The day-after spirit changes a man's career
The voltage in his life today has nothing to do with making money.
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"In the months after Sept. 11," he says "those of us who lived and worked there saw that compassion and giving have a power to change lives, a power greater than evil, and a power to change the world."Skip to next paragraph
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In voice and music, the essence of Nine-Twelve the organization he's now starting will sound through the great sanctuary of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., tomorrow night. It will commemorate not only the tragedy of 9/11 but the heroism and the generosity that lifted the nation. The memories of thousands of workers, volunteers, and survivors of victims will be expressed in interviews and readings organized by Courtney and framed by the music of Gary Malkin. Called the Voices of 9/11, it is the tribute of scores of artists, clergy, and speakers. But it also represents one of Nine-Twelve's missions elevating the idea of people joining their voices, overcoming a profound grief with a song from their hearts.
"To put Nine-Twelve in motion, we want first to talk to hundreds of people and to build a database of 15,000 from ground zero," Martin says.
So Martin, once a banker now the head of Nine-Twelve can be seen walking the streets daily, cellphone in hand. He's a kind of ground zero Socrates, querying people who were there. He wants workers, volunteers, shopkeepers, and neighbors to tell him what Nine-Twelve should become. Funds have already come in from donors, some of them prestigious.
Neither Martin nor Courtney sees this as one of those off-in-the-clouds colony of Utopians. They want Nine-Twelve to be a quiet but authoritative advocate in how Lower Manhattan is rebuilt. "The people who served at ground zero found something so powerful and good they want to draw from it," Martin says. "We'd like to preserve it in a special kind of center in the new Lower Manhattan where we could congregate and keep that kinship alive."
It would be a place where ideas of reconciliation, tolerance, and the possibilities of peace wouldn't be alien. It would be a place where people could reflect on the highest possibilities of being human, qualities that at ground zero shone with a rough but unwavering nobility that stirred the world.
"At ground zero" Martin says, "we found something in ourselves we may not have realized existed.... The good will I saw made me re-examine my personal values. I saw barriers come down: CEOs serving sanitation workers and learning that what mattered was not being important, but belonging. All the paths I'd made in my life seemed to converge and move me into a whole new direction. I think the experience of ground zero created a model ... for how good we can be for each other if we take ourselves outside of ourselves."
"But," he says, squeezing his hands together and closing his eyes, grappling for a language to match his intensity, "do you know what I want to hold onto most out of that experience?
"I was the server. But sometimes, I was the one who was healed. There was this reciprocity of love giving and receiving, together. It's something at our core as humans. We haven't plumbed it through. But it's what I think we can draw from 9/11."
It will be Martin's second life, perhaps his surmounting one. No one can see that as perceptively as Courtney, a high-energy woman with a doctorate in theology. In the days right after the attack she became St. Paul's chief of staff in organizing volunteer support for the site workers.
The city Health Department groaned about the threat of food contamination in the early days of cleanup and recovery. The air was filthy for weeks. Debris was yards deep along the seven blocks food was hauled to exhausted rescue workers.