Personal Memories of
9-11 during this age of COVID-19

Dear Reader;

Watching the broadcasts and memorialization of lives lost this morning, I am instantly transported back to that day, 19 years ago. It was a crystal clear, sunny morning. I left my hotel room to pick up colored markers and creative supplies in my car and greeted my illustrator and collaborator Harvey in the parking lot. We commented on how extremely beautiful the morning sky was.

Back in our meeting room in the Morristown, NJ hotel we welcomed our clients, about 15 participants from Bristol Myers Squibb and Kraft. Our clients were exploring a potential partnership to develop a suite of new products for people with Type 2 Diabetes. My research partner Reva and I had conducted several focus groups with people living with this disease and with caregivers and we were equipped with a slew of fascinating learnings and needs-based opportunities to ground this creative phase of the program.

Our client team with members from New Jersey, NY and Chicago had joined together the afternoon of September 10th with a “Bread Breaking Ceremony” to begin its collaboration process. We began discussing the research findings and implications. The morning of the 11th, we started developing strategies and ideas. We worked feverishly for more than an hour when a distressed hotel employee interrupted our proceedings with a statement that a tragedy had struck and we should immediately come downstairs and look at the television monitor in the hotel lobby.  It was close to 10am by then; we had no idea what tragedy had taken place. We were shocked and terrified at what we saw. In a flash, everyone was on a telephone trying to find out what was happening with their communities and with their loved ones. The clients booked the last rental cars available in the area and everyone scrambled home. We learned a few days later that all made it back to their respective homes safe, but grief-stricken.

We needed time to let the tragedy and immediate aftermath sink in. When I spoke with the client team leaders a few weeks later it was clear that no one was willing to get on an airplane or travel soon. However, everyone agreed that we had made an impressive start and we wanted to move forward. We set upon a process experiment: could we continue to ideate together, but do so remotely?

19 years ago, there was no Zoom, and this idea was radical!

We designed a plan: Conduct three, 1-day sessions via video-conference. Reva and I facilitated the NJ and NY team from BMI’s video conference room and connected with the Chicago members in the Kraft video conference room. The process worked, but not quite as fluidly as in person. We accomplished our objectives and delivered a portfolio of high quality, consumer-needs based ideas developed sufficiently for further testing and evaluation. In my many years as a consultant, this project stands out as among my most memorable and meaningful.

As I reflect now on life during COVID-19 this September 11, 2020, I’m struck with parallels. As a global humanity, we are wounded and wondering when this current plague will end. I wonder, when will I feel safe to fly on an airplane again? I know that 19 years ago, I adapted to the then new normal of TSA and baggage search; now I expect to see a sea of masked travelers. For months after the Towers fell I was wary of strangers. My radar was heightened every time I took the train to New York; I looked over my shoulder. Was anything “out of place?” A package left unattended on a restaurant table? And then, some months later, I realized that life was “normal” again.  Until COVID-19 began in March of this year I looked forward to my regular excursions for work or pleasure to the city that I love without much care or worry.

Perhaps it will be another six months–or maybe twelve, till I feel comfortable enough to take that train to Manhattan again.

When will I return to conducting research and facilitating meetings in person? That’s hard to say. I’ve transitioned all my work to face-to-face via video, or using phone and other online chat based digital exchanges. The platforms work well, are convenient, save time, money and the wear and tear that physical travel entailed. But I’m missing the warmth and humanness of being shoulder-to-shoulder with others. I miss the opportunity to break bread with my clients; to do the “high-five” or spontaneous hug that would come after a good day’s work together. And the coffee talk with Zoom isn’t the same. But for now, this new normal will have to suffice.

With Wishes for Peace,

Laurie Tema-Lyn

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