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9/11 - A Defining Moment

Updated on September 26, 2017
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Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Jack has worked at IBM for over 28 years.


9/11 was a defining moment for America and for me personally. Even though I did not know any of the 3000 victims, I felt connected to them and the families. I live in the suburb of NYC and I witnessed the destruction first hand. I hope we will never forget this tragic event.

- February 2016


I remember exactly where I was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I was at work in the IBM Research center in Yorktown Hts. NY and we gathered around the TV monitor by the cafeteria as we watched the devastation and the chaos. When we heard the 2nd tower was hit, we knew it was terrorism. When it was reported that the tower fell, I couldn't believe it. There must be some mistake. I did not believe it until I saw the video of the towers collapsing.

It's funny how our brain works. There are certain events that just seems to burn into our memory. I had the same experience with the day JFK was shot.

After the initial shock of that morning, I realized that our country was permanently changed by that one day of terror. I never imaged that my life would be affected in a very personal way.

How 9/11 Affected Me Personally

Just a few months prior to 9/11, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was not a smoker and yet he developed lung cancer. Not only that, it was one of the more aggressive type of lung cancer that required chemo and radiation treatment. He lived in Queens NY and I lived in Westchester County. On quite a few occasions, usually on weekends, I would make the trip to see him and sometimes take him to the clinic for treatment. When 9/11 happened, he was being treated in a hospital nearby and I would visit him quite often. I remember seeing the smoke near ground zero as I was driving along the TriBoro bridge on my trip there and back. This went on for well over a month. My father was later moved to a hospice when the treatment did not delivered the results. He past away just before Christmas 2011.

At work, my father's illness took its toll. I am grateful to my manager at the time who gave me the extra time off that I requested to spend more time with him. The events of 9/11 changed everything. At the time, we were working on a digital library project with the Egyptian Museum. This was a follow on of numerous successful projects dealing with museums and libraries worldwide. Post 9/11, our project was in limbo. Travel to the Middle East was suspended and we were not sure the direction of this project. In addition, the world economy took a major hit and we were entering a recession. IBM was not immune to this development. The following year, 2002, IBM announced a huge layoff and I was among the 60 or so resource action from the Research Division. Sad as it was at the time, I was not affected by this as most. I needed some time off and this was an opportunity for me to do something different.

My personal health was also a factor. In the few years prior to 9/11, I had developed a chronic disease which was difficult to diagnose. It happen after I returned from a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. I had caught a serious cold during that trip and after I recovered, I had difficulty sleeping and would wake up tired and congested. When seeing my family physician, the Dr. would ask if I have an allergy, and when I responded with negative, he would prescribe some antibiotics for my symptoms. It was after quite a few visits to various specialists before I was diagnosed with an acute form of allergy. This was news to me since I've never had allergy before. Apparently, it is possible for one to develop allergy at any stage of one's life. The damage was done and it took me quite a while to recover from the devastation of numerous antibiotics and the "chronic fatigue syndrome" that I was labeled. It was only after 3 years of allergy shots that finally cured me.

I had thought about doing some charity work after I retire. This opportunity came a little before I was scheduled but I decided to take advantage of it. I was not sure of what type of charity work to pursue. In 2000, I had participated in a program at IBM to become a "big brother" to some disadvantaged kids. The program was called Aristotle 2000 and I was assigned a teenage boy who needed some assistance with school work and having a male role model. It was a rewarding experience for me and I think it helped him also. Now, I was deciding what to do with my time. I found a volunteering position at the local Archives. I decided to share my imaging expertise and started working at the Westchester County Archives P/T. I am still volunteering today. In the years since I joined, I estimated that I helped them digitize over 14,000 photographs and transparencies.

Publishing on Squidoo

It was a few years after 9/11/2001 that I discovered Squidoo - an online publishing application. It was started by Seth Godin who has written numerous books on marketing. I liked his writing and his unique perspective and decided to check it out. I found it a bit difficult at first and it took me a while to be comfortable using it. I also received lots of help from other lensmasters at Squidoo. They are a great group of people who loves writing and who just wanted to help. There was a sense of comaradery among the lensmasters. Each topic was called a "lens" by Squidoo and the writers are know as "lensmasters". Squidoo was sold to HubPages in late 2014. The terms are now hubs instead of lens and hubbers instead of lensmasters. The rest is pretty much the same. The one difference was Squidoo allow the writers to donate their earnings to a list of charities. That was one of the incentives for me to get involved personally. I was not interested in making money on Squidoo for myself but I want to help others especially some veteran organizations.

I found writing and publishing to be very therapeutic and rewarding. It gave me a chance to express myself and in the process impart some knowledge.

Hyman Photo Exhibit 2006

Volunteering at the 9/11 Exhibit

Post 9/11, I found my self wanting to help in some way. I found a volunteering position with the 9/11 memorial museum which was in the process of being developed at ground zero. They were putting a temporary photo exhibit near ground zero and using it as a fund raising vehicle. I volunteered my time as an exhibit helper at this event. It is there that I met the photographer Jonathan Hyman. I was so impressed by his photographs and I his person that we formed an instant bond. I told him I have some expertise in digital imaging and that I could help him in some of his work. He took me up on that offer and we became good friends. I also decided to help promote his works by creating a lens on Squidoo. It became one of my most visited lens. Till this day, I still kept the lens and converted it to a hub.


The 9/11 tragic event changed my life. It changed the trajectory of my career and my focus. I can't say it was all negative. My premature layoff by IBM was the start of something I was planning for a while. It just up the time table for me by a few years. It lead to the next chapter of my career with Jawonio. That is the next chapter of my memoir.

© 2016 Jack Lee


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