Friday, September 11, 2009

I wonder if there will ever be a time when the date of September 11 goes back to being an ordinary day? I don't think so, not in my lifetime. It was the day which seemed to be the end of the world, when everywhere seemed vulnerable. Thousands of miles away from New York, it seemed to me that if New York and the Pentagon weren't safe, there weren't many places that were....

I asked my daughter what memories she had of the day, but she was six then, and barely understood what was happening. I remember them asking me if what was happening was close to us, and I told them no, it was in America a long way away, and their interest in it dwindled. Only I was transfixed to the screen, fighting the impulse to phone my family and tell them what I had seen. I wanted so much to make contact with them, but I realised immediately this was a world-changing event, as soon as the second plane hit. I realised the the invulnerable place America had occupied was gone.

It seemed dangerous to be anywhere near a city, because we couldn't see how big this thing was, initially. Would it be a continual series of plane hijacks and crashes all over the world, against western targets? Would London be next, or Paris, or Rome? Initially I just assumed that they had chartered an aircraft and crashed it - I didn't realise the horror of the event for some days. Then I had a dream some nights later, of being in one of the planes, and I felt the letting go, the calm, realising there was nothing I could do, nothing that could stop the plane crashing, and feeling it wheel under me and crashing.

It felt like there was nowhere safe for a long time, and for months I looked up if I heard the sound of an aircraft. Being in London, near tall buildings seemed dangerous for a long time. It's hard to explain how it seemed on that day... hard even for me to remember how those events made me feel unsafe, even though I was a long way away from the bright autumn morning, the smoke and the dust.

I wanted information, wanted more and more and more, maybe a morbid curiosity, I don't know, I needed to feel that "they" were telling us what was happening... that I would know if planes were going to suddenly drop out of the sky in Europe too. Maybe that should be a selfish curiosity, but in fact I felt immense and overwhelming empathy for the people caught up in the real life events in New York and the Pentagon and elsewhere that day.

I knew, without a shadow of a doubt that there were good people facing terrible choices when they started to jump, and that there were brave and wonderful people caught up in the towers when they collapsed. It was obvious that the people left in the building must have been the rescuers, the firefighters and the paramedics, those who were trapped and those who chose to stay behind to help them. It was easy to empathise, seeing everything firsthand through the medium of television and the internet... knowing that what I saw was as real to me as someone living thirty or forty miles away from the twin towers.

That feeling that we were under threat diminished in the weeks and months, until the bombings in London revived the feelings again, but even then I didn't feel that same end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it feeling I'd been overwhelmed with on September 11. With each passing year, it fades for me, but of course I know that isn't likely to be true for the people who witnessed or experienced it first hand, or lost someone beloved. I know they will be changed forever, with no going back.

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