The day-after spirit changes a man's career
The voltage in his life today has nothing to do with making money.
The second life of Martin Cowart began with an oily, invisible grit sanding his face and his numbed mind nagging him with questions: "What am I doing here? Where am I going?"Skip to next paragraph
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Where he was going a year ago was to St. Paul's Chapelof Trinity Church at the edge of the horror of the World Trade Center, where eventually he would feed thousands of relief workers in the months ahead. No sudden seizure of humanitarianism brought him there. He'd been conscripted out of a once successful but disconnected business career by a call from a cousin who worked at Trinity and knew human need better than Martin did. What Martin knew was profit and loss, how to manage loans, and how to run a restaurant.
For a few days at ground zero, he drifted and coped with the chaos and exhaustion that surrounded him, a man displaced. Through the gray curtains of descending ash, he stared up at the hulk of a bank building where he'd once worked, still standing but now black and dead. The sight left him disoriented. Then he began to work. And in the faces of the men and women he served, he began to learn something deeper about being human, something he'd missed in his banking aeries and in his computers.
He became another Martin Cowart, and he is not a man displaced today.
The compass heading in Martin's life today no longer swings randomly as it did in his 25 years in business and in his search for identity. The arrow is fixed on tomorrow. He is a man in the grip of a powerful and consuming force, an idea that has become a Grail for workers and volunteers brought together by the epic of the World Trade Center. For them, it began with a discovery that rose from the transcending grief. Many were mainstream religious believers, like Martin, and some were not. But almost all felt a kind of liberating grace of shared trust, humility, and love in the service they gave and received, infusing them with a purpose larger than themselves.
To Martin and others around him site workers, volunteers, and donors it created an community without walls, embracing thousands and giving them a kinship they want to preserve and to make heard as a conscience of 9/11.
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Is this idea a bridge too far for humans to reach? A vision too airy to stand up under the erosion of time, reality, and the gruff kinks of human nature itself?
Martin says no: "This isn't about dreaming. This is about taking the good will and spirit of those months at ground zero when a community arose, and perpetuating that spirit in a way that could become a model to the world for revealing the best in human beings. We're organizing into an actual, functioning Nine-Twelve Community that can renew itself each day and each year."
He speaks with the unblinking conviction of a man turned inside-out by his experience at ground zero. His words tumble out restlessly. Martin once was a numbers-conscious guy from southern Georgia who spent years scaling the corporate ladder; first as an accountant, then as a manager at Bankers Trust in Manhattan and finally as the vice president of a New Jersey bank. He wasn't obsessed with money but he didn't run from it, and it grew to $150,000 a year.
He had a passably spiritual side, but what primarily interested Martin Cowart was what was next for Martin Cowart. He couldn't have guessed a year ago that the round-the-clock voltage in his life today would have nothing to do with making money. Nine-Twelve is a nonprofit foundation to be formally launched in a few weeks with the goal of reconnecting the people of ground zero in fact as well as in spirit. He and his cousin Courtney Cowart, who brought him there to organize the relief food-service, are its inspirations and top executives.