The Flag on my Front Porch

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece exactly three years ago, on September 11th, 2020, and then reposted it again in September 2021 and 2022. And based on the number of emails and comments I received each time, it was clear that it resonated loudly with many. And everyone who knows me, knows I love meaningful traditions. This post has started to become a bit of a tradition for us. So I share it with you again now. Be safe, everyone.

— Dean

I love the quiet of the early mornings. One of my favorite things to do is wake up early, pour a cup of hot coffee, sit in a rocking chair on our front porch and just listen to the silence. I start my day that way as often as possible. It centers me. And it is even more powerful on important days and anniversaries like today, September 11th.

And so a few minutes ago, I poured my coffee, and headed to the porch. As I was opening my front door, I was surprised to see two people on my front steps, practically standing on our porch, looking closely and intently at the flag that is hanging in front of our house. Our neighbors and friends know that we always have a flag hanging. Usually it is a standard issue American flag. But we have other special flags that are flown from time to time, as well.

In early September every year, we fly a flag that honors the memory of those who died on September 11, 2001. And if you look closely at the picture of this flag above (the picture is rotated so that the names are easier for you to read), you will notice that the red and blue stripes are formed from names… every name of the people who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on that awful day. What a terrible day that was, for so many people. Each year, this is our family’s way of honoring and remembering them.

So I opened my door and said “can I help you?” to the couple on my front steps. I startled them. They began quickly backpedaling towards the street, almost tripping down the front steps in the process. I had clearly startled them out of deep thought, they apologized profusely, and I could tell immediately that they were crying. Eventually they were able to get out the words to explain to me that they had heard about our flag from a friend. They had come by our house this morning, on September 11th, to see the flag… and to look for the name of their grandson.

They were very emotional. And immediately so was I. Realizing the private moment that had been interrupted, I desperately tried to gain my composure, and told them they were welcome to stay as long as they wanted. I gently closed the door, and left them to their moment of early morning silence, with our flag, on our porch and their memories of their grandson. I didn’t ask any other questions. I didn’t even ask their names. The most important thing was that they have their moment, and I was happy to lend them my front porch for as long as they needed.

We hang our flag every year, to make sure that we never forget the names of the people we lost that day. These kind of memorials are important, and not only to remember the names of those we lost. But also to remember how fleeting things can be. How life can change in an instant.

This blog is about professional development. My colleagues and I believe firmly in the power and importance of communication skills, and professional development. But our team also likes to keep everything in perspective. And on days like today, when I met those grandparents on my front porch, I am reminded that while our work is important, there are other perspectives that we must never, ever forget.

Anyway… I had an incredibly powerful moment of vulnerability on my front porch this morning. This couple came to my house on the morning of September 11th, to look at my family’s flag, and find the name of their grandson.

A powerful moment, indeed. And so, I share this story with you.

May the victims of September 11th, including this couple’s grandson, rest in peace.

Never forget.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Brett Slater

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.