Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Past Deadline: A Day We Will Never Forget

I didn’t set out to write about 9/11 this week, but then the airwaves became saturated with 10-year anniversary material and it got stuck in my head.

I don’t like the feeling I get when I watch those images from a decade ago, and as they played over and over as part of the anniversary, it cemented the fact I don’t need to see them to remember exactly how I felt that day.

It’s important to officially acknowledge the day, certainly. I think, though, we carry the aftermath of 9/11 with us every day. I don’t think I could forget how it changed the way I look at the world if I tried.

I was about six months pregnant with my first child on Sept. 11, 2001. Back then, one of my many hats was that of proofreader on Mondays and Tuesdays at The Perth Courier.

Things were trucking merrily along on that bright sunny day when one of our advertising staff walked in the back door and announced he had just heard on his car radio that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

At first we found it hard to believe. It was stunning. The scope of the situation eluded us for a while.

We tried to work while finding out as much as we could about what was happening. Ten years ago our Internet was pretty slow and all the news sites were slammed, so no one could get a really good idea of what was going on – not that the networks knew for sure, anyway. The details were sketchy, but the news was grim.

The second tower was hit. And the Pentagon. And a field in Pennsylvania.

At one point the prevailing rumour was that dozens of hijacked planes were in the air and that the borders were closing.

That’s when I started to feel scared. This is Canada. Our borders don’t close. And Perth is pretty close to the nation’s capital – could we be next?

My shift at the paper finished around noon and I hurried home to switch on the news, seeing live images for the first time along with the horrifying replays. It brought me to tears.

I think the image that sticks with me the most, even though I didn’t see it live, was the dreadful moment when the second plane hit and it became perfectly clear – as the world watched – that the first plane was no accident. The United States was under attack and thousands of people were dying.

The other unforgettable image is of the poor victims who fell – or chose to jump – from those fiery towers. Those innocent people and their terrible choice.

After 9/11 we were told not to be afraid because “then the terrorists would win.” I was certainly afraid that day, and for a long time after. I was afraid of what might happen next. I also felt, like so many others, shock and grief.

Mostly though, as I sat wide-eyed and open-mouthed and watched the news coverage that day, I rubbed my belly and felt my unborn child kick and I worried about the world he or she would face. Would I be equipped to help him or her navigate this troubled planet – a planet I wasn’t sure I understood or knew anymore?

I still don’t know for sure, but I’m trying.

I know my dread of that day is nothing compared to what the victims and their families have experienced. Nor can I claim to have been personally touched by the subsequent war. But what happened on that sunny September day hit close to home physically and emotionally and made the world a different place. Some days we don’t think about it so much, but I’m sure we will always remember.

That day taught us a lot of things. Mingled with the fear, shock and grief were also anger and national pride. We have been so lucky in Canada – and in North America – to know what freedom is. On 9/11, when borders closed and the world changed, I think we learned to appreciate all of that just a little more.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 15/11

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