?

So many people use the phrase “carpe diem” (seize the day) as a personal mantra around manic productivity – that to seize the day means that one should drive one’s self into the ground in an effort to squeeze as much productivity out of the day as is humanly possible.  Some use it as a rah rah in an effort to convince others that they are making the most of their day when in fact they are not.

I have come to learn that carpe diem means something else.

Some years ago, a dear friend of mine by the name of Narender Nath had been trying to get on my lunch calendar for weeks.  While our relationship was very important, I kept deferring him because of my busy calendar.  I finally agreed on a particular Monday to see him for lunch the next day (although I remember thinking at the time “how will I get all this work done if I take a couple of hours for lunch?”).

During the same period, my friend and colleague Eric Bennett had been nagging me about the need to relax and had kept offering to take me to a Yankees baseball game.  He had box seats through his company and wanted to treat me to a night out.  I was too busy living my interpretation of carpe diem and finally called him on a Monday afternoon and left him a message that I would take him up on his kind offer at whatever time worked for him.

I was attending a parent-teacher night one Monday evening and kept running into a friend of mine by the name of Stephen Fiorelli.  As my family wandered from appointment to appointment, I kept passing Stephen in the corridor and at one point, he indicated that he had something important to talk to me about and wondered if I was available for a coffee after the event.  I had had a particularly busy day and asked if we could reschedule for another time, which he happily agreed to.

It was Monday, September 10th, 2001.

24 hours later, it was too late to tell Narender I was sorry for not having gone to lunch with him sooner, to tell Eric that I should have taken him up on his offer to relax and kick back for a few hours or to listen to Stephen as he told me whatever seemed to be on his mind.

There are so many stories I could tell about these guys and the other friends that I lost.

Funny stories like how Narender and I created Yellow Shirt Day in our company, how he taught me to swear in Hindi to defend myself against an abusive corner-store owner in the basement of our building or how he was fascinated by TV commercials when he moved to the US because he believed that commercials provided true insight into the American character.

Stories of dedication about people like Eric Bennett who was the true epitome of a guy who went above and beyond to make sure that his colleagues were successful.   It was his desire to help me be successful in my company that created the opportunity for him to introduce me to Narender.

Powerful moments like when we were at Stephen’s house with his wife, kids, family and friends waiting for news that Stephen was ok ….. at one point the doorbell rang and I looked out the window, seeing policemen and a priest at the door and my heart sank as I then knew otherwise.

Stories of bravery, after hearing that Stephen, as a Port Authority engineer, stayed behind with his team to help the firefighters with floor plans.  They evacuated the building as it began to collapse.  The team survived – he did not.

Stories that will live with me forever.

I learned a lot from these guys but the greatest thing I learned from their loss was the real meaning of carpe diem.

For me, it’s no longer merely mistaking activity for productivity.

It’s recognition that the world is filled with tragedy but it is filled with beauty also.

But unless we take the time to slow down, to enjoy it, to be grateful for it and to share it with the people who matter, then we haven’t really seized the day.

In fact, we’ve let the beauty and potential of the day slip by us.

Carpe diem, to me, is a reminder to focus on what is really important and not just what seems to be important.

I am a better person because of Narender, Eric, Stephen, their families and all the people I have been blessed to know who were lost that day.

Carpe diem calls me to remember them by treasuring each day as a powerful gift of Life.

Carpe diem.

In service and servanthood,


PS I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible bravery of military servicemen, search and rescue, firemen, policemen, EMS/ EMT and all first responders, both during 9/11 and all who serve so that we may be safe.  I have reminded my children many times that when they see one of these people, they should always walk up to them and say “thank you” for putting their lives on the line, for so little pay and for people they will never meet.  Many of the firemen that I used to wave to as I walked to work in the morning in NYC rushed in to save others and never came out of the buildings.  We are grateful that they serve and sometimes, sadly, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live ….. and they do so bravely and unselfishly.


eric       stephen    narender

    Eric Bennett          Stephen Fiorelli                Narender Nath



Narender in his yellow shirt (it wasn’t yellow shirt day).  I’m in the green shirt.  The guy between us, Tom, was stepping off the PATH train in the basement of the World Trade Center at the moment the North Tower was struck and was able to leave the WTC safely.

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