When you lose everything

Five days ago I knew absolutely nothing about Cantor Fitzgerald (CF). When my Professor referred to it in my night class, I thought it was a person’s name. In the past 48 hours, I have been constantly thinking about CF. I am taking a speech writing course for grad school, and one of our assignments was to watch the documentary “Out of the Clear Blue Sky.” It wasn’t OnDemand or Netflix, so I thought about doing what my undergrad-self would do, and just not watch it. But I’m so glad I went the extra step to rent it from Amazon, and stream it. I couldn’t look away from the  2-hour documentary. It tells the story of CF and its CEO Howard Lutnick, who lost 658 employees on 9/11. It was interesting to see 9/11 in the perspective of a company, especially a company who lost nearly everyone.

In our next class, we had a guest speaker — someone from the CF Boston office. Tom (I changed his name as I didn’t ask permission to share his personal story) was just about 30 years old on September 11, 2001. He had been working at CF as a stocks trader since he graduated college. He always knew he wanted to work on Wall Street, and when he made it there — it was everything he hoped it would be. He explained to us that throughout his 20s, he had everything. A great job that paid him LOTS of money, which allowed him all the “fine” (so he thought..) things in life. He spent all of his weekends hanging out with his buddies in Manhattan, spending weekends in the Hamptons, going on vacations, buying whatever he wanted. He got married in 2001. He had it all.

Then 9/11 happened, and he seemingly lost it all. He was in the Boston office when he heard the news. He knew 200 of the over 600 employees that CF lost, including two of his best friends. As a guy being a guy, Tom didn’t know what to do in the days that followed. He was grieving but he didn’t know how. He thought, one of my buddies loved tequila, so I’ll go to the bar and take a shot for him. The other loved Corona so I’ll have one of those too, in remembrance of them. He continued going to the bar — day after day. He became an alcoholic. But that wasn’t enough, he was still hurting. He brought cocaine into his life and became addicted to that as well. After months and months of drinking and drugs, his wife of two years now finally decided she couldn’t take it anymore, and left him. He was glad she left, now there would be no one to nag him about getting his life back together. He could drink more now, and do more drugs. Even though CF was still struggling to get back on its feet after their loss of nearly all of their employees, they noticed Tom’s behavior, gave him a drug test and fired him 2 days before Christmas. Tom’s job was everything to him, it was his identity. Now that he lost his job, he thought he had two options: he could take all of the money he had and go down to the Caribbean and open a bar, or just sit at a bar. Or, he could try to straighten out his life and pick himself back up. Luckily, Tom went with option 2. He went to a bunch of AA meetings, and eventually ended up at a rehab facility for 2-3 months. He got clean, and then went to get help on ways to deal with his sadness, anger, and depression in healthier ways such as breathing, meditating, exercise. CF noticed that Tom was bettering himself. They understood, as they, too, had to deal with grieving over the past years. They called Tom up and offered him his job back.

Tom still works at CF now, got remarried, and is living a healthy, clean life. As he was telling us his story, it was apparent that it was not easy for him. He wore a pin on his jacket of the Twin Towers. His emotions were there. His hands were shaking, he looked vulnerable, and hurt. He isn’t a professional storyteller. He is a man who had everything and lost it and had no idea how to cope with that. He explained to us that if you have the opportunity to see a clear perspective on what is important in life without it coming as a result of a tragedy then that is the best thing you could do for yourself. It’s so important to realize what matters, and what does not, before life tests you on that.

I had to hold back tears listening to Tom’s story. He thinks of his life as two different parts: the one before 9/11, and the one after. Tom explained that his story isn’t more important or special than anyone else’s. He said that we will all have a tragedy in our lives and they are all equally important. We need to learn how to grieve and express sadness and hurt in healthy ways. Putting the things in your life into perspective before life makes you do that, is vital. It’s also a good reminder that you never know what people are going through. My Professor first came in contact with Tom because he noticed Tom sitting by himself all the way in the back of a 9/11 vigil a few years ago in the Boston Common. It was the first 9/11 since Tom had stopped drinking and drugging. He didn’t know what to do with himself that night, and thought he needed to be in a place where other people would be remembering. He found in the newspaper that there was a vigil in the Common, and decided to go. I’m so glad that my Professor connected with him that night, which allowed him to share his story with us all of those years later.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”


2 thoughts on “When you lose everything”

  1. Thanks for sharing Tom’s story. So true that you just don’t know what people are struggling with and sometimes just a smile to a stranger can have an enormous impact. I once knew a girl with a t-shirt that read Kindness Can Change the World. How true it is!


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