What Color Was the Sky?
The first story in my book, Flow-based Leadership: What the Best Firefighters Can Teach You About Leadership and Making Hard Decisions, is about FDNY Res1cue Firefighter Joel Kanasky’s experience on September 11, 2001. As I began writing his story, I got stuck trying to describe the color of the sky on that crisp September morning. I agonized about using the word “azure” vs. “lapis.” I know lapis is a deeper blue, but, in my mind, that was the color, so I ultimately settled on “lapis.” However, I often wondered if that was the correct word.
Then, on October 8, 2021, I visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Lo and behold, deep in the museum there is an art installation covering one of the massive walls. The installation is composed of 2,983 individual watercolor paintings (one for each of the people who died) where the artist tried to remember the color of the sky that morning. Each square is a unique shade of blue. The quote within the art installation reads, “No Day Shall Erase You from the Memory of Time,” which is from Book IX of The Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil. The accompanying plaque is entitled, “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning.” I wasn’t alone in my efforts to describe the color!
Everyone sees the world from his or her perspective, which is informed by a lifetime of unique experiences. Even though everyone, globally, bore witness to the tragic events of 9/11, we each interpreted what we saw differently. Now that 20 years have passed, we each remember that day even more differently depending on our individual circumstances. However, we cannot erase ourselves from the memory.
We would do well to remember how we came together that day. People helped people, regardless of perceived differences.
How did we get so far away from this feeling? The current divisions in the United States threaten the very democracy that makes it great. The anger and vitriol being directed by and at all sides is awful and frightening.
The sky is blue. The exact color of blue is irrelevant. We are all human beings with the same desires to live our best lives and to leave the world better for those who come after us. Everyone deserves opportunity and access. It is that simple.