Eight years ago today, this was a different world.  Instead of a grey day in New Hampshire, it was a bright blue morning in New York City.  We were in mid-town, a group of Timberland execs, some of our customers, and a few business partners, finishing up a sales meeting. All about selling boots.  To conclude the conference, we had scheduled a day of community service.  Yeah, I know, golf is the usual corporate thing–but a) I suck at golf, b) golf courses are environmentally unfriendly, and c) we actually believe that part of running a for-profit business is being actively invested in the communities you work and live in.  So eight years ago today we were in New York, heading off to service.

Early this morning I was re-reading the note that I wrote at the end of that day.  After a day in which our world changed forever, the same group of Timberland folks were on a bus we bought (it’s a long story, but it was hard to get out of New York City that night), flying along some parkway in Connecticut, silent and sad.  Below is part of what I wrote to our global community as a small group of us rumbled home toward our families:

As we stood on 5th Avenue this morning, and saw the flames and smoke from the World Trade Center, as we waited to board buses to take us from the safety and security and comfort of midtown Manhattan to the one of the bleakest neighborhoods in urban America—as we stood there, our hearts melted.  And our fears multiplied.  And our hearts raced.

But we went, from midtown to the Bronx.  And by the time the ride was over, the news was clearer, and the emerging clarity did just the opposite of what it usually does—instead of feeling more confident as we knew more, we felt less comfort, more nausea.

When we got off the buses, I told everyone what we knew, and asked the 125 men and women assembled what was in their hearts.  Should we stay, and do the planned day of service at the Clara Barton School in the Bronx, or should we try to find a way out of New York, away from the horror and the fear?  And in small quiet groups of people, the decision was made, to stay, and to serve.

And so a small group of people, on a small concrete patch in the Bronx, responded to hatred with love today.  They met anger with kindness.  They exacted revenge—but the revenge of sweat in good purpose, rather than the revenge of blood spilled in rage.  While we called our families, and consoled each other, and reeled at the news, we stood together, and we served together.  We showed a group of children that there are competing models for how the adult world can work.  There is the model of destruction, and hatred, and despair, and by contrast, there is the model of creation, and community and even congregation—different people, committed to the common goal and good. (Clara Barton’s) Principal Parker told us that he would always remember today for the evil that was done, and he would never forget today for the goodness that was wrought.

Our hearts grieve with all who have lost, and our prayers, from our different traditions and faiths and personal points of view are united in gratitude to those brave men and women who struggle to protect us, and care for the hurt, and rescue the injured.   May all who are grieved be comforted.  May each and every broken body and heart and mind be mended, completely and speedily.  And may each of us find within ourselves the strength to affirm what is expected of us—to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly, with our God and with our fellows.

Eight years ago, we promised the kids at that school that we would return and serve with them, every 9.11 until every one of them had graduated from the school.  Eight years ago we promised…and today, we showed up, again.  Even though none of the kids in the school today were Clara Barton students that first 9.11; all of those students have grown up and moved on.

Funny; the kids have moved on, but we can’t.  So, we keep going back.  For the same reason we stayed that first day; each of us had his/her reason, but together we needed to stay.

In these days, riven with fear, characterized by polarity….what’s a bootmaker, or a bricklayer, or a candlestick maker to do? When we’re not sure….we get up from our desks, and we go out into the world, and we serve.  We do what we can to repair the tears and gashes in the civic space around us, and while we are serving…we shore up our own souls, strengthen ourselves for the journey of adult living in a crazy world.

As the song says…love is love, and not….fade away.

We remember.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

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