When I was a child, I had the blessing of living a short drive away from one set of grandparents. This meant that I got to see them regularly, many times most months, which was wonderful.
One of the highlights when I would visit them was my grandfather’s grandfather clock. I loved to listen to its ticking, its chimes every quarter hour, and the mysterious whirrings and clickings it made each time it was about to chime. For a little boy with an interest in all things mechanical, simply being around that clock was pure delight.
The best thing about that clock was, well, not really about the clock at all. See, every week, the clock needed to be wound. It was technically an “eight day” clock, meaning it gave you a one-day cushion should you be tardy in winding it. But, nonetheless, it must be wound, or eventually it would stop. And so the best thing about that clock was when my grandfather would turn the key to open the door to its front and let me help him wind it.
Together, we would pull on the chains, and I would hear the whirring and clicking of gears suddenly intensify as we raised each weight up to its full height, there to begin another week. For a very little boy, those weights seemed so heavy, and yet I was able to help my grandfather, strong as he was. He even made me feel as though he needed me to help him do it. The whole experience was heavenly, and I am certain we wound that clock many times when it did not, in fact, need to be wound.
Cancer took my grandfather from us far too soon, and it has been more than thirty years now since I have hugged him or heard his voice. I remember him as strong but gentle, wise yet humble, intelligent but happy to lose a game of checkers to a four-year-old, a man who deeply loved Jesus and his family. He was also a war hero, having served his country honorably during World War II, though I was too little to appreciate that fully while he was still here. All in all, he was a wonderful man, and I love and miss him terribly.
A few years ago, after my grandmother had also left this world, that clock came to me. It had not run in years, and careless movers had broken the pane of glass in the door. Though I tried many times, I could not make it run for more than a few minutes without stopping. So, it stood silently in our home, waiting for us to find the money, the time, and the help necessary to make it chime the hours once more.
Today, thanks to the skillful efforts from a clock repairman who is a true master of his craft, that clock began to run and chime again. I am writing this post as I listen to it ticking and, a few times now, chiming in the background. It is heavenly.
With each second that passes I am reminded of my grandfather and the wonderful legacy he left behind. He made it a point to provide financial security for my grandmother, but his legacy is so much more than that. It is a legacy of faith, humility, hard work, diligence, and love. It is a legacy that still warms the heart of this little boy, even as I look forward to winding my grandfather’s clock with my grandfather’s great-granddaughters and, one day, maybe even with my own grandchildren. Until then, I’ll let the clock count the seconds, reminding me of the brevity of life and the beauty of sharing it with those we love.
In memory of R.H. Cottrell, Jr., one of the finest men I’ll ever know.
A tremendous amount has happened over the past year, and I have not kept up on here. I’m going to try to provide a quick recap, as well as a vision for the future of this site.
First, the biggest news of the last year, which I haven’t mentioned previously on here: my wife and I were blessed to welcome our second child, a daughter! She is an incredible blessing but has kept us extremely busy. And although she’s very healthy, she had a number of health scares early on that kept us hopping.
Last year (2018) involved a lot of other craziness, far too much to capture or even summarize in one blog post. Most of that will have to wait for some later time; many of the events in question deserve their own post or entire series of posts.
This year (2019) has not been less crazy. Among other adventures, I haven’t had a voice for most of the last two weeks due to a fun thing called a vocal process granuloma, essentially an ulcer on my vocal cords. This is probably a result of acid reflux that I didn’t know I had. I wrote a long, public post about this on Facebook. My voice rebounded significantly over the last 48 hours, to the point that it was basically normal this morning, but it has faded out again to nearly nothing.
Meanwhile, a lot has changed on here and continues to change. I intend to resume posting regularly. I haven’t been posting regularly for a variety of reasons, one of which is cleaning up the site. Over the 22 years I have been running a personal website, 20 of them on this domain and 20 of them blogging, I had accumulated a lot of, well, junk. There were (and still are) a lot of blog posts and other items on here that are horribly dated, reference broken links, and so on. I have begun the process of cleaning those up. I have simply deleted a lot of posts that are thoroughly obsolete or misleading due to changed links, missing context, or other reasons. I plan to finish that cleanup in the near future, but in the interest of transparency am mentioning it here.
That’s it for now. Enjoy the site, and get ready for much more, better, fresher content!
Like so many people today, I’m reflecting on the events of that awful day 17 years ago when so many innocent people died, and so many more felt the world had turned upside down. Every American who was old enough to remember that day will probably be processing their reactions to those events for the rest of their lives.
I have very rarely said anything public about 9/11. I have several reasons for this. The biggest reason is that my own experience of that day was very unusual.
Far from Home
I don’t have the same kind of “where were you when” story that most Americans have, for the simple reason that I wasn’t here. I had left the United States five days earlier, and I was in Germany for a week-long training conference. When I first got word that something had happened, I was playing a pick-up game of basketball at a private conference center in a very small village in the German countryside, largely cut off from the world.
The first indication that something was wrong was when somebody ran by on an elevated walkway, yelling urgently. I couldn’t quite make out the first sentence; I think it was, “There’s a fire in New York.” The next is seared into my memory: “The World Trade Center is in the street.” And just like that, the runner was gone.
It took a couple of minutes for those of us on the court to decide what to make of this. We didn’t even fully agree on what we had heard, much less what it meant. Several of us thought it meant that there had been some sort of market crash or economic disruption; others thought it meant the WTC’s occupants had evacuated because of a literal fire. After a few moments, we decided to call the game and go looking for more information.
The Hunt for Information
It took a while to find any. First, we had to find other people. But when we did, no one actually knew anything. We had only one landline for almost 200 people to use, and the few cell phones people had stopped working almost immediately due to network congestion. So, the first fragments of information we got were just fragments. We heard all kinds of wild rumors: both towers had collapsed; neither had collapsed; the Capitol was gone; the President was dead; the President was alive but in hiding; and on and on. We even heard really outlandish things about bombers, nuclear weapons, and more. The only source of information was phone calls limited to 30 seconds at first and later relaxed to two minutes. Facts and rumors given in soundbite form over the phone (with a terrible connection and multi-second delay due to distances) were repeated, misunderstood, and repeated again. In a group of people who were all far from home, not all native speakers of English, and with only one staticky phone line for information, it was impossible to fact-check faster than rumors could come in.
After a couple of hours, we started to catch up. A friendly, local couple down the road happened to have CNN via satellite and had started recording the feed when it became clear that a big plane, not a Cessna or something, had crashed. They started sending over videotapes and summary updates every hour or two.
By the time we were able to see anything on a TV screen, we were roughly three hours behind real-time. This meant that we mostly heard about developments—real and fictional—long before we saw them. During a national tragedy that so many Americans watched live, huddled together in living rooms, classrooms, conference rooms, break rooms, and sandwich shops, we watched on a delay, thousands of miles from American soil. We grieved together, of course, but we did so with almost no contact with family or friends at home, at least for those first few days.
That conference marked the start of a year-long trip. With the exception of a couple of people whose families were directly impacted, none of us were heading home to family or friends for many months to come. And with the exception of a half-dozen or so people, I had never met any of the people around me until a couple of days earlier.
My little team was in France a few days later, where we spent much of the following year. My French at that point was rudimentary, but it didn’t take much to figure out the news headlines. At first, they wept over “La Catastrophe.” Then they screamed of “Les Attaques!” Then, when it became obvious that America would react with force, they coldly updated us on “Les Accidents.” I had hundreds of conversations about these things with French, German, Spanish, Italian, Algerian, and Moroccan nationals, among others, before I had my first chance to speak in person to anyone I knew at home about them. I felt I had heard the collective thoughts and feelings of the entire world, but only a hint of the sentiments in my own country.
The next year was brutal and surreal for many reasons. We tried to keep up with news from home via the Internet and phone calls home, but we were surprisingly isolated. Many events at home that year just passed us by. I remember waiting for my flight home nearly a year later and picking up a copy of USA Today (not something I regularly read) in hopes of filling in gaps in my knowledge of non-terrorism, non-war events at home. Two of the top stories asked who would be the American Idol and who would be kicked off the island. I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about. Many other stories left me just as befuddled about everything from politics to sports.
For those of us who were abroad that year, 9/11 was a horrifying short-circuit, making it even harder to stay connected with “ordinary” life in the United States. While we wish as much as anyone that the 9/11 attacks had never happened, we also felt—and will always feel—isolated and cut off by that day. Our answers to the “where were you” question will always sound alien, strange, even weird. To some people I have met, those answers even sound un-American or somehow hostile.
I have mostly kept these things to myself because most people have had a hard time relating to them. In the first few years after 9/11, people tended to react in one of two ways to anything I might say: (1) silence, followed by a quick change in subject, or (2) anger, as if by being abroad during a national tragedy I had somehow chosen to cut myself off from my country.
Reactions in the last few years have mellowed, and now I mostly get the kind of look you might get if you said something completely unintelligible to someone you had just met: an uneasy stare, an unsuccessful attempt to form words, another second of silence, and a sudden shift in conversation.
Why Am I Writing This?
So, why am I speaking about this now? Why does it matter what I have to say? To be honest, a big part of it is just to let it out, to say the things I have mostly kept to myself for 17 years. But another reason is this: I hope it might be helpful to someone. Maybe someone out there is still struggling with their own feelings about that day and feels they can’t share because they don’t have a “story” that sounds “good enough” or “American enough.”
If that’s you, you’re not alone. Please reach out to me or someone else to talk about it.
I also hope this encourages at least a few people to be more empathetic. American life is full of anger, especially around politics, right now. But one of the lessons of 9/11 is that we are all human, and we all hurt, even though all of our stories are different, and sometimes we really can come together in a meaningful way that transcends our tribal squabbles.
If you’d like to talk for any reason, shoot me a note. If anything in this offended you or seems self-centered somehow, please accept my sincere apologies; that is not my intent at all.
Never forget those who died that awful day. And go hug someone you love.
As many of you know, I started a new job with the new year. Yesterday was my first day as a Senior Attorney in the litigation group of the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. It was a great day, and I’m very excited about the work ahead. I will be doing two types of work: both representing clients in their litigation matters and developing software platforms to augment and streamline the practice of law. It’s a truly unique opportunity to combine two of my skill sets and passions, and I can’t wait to get started in earnest.
I will, of course, miss the outstanding justices and wonderful former colleagues at the First Court of Appeals. But all good things in this life must come to an end, and this next chapter promises to be a great one!
If you read this blog regularly, you know I have a lot on my plate. Here’s a quick snapshot of what I’m up to.
My startup, Cereblitz, makes the world’s first e-commerce platform and shopping cart for truly custom and customizable products. It’s great for just about all other products, too, of course! Check out the link above or check the Cereblitz blog for the latest news.
I’m also running Sport and Safety, an e-commerce site selling sporting and safety goods.