For 13 years now 9/11 has been a day to mourn the loss of nearly 3000 fellow Americans, thank our soldiers and emergency personnel for putting their lives on the line for our safety and to talk about where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in 2001.
It also means a phone conversation between Tom Ehaney and me. Tom and I were training his crews at a foundry in Browntown, WI on 9/11/2001. Neither of us are employed by the same companies and our paths never meet on the job, yet it has become tradition that we make contact each year on 9/11 to check on each other. It is a strange bond, but it has held true.
Two years ago I was driving to Appleton on 9/11, Tom’s home town, when I placed the call and left him a voice message wishing him the best and asked him to call me when it was convenient. Shortly after hanging up a mutual friend of Tom’s in the same industry called to talk business. After telling him that I’d just left a message for his long time friend he paused and said; “Did you hear what happened to Tom?” That is rarely the way you start a pleasant conversation so I prepared for the worst and asked for details.
Tom is an avid sky diver with hundreds of jumps under his belt. On June 1st of that year during a routine jump he landed wrong and crushed both of his legs. Tom now has steel rods through both of his legs. The good news is his legs are back to 100% . Tom did call me back that day and we had a long talk about his prognosis and the details of how the accident occurred. Like most accidents, it was preventable but he can never get that moment in time back to correct the mistake.
Tom’s plight made me think about the risk takers in our world and 9/11s influence on risk takers. We all know one, or of one. Sky divers, bull riders, rock climbers, surfers, power racers (car, bike or boat), and don’t forget soldiers, law enforcement, firefighters and rescue workers.
My most salient thoughts of 9/11 are of the NYC firefighters and police officers that climbed up the stairs of the twin towers while everyone else was trying to escape the towers before the inevitable collapse. 412 would be rescuers died in the twin tower attacks, yet people still flock to the profession. 9/11 sparked a big spike in Department of Defense recruiting as well. Think about the risk taken on by the passengers of flight 93 who took it upon themselves to drive that plane into the ground on a farm field in PA because they believed the ultimate destination for that plane was the White House.
One of my old high school friends asked her Facebook pals to pray for her husband as he headed to western Nebraska to fight wild fires from a drought. I told her that I would pray for both his safety and for a different job. She said that she’d found him good jobs in the past and he turns them down because he loves fighting fires. It’s in his blood, or in his brain as our scientific world believes.
According to Psychologists Joseph, Liu, Jiang and Kelly from the University of Kentucky along with Lyman of Purdue University; thrill seekers experience high levels of activity in the insula portion of their brain when shown stimulating pictures. This is the area of the brain that is active during addictive behaviors like craving cigarettes or narcotics. Low sensation or non risk takers when shown the same stimulating pictures had increased activity in the frontal cortex area of the brain. The frontal cortex is associated with regulating emotions. Risk takers are influenced by the part of the brain that does not inhibit the inherent risk of an activity, while low risk people think out of the part of the brain that does inhibit unsafe activity.
What about people that are drawn to risk takers? My work partner in Waterford, WI lost her first husband to a 4 wheeler accident when their son was only 5 years old. She was in mourning for years, but eventually found love again. Guess what her second husband’s hobby is? Rescue at heights. What is his occupation? Have you ever seen The Weather Channel series called “Turbine Cowboys”? Well, he is one of those guys. My coworker went from losing a husband in a high risk activity to marrying another man who makes his living risking his life to repair wind turbines. Imagine that.
I am amazed and thankful for the risk takers in our world. Without them we may not be a free society and free to enjoy watching another group of risk takers on Sunday afternoons every fall. Thank you risk takers, let us never forget the sacrifices of those who gave all on that fateful day and the ensuing war.